A/N: Another story from my archives. I wrote it in the hiatus between seasons nine and ten, which is why it doesn't reflect what we found out happened in the season 10 opener. Forgive me.
The order is given gently, and perhaps this is the reason neither of them react. They are used to his orders being barked at them. They are used to irritation, frustration or urgency coloring his tone. This gentleness is alien and they're not sure whether to trust it.
They look to each other in silence conference and then turn their eyes on Gibbs again. A hint of frustration crosses his weathered face, and things start to feel more normal.
"Go," he repeats, more insistent. "Rest. I need you two on your game tomorrow."
"We will wait for McGee—"
She trails off when Gibbs steps in and wraps her up in a fatherly hug. A kiss is pressed to her temple, a hand is rubbed soothingly over her back, and then she is released with a wink and a smile.
"I'll be here," he assures her. "So will Abby. Go home."
Tony watches her eyes swing to his and he knows what she's asking. He doesn't like sitting on the sidelines while his guys are in trouble, and God knows McGee stepped in it today. He should wait here under harsh florescent lighting and inhaling hospital disinfectant until word comes through that his probie is okay. But he understands Gibbs' order. As of sun up tomorrow, his life—Ziva's life, Gibbs' life—will be entirely focused on finding Harper Dearing and gathering the evidence that will ensure he is put in prison for life. Tomorrow morning they'll start fighting for justice for McGee and every other agent and civilian who was hurt or killed today. But tonight they have to prepare for the war.
He looks to his partner and offers her a half smile that is meant to reassure her. "I'm not going without you." On the surface the comment makes it sound as though he is deferring to her judgment. In fact, he is leading. And she knows it. She wanted him to.
She turns back to Gibbs. "Call us if anything…"
Her voice is lost again, but this time it is stolen by fear. And he's glad, because he doesn't want her to give voice to the possibility that anything might go wrong.
He is suddenly feeling superstitious.
The taxi driver is provided with one address. Although they've spent most of the day within arm's reach of each other he is not keen for space tonight. Her company will keep him grounded and sober. She doesn't react when he doesn't give the driver his address after hers, and so he thinks she might feel the same.
They are standing in front of her door before he realizes that they can't get in. Her keys are in her backpack next to her desk, assuming that her desk and backpack still exist. She doesn't even have her purse, her badge or her gun. He has his wallet and phone, but nothing else. The rest of their personal possessions that ended up in the office over the years are either blown up or are now part of a crime scene.
He's still not completely clear on which it is.
He turns to Ziva and opens his mouth the inform her of the latest problem they have to deal with but she already has her lock pick in her fingers and is advancing towards the door. He didn't know she carried in on her, but supposes he shouldn't be surprised. Ziva is nothing if not prepared. She would've made a hell of a boy scout.
She has the door open in under a minute and then stands back to let him go in first. He pulls her in with him and swings the door closed.
The next minute is spent standing quietly in the dark hallway, just looking at each other as they try to work out what they should do now.
They sit on folding chairs in the tiny courtyard at the back of her place. She says she needs the fresh air and the open sky above. He needs the darkness and her heartbeat near his. Half an hour passes in silence, and he doesn't even know what he's been thinking about for all that time when her warm hand suddenly settles on the back of his. He turns his wrist to press their palms together and threads his fingers between hers. It's the second time today she has held his hand, and maybe the second time in their lives. But it feels normal. It's comfort and trust and support. And love.
"Still a cliché."
Her head swivels and he can feel her surprise.
He concedes the point. "Maui."
She pauses. "A cliché," she decides. "But an acceptable one."
"I'll remember that."
She doesn't reply. But he knows she'll remember it too.
The call from his father is unexpected, but as soon as he hears the voice strained by age and worry he realizes he was hoping to hear it.
"I'm fine, Dad. Don't worry."
"Were you there?"
Fear brought on by raw memories steals a portion of his voice. "Yeah. We all were."
There is a pause, and he knows his father is struggling for tact that he doesn't normally have time for. "Everyone okay?"
His hand tightens around Ziva's and he is relieved to still find her there. "We're not sure about McGee."
His compassion sounds genuine, and it makes the back of Tony's eyes burn. "Where's Ziva?"
"Here. She's okay."
"You two look after each other. Stick together."
They will go to war side-by-side. "We will."
"I love you, son."
"I love you, too, Dad."
It isn't his intention to burden her. He prefers to be the rock in their relationship. The one who's there to steady her, force her to talk out her fears, and reassure her that he's there to help her through. But tonight she is the one who has emerged from the smoke with the stronger spine. So he falls at her feet and hopes she will know how to lift him.
"I don't know why we do this."
Her head turns at his statement, and he waits while she watches his face and measures his mood.
"We do it because we are willing and others are not."
It seems simple. But his heart can't make sense of it tonight. "So that's it? No one else is dumb enough to take a bullet for a stranger? Or get blown up to pay for someone else's grief?"
He doesn't mean to bruise her with the harshness of his tone. When her eyes momentarily widen he wants to apologize and take it back. But she knows how to handle him when he is like this. She fights his anger with honesty.
"No." Her voice is soft and soothing, and he wants to wrap it around his shoulders. "We do it out of love."
He tightens his hand around hers because he appreciates her attempt to pull him from despair. But he can't let it go just yet. "For the job? I think me and the job are going through a rough patch, Ziva."
Her smile is as soft as her voice and hands. "Love for our friends," she explains. "And for our country. You could sit by and let someone else handle a threat to your family as well as I could. Which is to say badly."
In the pause that follows he has visions of Somalia and Israel and rooftops with snipers and the crash of a glass coffee table. His hand tightens again—involuntarily this time—and her eyes drift from his in shame. One day he'll tell her—
She interrupts that vow with wisdom he shares, but had forgotten. "I love our team. As do you. I am here because if they are fighting, I must be with them."
He considers this for a long while. She speaks the truth, but it's not enough. Not anymore. He needs something back. Something for himself.
Something like her.
She watches him as he struggles, anticipating the release of the thoughts on his mind. But he can't share them yet.
They lapse into another long silence.
Their hands meet again when they finally lie down for the night. His cell phone is left ready to receive news on their teammate before they meet in the middle of her mattress. Sleep may not come but the comfort of each other's presence will provide necessary calm.
He's done pretending that he doesn't need her like he does.
To fight the war.
To make life worth it.
The deception stops now.
The calls start coming at 0500.
McGee is stable.
Ducky is stable.
Jimmy is married.
Five dead and sixteen injured.
Fornell is mad as hell and taking over. He wants a briefing at 0800 and then he's going to go out and get this piece of crap.
They stand arm-to-arm in her kitchen and drink coffee as they prepare emotionally for the day. It will be brutal; there is no question. They will need to rely on each other. And on Gibbs. Their captain.
As they prepare to leave again she stops him with a hand on his arm. He turns, waits for her to speak. She says nothing, but steps in to press an achingly soft and brief kiss to his lips. The fierce hug that follows is a contrast he accepts without complaint. This is what he needs to get him through what he does every day.
When she pulls back she has her game face on, and he follows her lead.
"Are you with me?" she asks.
"Always." The word is out before he even thinks it.
She nods once as the pink corners of her mouth turn upwards. "Then let's do this."
It's time to go to war.
Short and not very sweet overall. Hope you enjoyed it anyway.
(Yes, I know it's not another chapter of Famiglia. Yes, I feel bad about that. No, I haven't given up on the story. Yes, I will finish it. No, I don't know when. Sorry.)