Disclaimer: I no own Ene-Ce-I-Ese :( or Ratatouille, for that matter. In case anyone's wondering.

Spoilers: 10x12 "Shiva," and a reference to 07x13 "Jet Lag."

Look at me, posting so soon before work :P and angst on my 22nd birthday! I have no limits. This is somewhat angsty, btw. But not too much.

Enjoy!

-Soph


To Clear the Air

The chime of the bell echoed throughout the apartment on the other side of the cream-coloured door; for a moment, the irrational thought crossed Ziva's mind that her partner had moved since she last saw him—before she left for Israel for her father's funeral, that was.

It wasn't long, though, before she heard Tony's signature tread crossing the floorboards. And then, the door was thrown open.

"Tony," she greeted, and the Italian American's surprised green eyes lit up, his mouth pulling into a beam.

"Should've told me you were home, David; I would've gone to pick you up from the airport," he answered, and she tried to suppress the flutter in her stomach at his words.

"I … did not want to trouble anyone."

He stared at her, his expression unreadable even though his smile slipped a bit. "You're different," he stated.

She frowned, thrown off by his abrupt observation. "What do you mean?"

"Uh … nothing." He shook his head. "Wanna come in?"

She hesitated, bouncing on her heels to prevent herself from striding right into the middle of his living room and making herself at home in his space. Jerkily, she held up the paper bag she carried in one hand and offered it to him. "Actually, I came to give you this."

"What is it?" he asked, taking the bag from her but not looking into it.

"A thank-you gift. For … providing me with a place to stay after my father's … passing."

His gaze stayed unwaveringly on hers. "Well, technically, it was Gibbs' orders, but you're welcome."

She pursed her lips and nodded. "I should go now."

She heard a sigh as she turned away, and then felt the pressure of his fingers on her wrist, making her look back at him; his mouth was a hard line now, a stark contrast to the gentle fingertips were tapping lightly against the flesh of her palm.

"Come in," he said, tugging her towards him before she could refuse.

And she did as he wanted her to.

When the door had been softly closed, her gift put down, and her hand let go of, he spoke again. "You said you knew, when I told you you were not alone."

She blinked at him. "I do know."

"So, what makes you think you have to be here standing on such formality and with a thank-you gift?"

"I hardly think that a thank-you gift is inappropriate, given what you have done for me."

"Yeah, but the way you're acting is so … stiff. It's not how I left you before you boarded that plane." Wary eyes bore into her. "What happened in Israel, Ziva?"

"Nothing did, I promise you. But…"

"But…?" he prompted when she didn't finish her sentence.

She opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to look for the words to express how she felt. "You and I; we're good," she began.

"And?"

"And…" She shrugged. "It is just that we are not that good—yet, and … you had to let me in a lot more than you probably wanted to because of the circumstances in my life at the time. I know you keep this place to yourself for a reason. Yet, during the course of looking out for me, you invited not only me to your apartment, but Shmeil as well. You went out of your way to accommodate me."

"And you think I regret that?"

Her head snapped up at his incredulous tone. "No, no; of course not. But I just wanted you to know, Tony…" She swallowed and finished carefully, "I want you to know that if you need less familiarity between us, I respect that."

"In other words, you think my apartment is off-limits to you from now on," he summarized, his tone flat.

She corrected, "It would be presumptuous of me to think that I am welcomed at any time and for any reason at all when it was extenuating circumstances that led to my visit in the first place."

"So many big words," he snorted, "when what you really want to know is where we stand."

She bit her lip and searched the room, if for no other reason than so that she wouldn't have to meet his eyes. "Yes."

He sighed again. "Can't undo the past, y'know. You're right, I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit with that impromptu slumber party that was the result of … something neither you nor I wanted. But I don't regret having you here. Don't regret anything else I did, either, if that answers your question."

She nodded. "And does that mean that…"

"Yes, Ziva, it does mean that you're welcome at any time."

"It is simply that we have this habit of drawing back after … particularly emotionally intimate moments," she explained, wincing at her own choice of words. His answer, though—straightforward and unhesitant—shocked her with its certainty.

"I don't wanna do that anymore."

"You are really alright with-… with what we have shared?" she asked with disbelief. "With hugs and … holding my hand after a nightmare and … knowing that I have nightmares in the first place?"

"Are you still having them?" he asked somewhat irrelevantly, and when she shook her head, he said, "I held your hand in Paris, anyway."

"That is different," she insisted. "Paris is Paris, and you know that as well as I. Normal life resumed only when we stepped off the plane in DC after flying back."

"And last week was normal life, so you don't know where you stand now," he concluded.

She breathed out deeply. "Yes."

"So, maybe the question is where you want to stand," he replied quietly.

Her lip trembled against her will, and she clenched her jaw hard. She cleared her throat. "I don't … I do not want to know that it would be another few years before we were comfortable with the idea of … my hugging you one more time, if that's what you're asking."

"Okay."

"Okay."

And then she stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do next. It was the longest and most candid conversation they'd had about themselves in a while, and even though they seemed to have reached some sort of agreement, she hadn't the faintest idea of how she could proceed. She was Ziva; honest and sincere didn't come easily to her, even after months of practice with him.

She almost jumped out of her skin when his chest brushed hers, and would have if it hadn't been for the arms that wrapped around her sides and came to rest on the small of her back. "Just to ease you in," he whispered.

She dropped her forehead to his shoulder in response, taking in a deep breath. His musky scent tickled her nostrils, and she put her own arms around his waist. It felt … right, for the lack of a better adjective. Like she wouldn't have to wait another few years just for another hug.

"Look," he told her, sweeping a stray lock of her hair behind her ear, "we didn't exactly use to have the habit of being honest with each other, so I'm just getting this out there—I don't have a problem with any of those things you mentioned. In fact, I wanna be able to do them. And I don't promise to have a hundred per cent success rate, but I do promise to try."

Her breath caught in her throat.

"This is where you promise to let me," he added, drawing back the slightest bit, and she lifted her head despite the tears that threatened to overflow.

"Deal," she answered, her voice breaking.

"Good," he murmured, and he pressed the lightest kiss into her hair. "So, stay for dinner? You and Shmeil left me with enough food to last me into the next century and a half; I'm gonna need someone to help finish it off. And you can cook for me to thank me for letting you stay here."

She laughed despite herself, his words fulfilling his undoubted intention of reaffirming his words and then lightening her mood. "I brought you a gift!"

He grinned. "That's different: I expect a souvenir every time you go to Israel, unless I'm there with you. Now get going, my little Remy."

She furrowed her brows at him. "Who is Remy?"

He groaned rather melodramatically. "From Ratatouille—never mind!"

And they would be just fine, she realized in that moment.

Especially now that he had moved into step beside her and slung an arm around her waist, welcoming her once more into his heart and his home.