Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS. I'll save the smartass ones for happier fics :P
Spoilers: Minor 7x01 "Truth or Consequences."
Setting: This is part of my family series; although there's no direct interaction with either Ben or Lila, this story is very much driven by their existence.
Okay, I'm in a rush now, so I'll just get this posted. I don't know if this story is overly dramatic or even at all likely, but well ... it's Tony and Ziva. To those who read my other one-shot and reviewed, I'll reply when I come home, I promise! My friends and I are going uh ... wind-mill hunting :D
What? I've never seen one up close!
Enjoy; please review!
Love Me Not
Her leg was painful in a dull, pulsing way, but she ignored it. The wound was clean, a through-and-through, and she'd be free to go as soon as Tony arrived to take her home.
She wasn't really looking forward to his arrival, though. The pain in her leg wasn't as worrisome as the pain in her heart; not after making the decision that she had. Not after knowing what she had to tell him. It would seem a bit of an overreaction after something as small as a leg wound that would have her up and running after merely a month, but she knew it was important. It could've been a bullet that had hit a major artery; or worse, that had taken her life.
His harried face rounded the corner five minutes later, and he wasted no time in gathering her into his arms as gently as he could, his trembling lips pressing a shaky kiss to her cheek.
"Is it bad?" he asked hoarsely, and she had to smile sadly, her heart twinging with guilt, because oh, she wished right now that he was still the old Tony who would never think to ask that.
"No," she assured him, brushing his cold cheek with her fingers. "They sewed me up and gave me antibiotics, and I can go home now."
He breathed out slowly. "Are we sure they don't have to keep you here overnight? Elise is looking after the kids; I can be here until dinnertime, and then I can come and pick you up first thing in the morning."
"That is not necessary, Tony. As long as I keep my leg elevated and my wound dry, I can go home. But … I do have something to talk to you about."
"Sure. What is it?"
She hesitated, biting her lip. She knew herself. She knew Tony. And she knew that the hospital, with its busyness and heavy traffic of doctors and nurses and patients requiring immediate attention, wasn't the best place to have this conversation. So she made up her mind.
"Not here," she told him. "In the car. We will talk about it in the car."
The uncertainty flickering in his eyes made it clear that he knew it wasn't going to be good news, but he didn't fight her. Instead, he just kissed her forehead messily, helped her up and into the wheelchair he had waiting, and supported her weight when her knees almost buckled under the pain that shot through her leg.
Sometimes she wished he loved her less.
"Pull over, Tony," she said softly a few minutes from home, and he did so, his jaw working as the car drew to a halt by the roadside. She knew she'd been feeding his inner demons—the demons he rarely ever confessed to having—by keeping silent, but she'd had to steel her nerves first. She glanced over at him; he didn't look back, and his knuckles were deathly white against the steering wheel.
So she swallowed and continued, "I need you to promise me something."
"What?" His tone was curious and worried, rather than angry.
"I need you to promise me that um … t-that you can live without me."
"What?" he asked without pause, almost out of reflex than an actual desire for elaboration.
His eyes widened impossibly when her request sank in, but she'd already started speaking again. "Today … today, after I got shot, I realized somethi—"
"I'm sorry I wasn't there to have your back, Zi," he interrupted, anxiety filling his voice.
"That is not what I meant to say. It is just … we have children now."
"And … I need to know that if anything were to happen to me, you would look after them."
"Are you saying I'm not doing a good enough job of that? I had to come pick you up, Zi, I couldn't bring them. And I waited till Elise got off wor—"
"Tony, I'm not saying that you're not doing a good job. You're doing a very good job. But … but are you telling me that what you said wasn't the truth?"
"Of course it was the truth!" he replied angrily, and she heard his breath catch in his throat when he finally understood her train of thought. "No," he whispered, his voice horrified.
"We have to."
"No," he repeated, more harshly. "No … why? Wh—how can I promise that?"
"We have children now," she reiterated, no longer able to meet his eyes. "Children who rely on us. And let's face it, Tony … our fathers … were never fathers after our mothers left them. It shouldn't be like that."
"But you're my wife. My … my Ziva."
"I am human. And I work a dangerous job that could lose me my life at any moment."
"Quit," he ordered, reaching for her hands with a desperate grasp. "Quit, and we'll … I don't know, we'll move to the mountains in Austria and live out the Von Trapp Family fantasy. The Sound of Music. That's your favourite movie, right? I know it is, I've been married to you for seven years and I know everyth—"
She pressed her lips to his, silencing his pain-filled ramblings, and she wasn't even sure if the wetness on her cheeks were her tears or his. "Stop, Tony," she begged him.
"Stop what?" he murmured against her lips, his eyes screwed shut against the hurt. "You're the one who wants me to promise my wife of seven years that I can spend my life without her."
"No," she gasped, and it wasn't until the pain slicing through her heart registered in her mind that she realized just how hard her request must be for him. "No, I didn't mean that. I just need to know—"
"I know," he answered, and rested his forehead against hers. His chest heaved. "Can we just pretend I didn't mean it when I said it? Why is it even such a big deal? I said it years ago. Forget it ever happened, Zi, and then I don't have to make this promise. Don't make me."
"Would pretending you never said it make it untrue?"
"Would promising otherwise make it untrue? Why are you making me?"
"Because I need to know that our children would be cared for."
He slowly withdrew his hands from hers, leaning back in his seat and refusing to meet her eyes. "And what about me?"
"You have our children," she answered bravely, the words scraping her throat raw. She could almost predict his next words before he spoke them, simply because she knew him that well.
"Are you going to make them promise that they can live without you, too?"
"No," she choked out, "because I know they are capable of moving on."
"What kind of monsters do you think we're raising?"
"Don't call Lila and Ben that, Tony," she snarled, and she wasn't sure if she was angrier at him or herself. "We're raising humans. Who are capable of moving on and loving again. Don't—"
"We need to go home," he answered flatly, reaching forward to turn the key in the engine.
"Don't talk to me right now. I need to work through things, okay? Consider what the hell you just said."
And with that, silence reigned in the car once again, making her wonder if she had just broken her entire family into bits and pieces with one stupid, stupid request.
She'd always wondered if they were too fragile to hold together.
Dinner that night was a quiet affair.
They'd been greeted at the door by the lovely Elise, next-door-neighbour and frequent babysitter of Ben and Lila, and been surprised by the fact that the French schoolteacher had already made their meals and fed the children. Tony made a reasonable effort at putting up an act of normalcy while Elise was there, but as soon as the front door closed, he dropped his smile, took up Ben's hand, and led the little boy upstairs to be tucked into bed.
Ziva found herself having to eat dinner with one leg propped up on his empty chair and Lila beside her for company, because Tony didn't reappear after that.
He did at last show himself, if only to remind Lila of her bedtime. Hand in hand, the father-daughter duo made their way up the stairs, and Ziva hated her selfishness for wanting to cry because it was almost as if he didn't even acknowledge her as part of the household anymore.
At eleven, she took his dinner up to him. Climbing a single flight of stairs with a fresh leg injury was like climbing the Great Wall of China, but he had gone to the other side of the world for her. A single flight of stairs was nothing.
He exhibited great self-control by not sweeping everything she placed in front of him to the floor in one dismissive move. Instead, he carefully shifted the tray of food from their bed to the floor, saying, "I'm not hungry."
She stood staring dumbly at him. Her leg was killing her by now, but she'd rather have lost the appendage than given herself the reprieve of resting it. Instead, she stood, gritting her teeth and holding back the tears stinging her eyes, until he finally looked up at her.
"Lila asked me if the hospital visit went worse than I was letting on because you and I both looked so close to tears," he told her. "Not in those words, of course. But you never really know what to say when she asks such questions. That girl's smarter than she should be."
"She's your daughter," Ziva simply answered, because she didn't trust her voice to say more.
He snorted derisively. "Well, I never thought I'd hear you call me smart, even if indirectly."
She hummed her agreement, and it was a good thing he was close enough to stand and catch her before her legs gave way completely beneath her.
"What the hell are you thinking?" he asked angrily as he laid her gently down onto the bed. "Stop standing on your injured leg."
"I have to do it," she answered weakly, and his eyes narrowed because he knew what she meant.
"Stop punishing yourself on my account. What's wrong with you?"
His crushing tone broke the tenuous hold she had on her tears, after all, and she had to turn her face into the pillow. She felt the bed dip beside her as she tried to collect herself, and suddenly the heat of his presence was just there, next to her. Closer than he'd been all night. He wasn't even touching her at all, but everything felt a little better.
"I'm sorry," he said when she'd lifted her face. A hand reached out tentatively, fingertips brushing her hair from her cheek. She couldn't even understand why, but it made her shiver, as if her body had missed the physical contact. "That was over the line."
She shook her head. "It was not, considering what I've asked of you."
"Simple, right?" He huffed and looked away. "I just have to say I can live without you. Never mind that husband and wives don't just come home and ask each other to promise that. 'Till death do us part,' yeah, right. More like, 'part when the missus decides she might die and doesn't want her children to be without a father.'"
She froze at his words. "Are you…" she began, but stopped when her voice choked in her throat. She struggled to scramble into a sitting position, tensing when he had to help lift her up and prop her against the headboard.
"Am I what? Seriously pissed off? Just upset? Mad? Sad?"
"Asking me for a d-divorce?" she whispered, and it was in that moment that she learnt what it truly felt like to lose everything.
He only stared at her, though. "Did the bullet hit your head?" he asked, and sounded so amused that her eyes teared up against her will.
"No," she hissed, and she hated herself for no longer knowing how to defend herself.
"Ziva, look at me." He paused and waited for her to do so, but she didn't. He tapped two fingers against her jaw, lightly turning her face towards him, and then pressed his lips to hers. Once. Chaste. But the affirmation that she'd been needing all night. "I will never ask you for a divorce. That much I can promise. I need you to get that idea out of your head, okay?"
She nodded, because it was all too easy to oblige to this request. She wouldn't want that idea to cross her mind ever again, if she could help it. But then he breathed out slowly and painfully, and she realized that the gravity of the situation wasn't yet over.
"Look, I know I overreacted," he started, "but I mean … you know how bad this request sounds, right? It's like asking me to promise I don't love you. Something so general and so abstract just doesn't cut it. Ask me to promise that I'll look after our children. Ask me to promise that I'll send them to college or give Lila away or teach Ben's first child how to ride a bike. Don't ask me to promise I can do without you, because … I can't. I don't know—I wouldn't know how to look at you in the morning, knowing that this tiny little thing between us changed because you wanted me to love you less than I did the night before. I wouldn't know … if anything ever happened to you, I wouldn't know how to not mourn you for the rest of my life because quite frankly, you're it for me, Ziva. You're my soul mate. Don't take that away from me, okay? Please don't ask me to love you less."
His chest heaved again, overwhelmed with emotions that she couldn't begin to comprehend, and she could only nod mutely. She'd never wanted this in the first place. She'd never meant to hurt herself and she'd certainly never meant to hurt him and she'd never. Wanted. This. The ridiculousness of her wishes was starting to dawn on her because, while on a theoretical level, she knew she was capable of picking up the pieces of her broken heart and making sure that her children would have a normal life, she would've shot him herself if he had dared to suggest she not mourn his passing.
So she leant towards him, and to her relief, his arms came up—whether out of reflex or a conscious decision, she didn't know—and wrapped themselves around her torso. "I got you," he told her softly, and she understood that it was his way of telling her as far as he was involved, nothing had changed.
She curled her fist into his shirt, inhaling his musky scent. The pieces of her family were starting to come together again, and not for the first time, she was given a clear picture of just how fortunate she was to still have what she did. "I love you," she whispered, and his hand brushed her hair.
He held up three fingers, a Scout's honour, and stared into her eyes. "I promise now that our children will never have nowhere to go. If—and I hope to God that stays an 'if'—anything happened to you, I will be here. I'll make sure they go to school and get fed and have a shoulder to cry on and all that jazz. And … I will give Lila away. I will teach Ben's first child to ride a bike. I'll be there to tell them all about you, and no matter how far they go or who they turn out to be, I will love them and make sure they know it, and never give them a reason to doubt that they'll have me to turn to whenever they need me."
She brushed a tear from her cheek. "Thank you."
"But you have to promise you'll never again ask me to take back what I said, because I don't think I can handle it twice."
Drawing in a deep breath, she gave a single, firm nod. "I promise."
He kissed her forehead. "I love you, Ziva," he told her, so fierce in his conviction that she didn't think she would doubt it anymore for the rest of her life.
She didn't think she'd ever again want him to love her any less, either.