Disclaimer: Not mine, of course.


It's late morning by the time Gibbs and Ziva take the elevator up to the squad room, homicidal woman in tow, and Tony is very, very glad to see them. McGee has spent the past few hours in Abby's lab, possibly sleeping—none of them got much sleep last night—and it's a struggle for Tony to stay awake with nothing but paperwork for company. Plus, it looks like Gibbs brought doughnuts, and it amuses him to see Ziva's bare calves and running shoes peeking out from under her long, red coat. He spares a thought to hope she won't change.

It's always so nice to see her in those tight pants.

"Are our favorite medical-examiners-slash-heroes downstairs?" he asks Gibbs as Ziva marches the crazy lady down the hall. The paperwork can wait; perhaps he'll go downstairs and play audience for a while, since he didn't get to see the final act of this particular play.

"Not Jimmy. Duck sent him home."

"Oh. Do you—" he starts, but Gibbs sweeps out of the bullpen just as Ziva reenters, shrugging off her coat and backpack.

"Do I what?" she asks, sitting down—and how lovely, because that's a good indication that she's not going to hop up and change anytime soon.

"Nothing. Just wondering how Jimmy's doing." He allows himself to briefly admire her pretty shoulders.

"He seems better this morning," she says. "He didn't cry at all." She glances up. "Do I have something on my shirt?"

"Nah. You just look…comfy."

"I am. And I hope you are, too, since it's likely that all we'll be doing today is paperwork."

He groans. "That's all I've been doing this morning, while you and the rest of the gang were gallivanting off to the gym."

"Well, now I'm here to help," she sighs.

"Your enthusiasm is overwhelming, David."

She grins ruefully.

Sometime later, she looks up from her monitor. "I forgot to ask. Did you and McGee straighten things out?"

Thinking of McTicket makes him feel even more tired than he is. He shrugs. "Kinda."

"Kinda?"

He waggles his hand back and forth over a stack of folders, trying not to notice that she's tapping her pen against her chin and studying him with narrowed eyes, which means she's probably not done with this topic.

"Hmm."

That's all she says, and it makes him nervous, because Ziva doesn't give up that easily.

"And how is your lump?" she asks smoothly, as if that were a question of equal importance.

Kinda hurting, now that she mentions it. But before she can latch onto that line of conversation, the elevator doors open and Ducky, Abby, and McGee spill out, bearing laughter and lunch for everyone.


Gibbs tells them to go home at half-past-four, and even though going home and flopping down on the couch doesn't sound too bad, he feels a distinct tug for companionship tonight.

Just…maybe not companionship with McGee.

And maybe he's not feeling quite peppy enough for Abby.

And maybe not the boss.

"You wanna get a drink?" he asks Ziva.

"It's not even five," she says, mashing the elevator button for parking.

"So?"

"And I'm not really dressed for it."

He rolls his eyes. "If it's really that hard for you to change, then you wanna come over to my place for a beer? No dress code."

He expects her to smile, shake her head, maybe pat his arm, and suggest that they all go out on Friday. But instead she tilts her head and purses her lips and thinks for a minute. Then she relents.

"Okay."

"Really?"

Now she does smile. "I could use a drink and dinner."

"Pizza or Chinese?"

"I'll pick up sandwiches on the way."


The sandwich Ziva brings for him is nearly as good as the sight of her relaxing on his couch with her socked feet tucked under her, hoarding the remote and chuckling at his rendition of Ducky's most dramatic retelling of last night's adventure. It's so much better than last time she spent time at his apartment, and he thinks maybe he should have her over—of her own volition, of course—more often.

When she gets up to get another drink, he steals the remote back from her armrest and flips on the six o'clock news, only to find the remote plucked from his hand and the program set to mute.

Apparently Ziva considers it rude to watch television when you have a guest over.

"What, you don't find drones and unrest in the Middle East fresh and fascinating?"

She has remarkably expressive eyebrows, and they paint a picture of exactly how little she is interested in the six o'clock news.

"What I do find fresh and fascinating is the topic you were so eager to avoid earlier," she says after a moment.

"Um…Jimmy's sex life?"

"Wrong coworker."

"Ducky's sex life?"

She flashes him an exasperated look. "You told me you talked to McGee, but you did not tell me how it went."

"Sure I did. I said it went kinda okay."

"Which tells me absolutely nothing."

Tony sighs and rubs at his left shoulder. The lump is hurting. "It was fine, Ziva. He told me about his cousin. It's cool."

"It obviously is not."

"And then he explained that I have been kept in the dark because I am a bad man who would take advantage of such an opportunity."

Ziva frowns. "That doesn't sound like McGee."

He rolls his shoulder. "I may have taken slight liberties with the phrasing. But that was the gist of it. And I didn't make the taking advantage part up."

She's looking at him like she'd like to say something but isn't quite sure if she should.

"What?"

She has her reasonable, placating face on. "Well, Tony…you have to admit that at some point in the past what? Nine years? you've worked with McGee, you probably would have tried to use his ticket connection if you'd known about it."

Maybe. But isn't that what she did, when she got tickets all those years ago? Isn't that what Jimmy did to get last-minute tickets for his anniversary? He can't think of a way to explain this without roundly condemning them all, so he just tries not to feel too hurt that Ziva, too, assumes he'd take advantage of his friends.

It doesn't really work, though, and so he's aware that the smile on his lips as he nods and looks away from her is a little bitter. "Yup. I mean, hey, if McGee—or anybody else," he flicks a glance back her way, "had told me about this before, just think how unproductively I would've spent my time, going to all those concerts. I should probably thank you, actually, because with all the taking advantage I'd've been doing, I'd probably be unemployed by now, so yeah. That was very kind of you all."

Silence. She's studying him intently, he knows, and he feels uncomfortable and just…sort of generically bad. Like maybe he is a bad friend and a bad partner and a bad man. He rubs at his shoulder again.

Ziva sets her beer down on the floor and clears her throat. "Let me see it."

"What?"

"Your lump. It's clearly bothering you."

He sits still for a moment longer, because he's not sure what he was expecting—an argument, maybe, or a heartfelt conversation like the ones they've been having lately—but it definitely wasn't this. Eventually, he lowers his arm and she comes close, twisting so she's sitting sideways, her knee against his hip and her shin along his thigh. He looks straight ahead while she smooths her hand over his shoulder, exploring from upper arm to neck, but he can see her frown out of the corner of his eye. And then she surprises him again by matter-of-factly reaching for the front of his shirt and unbuttoning the top few buttons.

"Uh," he starts.

"I can't find your lump," she explains, sliding the shirt off his shoulder and rising up on one knee to inspect him more carefully.

And it feels very nice, to have her leaning over him like that, one hand on the back of his neck and one stroking along his shoulder, and also perhaps it's only fair—he's been looking at her bare shoulders all day—but he feels sort of weird about the whole thing. Like he isn't quite in the mood to play along. So he goes for straightforward. "It's here," he says, pressing her fingers into the weird lump.

She gingerly touches and inspects it, and then abruptly reaches around his front to yank the shirt off his right shoulder and feel the same spot. "Tony," she says after a moment, "you do not have a lump."

He begs to differ, hand flying up to press her fingers against it again, holding them there more firmly this time. "You don't feel that?"

"I feel it, but it's not a lump. It's just your shoulder." And she reaches down to where his other hand rests on his thigh and tugs it up to his right shoulder, pressing his fingers into the same spot on that side and holding them there. "See? You have the same lump over here."

He wiggles his fingers under her hand and realizes that she may be right about that. Oh. Well, perhaps that just means he's blighted with cancerous lumps on both shoulders, and will probably die twice as quickly. He tells her as much, and she laughs at him.

It takes him that long to realize he's still in a straightjacket of hands, with his arms crossed awkwardly over his chest as he holds her right hand to his left shoulder and she holds his left hand to his right shoulder.

The way she's positioned over him, her own smooth shoulder is directly in his line of view, and, well, maybe he is in the mood to play after all, because suddenly his bare skin feels all shivery. And maybe she notices, because she releases him and pulls her own hand from beneath his and drops down to sit beside him. He's not entirely sure if he's relieved or disappointed at the change in positions, but she just takes a sip of her beer and begins talking again before he can figure it out.

"The reason you feel lumpy is that you store too much tension in your shoulders," she's telling him. Then she prods him in the side.

"Scoot."

He looks at her.

"Scoot," she repeats. "I can help with this."

There's really no point in disobeying her, so Tony moves to the edge of the couch, and she squeezes in behind him, taller because she's on her knees again. Her fingers are warm and deft, and she seems to know just where to probe with thumbs or knuckles and where to gently press with the heels of her hands. She'd make a good masseuse, he thinks, beginning to relax. He is tired, after all, and it feels so nice to have her hands on his skin, and she is pleasantly warm pressed up against his back. At some point he finishes unbuttoning his shirt and lets it fall out of the way—she stops briefly to pick it up and toss it over the back of the couch—and her leggings and sweater are so soft against his bare skin that he's tempted to snuggle back into her. Her hair is soft too, the ends brushing and tickling his shoulders.

After a few long, quiet moments, Ziva speaks again.

"May I make an observation?"

"Go ahead."

"You are still upset at McGee's assumption."

He feels his shoulders stiffen and start to rise because they already talked about this and she took McGee's side and that's the end of it. She rubs her thumbs down the sides of his neck and spreads her fingers on the muscles that have gone tense.

"That's just proving it."

And she's right. It does bother him. It bothers him a lot, because why does he try to be a good man if it doesn't even convince his own coworkers? Why does he trust these people with his life and call them his friends and open his heart and his home and his arms to them if they secretly think he's a big, immature jerk?

"We talked about it," he says. "I'm over it. It's fine." He spread his hands. "I mean, would I like to not be treated like the office jackass? Sure. But, you know. It is what it is. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I am what I am." His hands fall back down.

"Nobody thinks of you as the 'office jackass,' Tony."

He tries very hard not to snort, and ends up making a sort of stifled scoffing noise. Her hands keep working.

"I am serious! McGee was probably just, you know, worried. You have such a—" her hands slow as she thinks—"a large personality, and McGee wouldn't want to disappoint you, but I think he also wouldn't want to put himself in that position…"

He twists out of her grip and turns to catch her face. She's still trying to reason her way out of this, and there is no reasoning to be done here.

"You really think I'd do that? Take advantage of my coworkers so much that they'd hide stuff to keep from having to deal with me? I mean, sure, maybe a few times, but—six years, Ziva? You guys really don't trust me more than that?"

Ziva is silent, but she does holds his gaze for a long moment, and it's an odd cross of hurt and empathy that he sees in her eyes.

He closes his eyes, breathes out hard through his nose, and turns back around to lean his elbows on his knees.

Her fingers drift up his shoulder blades and come to rest high on his back. He thinks—he's not sure—he hears her open her mouth as if to say something and then close it again.

Suddenly, she leans forward against his back and presses her cheek to his, nestling her chin into his neck. Her hands slide down over his shoulders until they're clasped at his sternum, and her warmth engulfs him.

"I trust you," she murmurs.

He turns his head fractionally, just enough so he can glimpse the outline of her nose and eyelashes but not so much that she might move. And for a dozen heartbeats, they stay like that, silent and still in front of the muted television.

Tony gets it: This is her apology. This is her saying she was wrong. This is her caring, caring hard. He has a new lump now, this time in his throat.

Finally, he reaches for her clasped hands and squeezes them to his chest. Just for a second.

"I know."

He can feel her smile against his cheek.


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