He's been home for an hour, but his arm still burns from the grip she had on it earlier tonight. Even while they ate dinner with Shmiel, her hand kept returning there: when she laughed, when she walked behind him on her way to the restroom. He definitely didn't mind, and at one point, he must have been watching her disappear around the corner, because Shmiel laughed loudly and said, "Ah. I see how this partnership is."

Whatever that meant. Tony just smiled and took a sip of wine, unsure how to answer- after all, he doesn't even know how this partnership is anymore.

He and Ziva have been close for a long time, and yes, it's beyond the "you'd die for me, I'd die for you" convention of work partners in law enforcement. There have been multiple people he's had that understanding with, but only one he jeopardized his entire career for. Only one he found himself incapable of living without. And even though he can't be sure, he thinks it's the same way for her. Best friends seems like a good way to describe them, but then again, can't any two people achieve that status once they attain a certain level of familiarity? It doesn't explain their bond, the one that has existed since they stood outside that hotel years ago, eating pizza and drinking coffee. And it certainly doesn't explain why that bond has been bent so many times, but has never broken.

Best friends can permanently fall away from each other.

Tony and Ziva have always persevered.

Now, it seems, their thing- whatever it is- is changing, bordering on something else. He'd been under the impression that they were to be stuck in the rut of friendship forever. Neither of them has ever been good at opening up; despite the raw chemistry, the potential, he'd always figured they would never let each other in to the extent that would be necessary were they to become more than friends. The thought was painful, but he'd come to terms with it.

And then.

He told her about his mom.

She shared Tali's memory with him.

He spent five hours in the company of a person who has known her for twenty-seven years, and she allowed him to learn all kinds of tidbits about her childhood, her family.

They are starting to move into that off-limits territory, and he doesn't know what that means, exactly, or what to do about it.

Tony looks at the digital clock on the microwave. It's a little past two a.m. He's wide awake, and, on the off chance that she is, too, grabs his phone and presses number one on the speed dial.

Ziva answers on the second ring. "Do not tell me there is a case."

"No case," he chuckles, leaning on the kitchen counter. One of his thumbs slides absentmindedly through a splotch of water there. "Why aren't you asleep?"

"Why aren't you?"

He pauses. "I dunno."

"Me, either."

So here they are, on the phone in the middle of the night, apparently without reason. He's the one who called her, though, so he acts like he has a purpose and asks, "Shmiel get to his hotel alright?"

"Yes," Ziva says. "I drove him. It did not seem right to make him pay for a cab."

"Cab would've been safer."

"Shut up, Tony," she sighs, sounding somewhat irritable but mostly amused. He laughs, and a moment later she does too. They spend a lot more time laughing together lately. It's… it's nice. "Did you need something?"

Busted. He has no excuse, so he tells the truth. "Nah."

"Then… are you just bored? I would have imagined you'd be tired by now; we were out for a long time."

Tony pushes himself off the counter and paces to the window. It overlooks the apartment complex's back alley, but if he raises his gaze to the sky, it's not a bad view. "Yeah, about that. Shmiel… you went on about how he knew all this stuff I didn't… and then you invited me along."

She is quiet.

"How come?" he prompts.

"You answered that question yourself, didn't you?"

He is growing aggravated- this is all so confusing- and he runs a hand through his hair as he begins to ramble. "What do you mean? I don't know. It's just… we're Tony and Ziva. Package deal, attached at the hip, supposedly sleeping together when actually, everybody else assumes we know more about each other than we really do. So… you suddenly giving me access to all this stuff is… well, why?"

"Tony." Ziva speaks urgently, as if she has an important message, one she desperately needs to get through his thick skull. "You know why. It's the post-elevator us, yes?"

"I- what?"

"You were right about that. We are different now, and I am trying, I really am, to… to keep it going." She sighs softly.

And suddenly, his only wish in the world is that they weren't on the phone right now, because he wants to see her, and he really kind of wants to hug her. He wants to pull her into his arms and inhale the scent of her hair and just feel her beside him, and he even thinks she would let him do so.

Somehow, all the worries he'd been having just a couple minutes ago evaporate, and everything is so simple.

"Thank you," he murmurs, unsure of whether she can hear him.

Then: "Thank you."

A grin breaks across Tony's face. It's still up in the air what's going to happen between them, but for now, they're on the same page. And that's a wonderful place to be.

"I like us," he says.

When she replies, he knows that she's smiling as well. "I like us, too."

My attempt at tagging an amazing episode. Hope you enjoyed somewhat. Leave me a review?