Summary: "His heart races as he stares at Ziva, his mind filled with an epiphany that he both embraces and dreads to acknowledge: He has a second chance now." When Tony almost dies on the job, he realizes that some things can't wait till death, after all.
Disclaimer: Um, so yea. The season finale ... this fic has nothing to do with it, but still, the season finale deserves a mention. You know I'd never be able to write the episode that well if I owned NCIS :P
Setting: I'd say it works best somewhere around the middle of Season 8, but this has no specific time setting.
This is not one of my favourites, but considering that I took four days to write it (a lot of things happened in between, okay), it's no surprise that I'm all, just publish it, already! Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy it :P and I know that the getting-shot-in-the-chest thing is what happened on Castle a season ago, but I don't watch Castle, so I can only hope I haven't accidentally infringed on any story lines. I apologize in advance if I have.
In movies, there's always time to get a last word in. The hero is injured, and the heroine falls onto his body, trying desperately to stem the flow of blood over her hands, while the hero struggles with his confession of undying love for the heroine.
Well, he's struggling all right. There's a searing pain in his body—he can't tell where—and Ziva's hands are pressing into what would presumably be his wound, and her face is tear-streaked and she keeps muttering threats about how she will kill him if he dares to die, which is an irony, really. But the second irony is really what he struggles with.
And the second irony is that the movies which have kept him company thus far in life fail him now. Because for all the confessions of love that he's seen, he still can't just go ahead and tell her. Not while he's trying to breathe and Ziva's trying not to cry, and he thinks she may just break down completely if he says the words. Not while her angry threats have turned into almost-hysterical entreaties for him to live. No. Not while he might die, and she'd have to live with that as her last memory of him.
He opens his mouth to say something; anything.A reassurance, perhaps, but all he gets out is a squeak and a desperate gulp of air. Her eyes tear up once more, but he's not really sure she notices. She just keeps pressing into his wound, telling him again and again that he must stay awake. Is he falling asleep? He can't really tell, but his head feels heavy even though he's resting on concrete floor, and his vision is starting to blur. Perhaps some blinking might help.
He must've fallen asleep after all, because when his eyes snap open in a panic at having disobeyed her orders, she has one of his hands in hers, and is pressing it to her lips while tears stream down her face. He doesn't know when she'd taken up his hand. A choked sound escapes her throat when she looks up and notices his eyes on her, but she doesn't let go of his hand; just keeps holding onto it as she returns the pressure to his torso. He thinks perhaps curling his pinkie around one of her fingers might be a good form of reassurance for her. Just a lil' bit further….
It's a pity, though. He'd die for her to know that he was madly in love with her.
He doesn't die.
It isn't until a month later that he remembers what he'd been thinking about before he passed out. He's resting on the couch while she sits beside him on the floor, and they're watching a movie, and he's laughing at a joke she's just made about the hero in the story. His stitches pull by accident and he winces; her expression turns from 'amused' to 'worried' in a heartbeat.
"I'm okay," he assures her, and she turns back to the television. He can tell she's not really watching the movie anymore, though, because her figure is radiates tenseness in a way that suggests she's ready to step in the moment he seems in need of help.
So he plays with her hair, trying to get her to relax. She shoots him a puzzled look as he curls a lock around his index finger and pulls playfully on it, but says nothing. Her eyes are still worried.
The memory slams into him with the force of a semi-truck when he catches a whiff of her hair. Exotic, just a hint of spice, and ohmygod he might have been trying to tell her that he loved her. He inadvertently gasps at his realization, and her eyes are on him again, the worry in them fractionally increased. But he can't bring himself to care anymore. His heart races as he stares at Ziva, his mind filled with an epiphany that he both embraces and dreads to acknowledge: He has a second chance now.
He's not dead.
"Tony!" Her anxious voice brings him out of his thoughts, and it's then that he notices she's paled the slightest, slightest bit. "Where does it hurt?"
He clears his throat and returns to playing with her hair just to take that nervous edge off her voice. "It doesn't hurt. Don't worry."
She looks like she doesn't believe him, but she does turn away, dipping her head the slightest bit. He threads his fingers through her hair.
"Hey, Zi?" he asks eventually, and she sniffles once before lifting her head and smiling at him.
"What was it like, watching me…" he trails off, uncertain how to complete that sentence, because 'slowly bleed to death' would probably be the wrong phrase in this case. She seems to get his gist, anyway, because her face pales a few more shades, and her large, large eyes glaze over.
She shakes her head, and her gaze flickers to his. "Hard," she presses out. "I thought you were going to die."
And that's that.
"I didn't die."
"I noticed." She seems to regret the sharpness in her tone, because she shifts a bit—her hair still entangled in his fingers—and gives his forearm two gentle, perfunctory pats. "I'm glad you are still alive."
"Were you scared?"
Her brow furrows, a picture of anguished confusion. "Why are we talking about this?"
"I just wanna know."
She opens and closes her mouth, looking lost for words, before finally giving a single nod. "Yes. I was … scared. You were bleeding so much, and I couldn't stop the flow. And … it was … hard to stay focused and not freak out."
Her voice is tight, her face that much more anguished, but still he has to push. He doesn't know why. Maybe just to stall for time; maybe just to make sure that he hadn't imagined it all. "You kissed me."
Her eyes dart all over the place now, looking for a way out even though she hasn't physically moved. "Yes," she answers after two beats (he counts). "I kissed your hand."
"I don't know. I just … I don't know." Her voice, small and timid, barely makes it to his ears.
"Would you do it again?"
He can tell this is the one question she hadn't be expecting, because her head snaps up so fast, he's surprised she doesn't have whiplash. "Now?" she asks incredulously.
He averts his eyes, suddenly feeling uncomfortable with the territory he's gotten them into. "No. Just … whenever."
"Tony, why…?" she asks, and he can hear the frustration and helplessness in her voice, so he drops it.
"Nothing," he says, giving her his best DiNozzo grin, and he prays that the pain he thinks he sees seep into her eyes before she looks away is imagined.
Because for the life of him, he can't figure out what to do with this second chance he's been given.
"I'm not dead," he whispers again when the movie has ended and she has turned off the TV, and she shoots him a look that is pure irritation.
"Are you trying to convince me of that, or yourself?"
He shrugs as well as he can manage with his stitches. "Maybe both of us. I just have something to tell you…"
"I wanna tell you…" he starts, and then amends his words. "I wanna ask you … if I can kiss you back."
She stares, her eyes wide and dumbfounded. Her jaw goes slack, and she swallows. "Um … is it—um…"
She never gets her question out, but she does lift her hand and lay it on the couch, in front of him, while her eyes settle everywhere but on him. He sees an expression halfway between sadness and astonishment cross her face when he scoops up her hand and presses his lips to her warm skin, but she doesn't say anything.
And he doesn't know what he's doing, really, playing with her emotions like that. He doesn't know what he's doing playing with his emotions like that, for that matter, but her skin is soft and smells like her, and he can't bring himself to let go of her. God, he's missed her. He'd missed her when he'd thought he was about to die, even though she'd been right in front of him and practically covered in his blood. He'd missed her during those long days in the hospital, even though she'd been with him as much as, and even more than, she could manage. And he misses her now, with her eyes steadfastly avoiding his, because he really, really wishes he could just tell her.
She clears her own throat and shifts a bit again, lowering her head. "Do you remember what I said to you before you … lost consciousness?"
He frowns. He thought she might've been mouthing something against his hand that fateful day, but it had been hard enough to see her lips moving, let alone hear her whispers. "No," he replies, and she lets go of a breath she's been holding. "What did you say?"
She gives him a smile, one-quarter tearful and three-quarters faked reassurance. "It does not matter."
"Yes, it does."
"No, it does not." She brightens her smile. "So, are you done? I would like my hand back now."
"Stay with me tonight," he blurts out, and he doesn't know which insane part of his mind came up with that request, but it makes her freeze again.
She blinks several times, thinking. "Tony," she finally says, her voice careful, "why are you being weird?"
He pauses, at a loss for words because he doesn't really know, himself. "I guess I just realized … I could've died, and there would've been a lot of things that … I never got the chance to do with you."
It's the closest thing to a confession that he can get out. But he realizes that she's probably gotten the wrong impression when her eyes tighten and her face grows angry, and she abruptly pulls her hand from his. "I am not just another notch on your bedpost," she hisses, and is standing before he can even defend his words.
"Wait!" he yelps, trying to pull himself into a sitting position. It's a little hard with the stitches, but he succeeds, mostly because of the none-too-gentle nudge she gives him when he loses his balance. He looks up to thank her, but she's wearing her I Hate Myself Right Now face, all tense-jawed and a hair's width from an emotional breakdown. "I didn't mean it like that, Ziva."
The tear escapes her tight control after all. She brushes furiously at her face. "Then how did you mean it?"
"I mean that … I would like to know … what it'd be like, spending part of my life with you."
She stills at that, stunned and teary-eyed. He can't blame her. He feels more than a little stunned at his words himself. Did he seriously just say that?
The anger is ebbing from her eyes when she asks, her voice small, "In what manner do you mean that?"
"In the romantic manner," he answers, and his mouth dries faster than he can swallow his spit.
"You want to … you want to date me."
"Yeah, if that's okay with you." For a moment, he feels like clamping his mouth shut and returning to the hospital to check for brain damage. She's the only thing—only person—he's wanted in a long, long while, but surely he's saying far too much, far too soon?
It feels like several eons before she finally gives the barest hint of a nod. "Is that a 'yes'?" he asks, barely daring to breathe, and she pauses before giving that tiny up-and-down head movement again. His body floods with relief as he pulls her down to sit next to him, and she sniffles once more before pressing her face into his shoulder.
"How does Saturday sound?" he proposes, and she laughs tearfully against him.
"Saturday sounds good."
"Yeah?" He gingerly lifts an arm and wraps it around her shoulders. "Don't bail on me, okay, Zi?"
She lifts her head and smiles at him. A genuine smile this time, if filled with surprise. "I won't."
"I'm counting on that."
She hesitates. "Are you sure you did not hear what I said?"
He shakes his head. "I swear, Zi, I didn't. But I'd love to know."
She studies his face long and hard, and he feels like he might be knocked over with a feather when she leans forward and captures his lips with hers. Soft. Almost chaste. And yeah, he does heat up a bit at the kiss, but he knows that's not what it's really about. Her cheeks are tinged pink when she pulls away, the expression in her eyes almost shy.
She never does tell him.
But he thinks he might've gotten her message loud and clear anyway, for once.