Relationships were complicated, no matter their level. Though both Tony and Ziva and all their collective relationships had been at the height of dysfunction almost their entire lives, they knew one thing about relationships: there were a lot of crossroads. When two people become an item, the number of fate-changing moments and decisions doubled.
Tony and Ziva came to their first crossroads when they reached the parking lot.
His car or hers?
What were they doing, just leaving together? They'd shared a kiss inside an elevator in the midst of an explosion and now what were they? Ziva could almost feel the strings attached to her.
She quickly let go of his hand, feeling hers become clammy and wiped it on her pants. She also, without realizing, stopped walking. Tony stopped too, turning to face her.
"You OK?" he asked, looking genuinely concerned. A cold wind blew through the Navy Yard, making them both shiver.
"Yes, I just..." she wrapped her arms around herself, staring at the ground. "I know I asked you to kiss me in there. But don't you think this is something we should discuss? I do not know about you but I am finding this whole thing frighteningly easy to fall into."
"That's probably a good sign," he replied seriously. "But you're right. We should. Let's go grab some dinner, OK?"
She nodded. "It's just that there are more things to think about here. Do you think it's right -"
He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her body close to his, crushing her lips with his own. Her tension melted at his touch, and she lifted her hand to his cheek.
He pulled away and smiled at her. He was trying hard to be the guy that could sweep Ziva off her feet and melt away her inhibitions, but he couldn't ignore the fact that kissing her still felt amazing. "I know it's right," he said softly. "Come on, we'll take my car. Let's get outta here before someone sees us."
The car ride was mostly silent until they exited the Navy Base to go downtown for dinner. Tony had debated where he should take her on their first official 'date' but she piped up before he could ask.
"Do you mind if we go for Italian tonight, Tony? At the little restaurant on the corner of North Street off of Wisconsin Avenue?"
"Oh! Paola's?" Tony asked, making sure that was the right place. He had been there a couple of times and knew his way there from the Navy Base,
"Yes! That's it," Ziva confirmed and stared out the window. There was more silence between the two. Ziva turned to see Tony, his jaw was clenched tightly and he appeared to be stressed a bit.
"Everything alright?" Ziva questioned, putting her hand on his thigh. Tony sighed and faked a smile.
"Peachy," he replied as he pulled onto the street where the restaurant was. Ziva took her hand off of him and stared at him out of the corner of her eye.
"Somehow I do not believe you," he murmured while Tony pulled his car up against the curb to park.
"I'm fine, really. And tonight is about us, not me. Are you ready for dinner now?" He asked, shutting off the car engine. Ziva tucked her hair behind her ear and unbuckled her seatbelt.
"Yes. I am starving!" She declared and got out of the car. Tony got out as well and slammed his door.
"I just want this night to be perfect." Tony thought to himself before walking around the car to join hands with Ziva.
She loved the feeling of her hand in his, to be honest. As much as the prospect of 'them' becoming something more than partners was a daunting one, so far everything had fallen into place. Holding his hand didn't feel unnatural. It felt right. Ziva knew that was a dangerous description to make, after all, she knew nothing about 'right'. She supposed that was why they were there: to talk about all that.
The pressure on them both was far more intense than they had imagined, though. After years of pushing thoughts like this away, they had no possible way of telling how this night was going to go. Though so far – since they had kissed – it seemed like every person who had ever had the wrong idea about them was yelling 'I told you so!' rather triumphantly.
The waiter showed the couple to a table immediately, which was extremely convenient. The restaurant was intimate, quiet, and the aromas were intoxicating. It wasn't too fancy though, which was lucky because the two of them looked like a mess after being in an explosion just hours earlier.
A young and rather busty waitress approached them and asked for their orders in a strong New York accent. Ziva politely ordered the Bolognese and Tony the same.
Once the girl had tucked her little notepad into the belt of her obscenely short skirt like a lady in a 50s diner, Ziva frowned at Tony.
"What?" he asked.
"You did not take a second look at her," she said, squinting suspiciously.
"Well," he reached across the table to touch her hand. "I think I'm taken."
She laughed and shook her head. "Do you really want that? Because I will forget about this if you want to."
"Is there a second option?" he asked.
"You mean you want to…"
"Ziva, I want you to be my girlfriend," he blurted out, and immediately froze. Wow. That sounded foreign on his tongue. He didn't think he'd ever said the words 'Ziva' and 'girlfriend' in the same sentence.
Her big brown eyes looked hopeful. "For…how long?"
He grinned his trademark grin and nibbled at a complimentary bread stick. "As long as you'll have me, I guess."
Ziva's mind raced. The last time someone had asked her to be their girlfriend, well that was Ray, and things certainly did not go right. Yes, at first the dinners were romantic, the kisses were sweet and she felt like a woman, but things never did go as planned in her love life and that had worried her. Ziva secretly knew that it would come to this eventually, had her wishes come true anyway, but she did not expect to feel this worried about it,
"As long as I will have you?" Ziva asked quietly, looking down at her drink. Her heart raced and she tried to avert her eyes from his. Tony was ecstatic about the idea of them finally being an item, but Ziva was not too sure if this was the right thing after all. Tony eagerly nodded.
"Yeah, you know, maybe it's time that we stop being best friends and be a little more, uh…" Just then the waitress brought out their dinner. She popped out her little tray stand and set the big platter down on top.
"Looks delicious," Ziva spoke up but still did not look at Tony.
"Thanks," Tony grinned at the waitress while she placed their steaming dishes in front of them. The waitress looked at the couple, whose body language was screaming the situation had turned awkward.
"Anything else I can get you two?" she asked, grabbing the platter and stand. Both Tony and Ziva denied her offer for anything more and off she went.
Ziva looked up at Tony who did not appear to be all mentally there at the time. He almost looked hurt, but there was a sparkle in his eye which had confused Ziva.
"Listen," Ziva stammered at first and placed her one hand on Tony's, gently stroking his hand "I know that you like me, Tony. And that is wonderful! I like you too, but I am not sure I am ready for this..." Ziva's voice broke as it trailed off and she let go of his hand and immediately looked away. "Things with Ray made me realize I need something... permanent, don't you think this is moving a bit fast?" Tony felt like he had just been punched in the stomach.
"Fast?" Tony scoffed. "Seven years is fast, Ziva? Some people get married after knowing each other for not even a year!"
"Oh, so this is about marriage now?" Ziva tried not to lose her temper.
"Oh God, no, Ziva. It's just - I've waited all these years to tell you what I've told you tonight, and well, things did not go exactly as I thought it would, or how I planned it in my head."
"You planned how it would go?" she asked, sounding a little angrily. "I…I am not a part of your plan. I've felt like that before. I don't want it again."
"That's not what I meant, I…." he took a deep breath, choosing his words with the utmost of care. "Look, you asked me to kiss you. Whatever the reason, you still asked. And I don't know about you but that's the best kiss I've felt in a long time."
She twirled her fork in the spaghetti, never lifting it to her lips. She didn't look at him. "This isn't one of your movies, Tony. Did you expect everything to just go a certain way?"
"You know I never liked romantic comedies, Ziva. I know this is real life. I know this is more complicated, OK? But I don't think it has to be."
"Why not? I mean, do you think that if something ever happened between us it'd just be a hook-up? Is that what you're scared of?"
"I'm not scared," she stressed.
"Well did you ever think, you know, if you want something permanent, I might just be the guy you're looking for?" he asked.
Ziva rubbed her temples. This whole night she was pretty sure she had gone through the entire spectrum of emotions. "I don't want to jump into something too quickly, Tony. You need to understand that. We know each other so well, any other steps in this relationship are serious. I will have…a drawer at your apartment and there will be weekends away and then we'll move in and want a family and….and I don't know how to do all that. There's no guarantee here. Some things don't just 'work', on their own."
"Then we'll make it work."
"And what if we can't?" she asked. She looked almost desperate.
"Let me put it to you this way:" he said, leaning towards her a little more. "A swimmer doesn't stay on the blocks because he knows he can't breathe underwater, he just swims faster. A bungee jumper doesn't not take the jump because the rope might break, he jumps because the rope might break. A ship doesn't keep its anchor down because its captain's afraid of sailing. The things that threaten us the most are our greatest achievements. I wouldn't wanna miss that, Ziva. Sometimes you just gotta dive in."
"Feet first," she finished.
"Exactly. Are you ready to dive in feet first, Ziva? Risk your emotions and your 'safe' plans to be with me?" Tony used his hands to make air quotes. The corners of Ziva's mouth turned up just a little.
"I think that is quite possible," she replied, pushing away her dinner dish after finishing her meal. Tony called the waitress for their bill. She returned to the table and placed the check in front of both of them.
"I've got this," Tony said placing his hand on Ziva's - her hand was already on the bill.
"No, that is okay," Ziva insisted.
"Haven't you ever been on a real date, Ziva? One where the gentleman pays? Or did Ray have you pay for everything?" Tony asked, laughing. Ziva shot him a glare. "Sorry. But I would really like to pay for dinner." Tony grabbed the cheque and stood up from his chair.
"Well, I guess that is fine," Ziva thanked him while scanning the table for anything she may have forgotten before following Tony to the cashier.
When they got out to the car, Tony looked at his clock on his radio and then at Ziva. She noticed and made eye contact with him.
"What?" Ziva laughed.
"Nothing. It's just... what do we do now?" Tony asked quietly, carefully choosing his words. He knew exactly where he wanted this night to go, but he was not sure if Ziva wanted to go home with him. That was not exactly the right thing to do at the moment, but it seemed right to him.
"Well, we will have to be at the Navy Yard tomorrow, or doing something... maybe you should just take me home?" Ziva suggested, after realizing the clock read that it was almost 10:30. Tony sighed and started up the car.
"Alright," he replied, a bit disappointed.
The drive was silent, mostly. Tony looked over to Ziva a couple of times and each time she was just staring out the window at the dark night. Her hands were clasped together in her lap. Each time they passed under a street lamp her face lit up, and each time she looked…content. Contemplative, but content.
He waited a few moments before he shut the gas off as he pulled into a free car spot. He didn't want this to be over.
"Do you want me to walk you up?" he asked, prolonging what he thought was their inevitable separation.
She just nodded and he walked with her up to the door of her apartment silently. Her bag had been in the squad room when they evacuated but she always kept her keys in her pocket when she could.
She unlocked the door and stepped over the threshold, looking up at Tony.
"I am glad we did this, Tony," she said with a smile.
He grinned and touched her hand. "Me too. I'm glad…ya know…some good came out of this mess."
Suddenly she wrapped her arms around his torso and pulled him into an embrace. He was shocked for a moment but returned the hug quickly.
Ziva pulled back. "Sorry. I just…had to remember that feeling. I think I'm getting used to it."
He stared at the girlish smile on her face. Oh, how he wanted to kiss her.
She swallowed. "Never mind. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Ziva," he said softly as she closed the door.
She walked into her kitchen, feeling almost aimless. Empty, even. A man she had feelings for was on the other side of that door and she'd let him get away. They'd finally fixed things and she had him leave.
She bolted towards the door and flung it open, finding to her surprise that he was standing in the exact same position he had been moments ago. She didn't even care to question it. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him with all the passion she could muster.
"Thought you needed sleep," he said, between heavy kisses.
"It can wait," she replied, reaching for his shirt buttons.
So, he decided, could Number 26. After all, he was halfway there already and he had all night.
And, if he was lucky, forever.