Well THIS went in a completely unexpected direction!
The darkness swirled around him, a fog that refused to clear, but he could tell something was trying to break through. Or more so, someone. A voice, as familiar as his own...the tone at first seemed urgent but it took on a playful and teasing lilt as it echoed through his brain.
Ziva, he could see her now. In tangerine taffeta, a bouquet of white daylilies clutched in her hand...her hair swept to the side, curls cascading over one shoulder. She was winking at him from across the aisle, trying (and failing) to suppress a smirk. He knew she was amused by his ridiculous attire, and - damn her - he wouldn't be able to return the teasing jabs later because she still managed to make Breena's bridesmaid dress look hot. He was so glad he got to see it after all.
They missed the wedding. Jimmy and Ducky left them in DC, with the case and the evacuation and the…
His eyes open slowly, reluctantly, as the tropical hues of his fantasy faded away and he was left with nothing but the harsh and flickering light of reality. "What the hell happened?" Tony mumbled, then swore again loudly as he tried to drag a hand over his face and a stab of pain ran up his wrist.
"The bomb went off and we fell. I'm not sure how far..."
He squinted up at the real Ziva then, read the worry etched into the crease of her dirty brow. "You okay?"
She answered him with an eye roll. "I'm not the one who passed out. You hit your head hard on the doors. I couldn't wake you."
"Yeah well, I'm awake now," he sighed, struggling to sit up. When he finally got his back against the elevator wall he was panting and dizzy as hell, but he pushed it away and turned to her. Ziva had a deep gash on her forehead that was bleeding freely and her arms were wrapped around her torso in a way that strongly suggested she'd taken a blow to her body. He shucked off his jacket - pulling it tenderly off the wrist he suspected was broken - and dabbed at the wound on her head. "Where else are you hurt?" he tried again, more directly.
"M'fine." She shuddered, her body sagging sideways against his. "Neither of our cellphones has a single, signal. I could not wedge open the doors, and I have not heard any voices."
"I'm surprised you didn't try shooting your way out."
She scoffed. "What in the hell possessed us to take the elevator during an evacuation?"
"I dunno, habit? But I bet good money it's the first place Gibbs will look. He'll find us sooner than any rescue team ever could."
Because she was pressed against his side, he could feel the sharp tremor run through her body. His panic spiked. "Ziva? What's wrong?"
She didn't answer for several seconds, and when she did, it was with a whisper. "Gibbs. He went to diffuse the bomb. What if…"
"It's Gibbs," Tony asserted. "The man's been blown up half a dozen times and always survives. He's fine."
"Tim and Abby…"
"Are probably standing outside with everyone else and worrying about us. I'm too sore to head slap you, so just knock off with the gloom and doom. We're all gonna be okay."
Her head dropped to his shoulder and he felt her nod. "You're right. The head injury has apparently given you wisdom."
He smiled softly, glad she was back to joking and insults. Worried Ziva scared the hell out of him. They sat in silence for a few long minutes, Tony taking the opportunity to assess the situation. He couldn't begin to guess how big the explosion was or what kind of shape the rest of the building would be in. They were heading down from the top floor to the ground level when it hit, which meant they could be just about anywhere in between with no way of knowing how much debris rested on top of them...or how much space loomed below. The thought gripped unexpectedly at his chest and he had to take a few deep breaths to push the anxiety down.
"You okay?" Ziva asked, sensing the shift.
He just nodded, "Yeah...yeah, just not a big fan of small spaces."
She gently pushed away from his side to frown up at him as if the statement confused her. "You've never had a problem before, did you? What about when we were trapped in that shipping container?"
He shook his head, but stopped quickly when the throbbing inside his skull intensified. "That was a long time ago. A lot has changed." He glanced down at her. "For you too. I'm surprised it doesn't bother you more…"
She gave a noncommittal shrug, letting her head fall back against the wall. "I was trapped in this same elevator with McGee, what only last year?"
"But you weren't wondering if the elevator was about to fall or the shaft was going to cave in on you…"
She glared over at him, "Thanks for that."
He gave her an apologetic smile. "Sorry. Head injury, remember? I'll keep my thoughts to myself."
She closed her eyes, shaking her head slightly back and forth. "No, keep talking. I will go spin crazy sitting in silence."
"Stir crazy. And really? I thought I annoy the crap outta you when I ramble?"
She ignored the jest. "Tell me why."
He struggled to regain the momentum of the conversation. "Why what?"
"Why you suddenly don't like small spaces. What changed?"
He sighed, carefully wiggling the fingers on his right hand and feeling the jolt of pain - definitely broken. The question rolled around his head for nearly a minute before he gave her the simplest answer he could. "Being Agent Afloat. Between the work, the drills, the storms...I wasn't able to go above deck all that often. I'd go whole days without seeing the sky...just dingy lights and narrow metal passageways. Surrounded by hundreds of miles of water in any direction. It was the first time I really understood claustrophobia, and I thought I was gonna lose my mind. And you may remember...I didn't have much of it left to lose at that point," he met her open eyes then and offered a sardonic smile. He knew it was more than that of course; he hadn't just been trapped on the carrier, but in his own head too. No matter how hard he tried to throw himself into work or any liquor bottle within reach, he couldn't escape the crushing guilt of Jenny's death, of their team broken and scattered to the wind.
He knew this, but he didn't bother saying it. The look on her face told him that Ziva knew it too. He picked up a piece of rubble, wondering what it used to be, and turned it over in his good hand. The admission brought up another memory - one far more pleasant - so he let his thoughts drift towards it. "You know, I used to love being out on the open water. One year my dad took off to Japan a week before school was out, so I ended up going home with a buddy from boarding school. His dad had a sailboat he let us take out. It was a yacht really; the thing probably cost more than I make in a decade...it's a wonder he let us on it at all. We didn't go far, just enough to lose sight of the shore. We'd spend the day pretending we were Errol Flynn or Robert Newton…" He smirked at the sudden memory. "We swiped his dad's bottle of rum one day so we could be real pirates. That was one of my favorite summers."
"Despite the motion sickness?" she asked softly, her eyes closed again, her head now resting on tented knees.
He chuckled. "They had dramamine when I was a kid - I'm not that old." He leaned back, taking a deep breath and could almost smell the salty air. "It was the epitome of freedom to me…That's strange, isn't it? Both times it was the same - a steel hull, a bottle of booze, and water as far as the eye can see. Amazing how time and context can change...things…"
She hummed in agreement, and Tony studied her pale face carefully for a long minute. "You're not okay," he observed, reaching a hand out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. The skin at her neck was cold; he used his good arm to drape his jacket haphazardly around her shoulders.
She murmured a thanks. "I'm fine. I'm just thinking."
The smile played on her lips. "That shipper container. I was so annoyed with you for getting us trapped in there -"
"You got us stuck in there," Tony interrupted. "That badass ninja shoulda been able to shoot her way out of any-" He broke off as the elevator gave a sharp shudder and dropped a good two feet, the sound of metal grinding on metal sending his heart straight into his throat. Ziva's hand shot out and he grabbed it immediately. They waited, not daring to breathe until the floor stopped shuddering beneath them.
He exhaled sharply, dropping her hand momentarily to readjust the jacket that had slipped from her shoulders. He tried to tuck it more securely around her front, but she had her arm wrapped in a stranglehold around her waist.
This time, it was only Tony's stomach that dropped. "Do you remember what hit you? Was it hard enough to do damage?" He tried to feel under her hand but she swatted him away with an impatient tsk. "You probably ruptured your spleen or something."
"I don't have my spleen."
"Okay then, appendix."
"I don't even know where that is."
He paused and thought about that for a moment. "Neither do I."
She rolled her eyes. "At worse, I cracked a few ribs, stop worrying."
He didn't stop and didn't relax, but watched her face intently for several minutes before she finally glared up at him. "I. Am. Fine! Stop staring at me and remind me what we were talking about?"
"How you got us stuck in the container."
"You got us stuck!"
He grimaced. "I'll make you a deal...you admit that time was your bad, but I'll take the hit on this one - it's my fault we took the elevator."
"I told you Tony, I wasn't going without you." She reached out to reclaim his hand, letting it rest between them on a broken piece of ceiling tile as she brushed her thumb across the back of it. "I was so annoyed with you that day, but it was the first time I think I really saw you. You talked about your mother and piano lessons...do you remember? I can still see how your hands twitched when you said it, like you they were just itching to play again." She turned his hand over, examining it. "I regretted judging you and excluding you from dinner the night before."
"Nah. I would have given you a 'maybe' and then blown it off to go to mud wrestling. I was an ass."
"Hmmmn, you were not an ass, but we were both very different person then."
"Different good or different bad?"
"Good," she said softly, lifting her eyes from where she still played distractedly with his hand to meet his curious gaze. "Good," she repeated.
With no warning, not a hint of hesitation, she leaned forward then and gave him a swift, soft kiss. She pulled back before he could even respond, could even register the feeling of her lips against his.
"He was not a man I could love," she said, so low he had to wonder if he had heard her right.
He had all of five seconds to process her words before a deafening grinding noise tore through the air above them. This is it, he thought, as he heard Ziva's loud gasp beside him. He had a fleeting thought that he was glad her lips were the last thing he'd feel when the noise cut off and a shouting voice filtered down through the broken ceiling.
Tony sighed in relief, letting his forehead fall briefly against Ziva's, and he couldn't stop himself then from tipping her chin upwards to deliver his own soft kiss. He whispered in her ear, and she gave him a small smile, a nod, and a choked sob as she let her head fall back against the wall.
"Yeah! Yeah we're here!" Tony shouted back, scrambling haphazardly to his feet. "Agents DiNozzo and David! Gibbs?"
He heard the voice change direction, as if the person had turned his head to speak to someone behind him. It instructed the unseen companion to Go get Agent Gibbs, and Tony took his first truly deep breath. Gibbs was okay. If the boss was fine, then the rest of them would be as well.
The voice was directed towards him again, a query if they were injured.
"Banged up…" Tony yelled. "I don't think we're gonna be able to crawl out on our own."
He heard the acknowledgement, the order to just sit tight, and he sent up a silent thanks to whoever waited above for them.
"Alright, sweetcheeks," he said, lowering himself carefully back down. "You about ready to blow this popsicle stand?"
He turned to look at her, to share the smile he was sure would match his own at the promise of a swift rescue. She was still resting her head against the wall in relief, and he reached for her again, his hand wrapping around the back of her neck.
Ziva's head lolled sideways, her body falling into him like some grotesque rag doll. The unbidden metaphor came to his mind a split second before her name rent itself from his lips as a scream.
Not done yet folks so don't assume anything! Probably 1-2 chapters more.
At least now that you've read this, I can disclaim that all typos and awkward phrasings from Ziva were very very deliberate...I take pride in my spell checking! ;)
Thanks for reading!