Hola, I have returned! I haven't written much lately; I've developed two new obsessions (puzzles and Maroon 5/Adam Levine). It's hard to balance those on top of the fictional people I'm obsessed with. :P
But anyway, this oneshot is a speculative tag based on spoilers for the April episodes Chasing Ghosts, Berlin and Revenge. So if you don't read spoilers, I'd avoid this one.
But if you don't mind (mild) spoilers, then enjoy! :D
(And review, too, if you're so inclined!)
Tony hasn't snooped in Ziva's desk since the early stages of her relationship with Ray, and he knows he shouldn't be doing it now.
But he has to.
This isn't a matter of being nosy, of sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. This is a matter of his partner's well-being. She's been pensive in the months since her father's death, which is perfectly understandable; however, in the past couple weeks, there has been a noticeable shift in her behavior. She is even quieter. Withdrawn. And she takes very long lunch breaks.
She's on one of them right now, actually, and Tony is using the opportunity to dig through her drawers. There's nothing too interesting in them- granola bars, office supplies, makeup- until he gets to the bottom left one. A bulging folder rests right on top. He picks it up, turns it over, and finds no writing at all. It is not labeled like NCIS case files are supposed to be.
When he opens it and sees the name on the first page, his fear is confirmed.
The second Gibbs dismisses them that night, Ziva grabs her gear and bolts. Tony does the same. He dashes after her and just manages to join her in the elevator before the doors shut.
It doesn't escape his notice that she has made no attempt to hold them open for him.
"I need to talk to you," he says, reaching over to hit the emergency switch.
Ziva exhales loudly. Bags have appeared under her eyes lately. Something about the low blue light makes them even more pronounced. "What is it, Tony?"
"I know you're looking for Bodnar. On your own."
Her eyes snap up to focus on him. "Did you go through my desk?"
"Look. You've been acting weird, and I'm just worr-"
"I cannot believe this." Ziva takes a couple steps back, as if she can't stand being in close proximity to him. She no longer looks tired. Just really pissed off. "Why would you… I thought we were past these things, Tony. The sneaking around, the mistrust…"
"I thought so, too," he snaps. "But you're the one going behind our backs."
Her jaw tightens. Tony crosses his arms and glares at her. Stands his ground. There is no sound around them, nothing but silence, and it's eerie. Finally, she says flatly, "It is my father who died. I should be the one to avenge him."
"You will, Ziva. But let us help you."
Something changes in her expression. She breaks their gaze, instead focusing on a spot past his left ear. "This is something," she tells him, "that I need to do. For me."
Tony touches her face, and she startles slightly. He then moves his palm to cup her entire cheek. Ziva leans into his touch. The fact that she isn't pulling away gives him an inkling of hope.
In that instant, he makes a decision, but doesn't let on. Yet.
"Be careful," he says. "That's all I'm asking here. I need you to be careful."
"I always am, Tony."
"No, you aren't. I mean it. Swear to me that you'll take care of yourself, Ziva."
"Fine. I will." He must not appear convinced, because she then adds, more emphatically, "I will!"
Nodding, he allows his hand to fall to his side. "One more thing."
"Keep me in the loop, okay? I'm not going to report to Gibbs or anything, I just… I just want to know what's going on."
"I am guessing that I have little choice but to agree to this," she says. "Whatever I find out… whatever I plan… you will know. Okay? Are you happy now?"
Tony sets the elevator back in motion. "Very."
He's not, though. And neither is she.
Two weeks later, she shows up at his apartment around eleven. She has woken him up, and he's annoyed until he opens the door and sees the duffel bag sitting at her feet.
"Where you going?" he asks. The question comes out urgent and a little bit panicked.
"Berlin." Ziva is so matter-of-fact, as if this a perfectly normal thing to announce in the middle of the night. "Ilan is there, and I have reason to believe that he isn't leaving for a couple of days. This is my chance."
"Okay," he says as his tired brain rushes to comprehend her words- and figure out a way to talk her out of this. "Here, come inside for a-"
"I do not have time. You wanted to be kept informed, and I have informed you. Now I must go."
She turns around, grabs her bag, and starts to walk away. And it is this sight, the sight of her going to embark on a dangerous journey alone, that causes him to yell, "Wait!"
Ziva pauses. Looks back.
"I'm going with you," Tony blurts out.
He darts into the apartment and snatches up the bag he always keeps packed for emergency work trips. As he is retrieving his gun from its box, she appears in the doorway.
"Tony, I do not need a babysitter."
"No, you don't. You need your partner."
Their eyes meet. He can pinpoint the exact moment she gives in, because her pupils lighten just a bit.
A tint of humor colors her tone when she says, "At least change out of your pajamas first."
They pull some strings (meaning that Tony presents an airline employee with his badge and a menacing look) to get him a first-class ticket on her flight. As soon as the plane ascends and their ears begin to pop, Ziva groans.
"Forget your gum?" Tony asks.
She scowls. "Yes."
"Figured you would." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out two sticks, then hands her one. "I bought some in the gift shop while you used the restroom."
"Thank you," Ziva says. The sincerity in her voice surprises him, and he has a feeling that she's thinking about more than gum.
Once there is less turbulence, Ziva informs him that Bodnar is attending some hush-hush, top-secret meeting in Berlin. (How she found out about it, he doesn't quite dare to ask.) There should only be one other (unidentified) person present. She isn't sure what their agenda is- but, she says, it doesn't matter. What matters is that she is going to take care of the man who killed her father.
She starts telling him her plan, and he realizes for the first time what a messy situation he has gotten himself into. This whole thing has the potential to be all kinds of bad. He should have told Gibbs what Ziva was doing, or, at least, tried harder to stop her. He should have-
Her voice draws him back to reality. She seems concerned as she peers at him. "Are you alright?"
He clears his throat. "Yeah."
"I understand if you do not want to do this."
Tony knows that she speaks the truth. If he backed out, she wouldn't hold anything against him. But he can't do that, and he won't; he has never abandoned Ziva before. He isn't going to start now.
"We're gonna get him," he says.
And he thinks- he thinks that her eyes well up with tears, but she hides her face in his shoulder before he can be sure.
The hotel room has one bed.
Once they have finished going over everything for the next day, Ziva puts away her laptop and heads to the bathroom. He, already in sweatpants and a t-shirt, crawls beneath the covers. Sleep will certainly be elusive, though; he is feeling very jittery. Butterflies inhabit his stomach. This is all happening too fast, yet not fast enough.
He wonders if Gibbs believed his story about having the flu. Doubtful.
By the time Ziva emerges, Tony has rolled onto his side and is facing her. She's dressed the way he remembers from when she stayed at his apartment, right down to the sleek ponytail. His memory of consoling her- well, trying to- after her nightmare comes rushing back. Is she still having them?
"The alarm will go off at oh-six-hundred," Ziva says, climbing into bed beside him. She fluffs her pillow before laying her head on it.
"I'm so messed up right now," he says. "I freaking hate time zones."
With a grunt of acknowledgement, she closes her eyes. Tony doesn't even pretend like he's trying to drift off. He watches her and the shadows dancing across her face until he can no longer stand the silence. "Ziva," he whispers.
On a whim, he reaches out and seizes her hand. Her eyes snap open. Tony interlaces their fingers, holds them tightly to his chest. To his heart. He wills her to feel it beating. And without thinking it all the way through, he says, "I need to tell you something."
"Whatever happens tomorrow," he presses, "I want you to know that I-"
"Tony." This time, he allows her to cut him off. Ziva scoots closer to him. Beneath the comforter, her feet graze his calf. "Don't."
"I do not want you to regret it later."
With a new sense of urgency, he grips her hand even tighter. "The only thing I regret is not saying this sooner," he says. "Just let me-"
"I need to take care of Bodnar first, Tony," Ziva interrupts gently. "As soon as the mission is completed, you may tell me. But not tonight. Not now."
She's missing the point. What if things don't go as planned? What if tonight is his last chance to tell her? No, he can't wait.
Frantically, he presses his lips against the fingers he is still holding. "Ziva, you have to be careful tomorrow, because I don't… because I can't stand the thought of…"
And with that, he utters the forbidden words. "I love you."
Her shoulders droop and she exhales sharply, like a balloon letting out its air. Tony lets her break out of his grasp, then watches as she rolls away from him and massages her temples. He forces himself to keep his mouth shut. And he waits.
Finally, finally, she turns back onto her side. A single tear gleams on her cheek. He reaches out shakily and brushes it away.
"You love me," she murmurs. "I'm going to kill a man tomorrow… and you love me."
"We all have our flaws," he tries to joke, but it comes out sounding strained.
"You deserve better, Tony. You deserve somebody like Wendy, or… or Jeanne… somebody you don't have to follow to Europe on a revenge mission."
"There is nobody in the world," he says quietly, "that I would rather be with right now. Or ever."
Ziva's lower lip quivers. He moves his head to the edge of her pillow, and now their faces are so close that the dark pools of her eyes are all he sees. Very lightly, he brushes his mouth against hers. She neither responds nor pulls away.
And he must be feeling especially brave tonight, because he then tucks a piece of hair behind her ear and allows his touch to linger there. Their foreheads fall together and before he is fully aware of what's happening, they're kissing. It's a real kiss now, deep and slow and wrought with emotion. He, terrified of shattering their fragile tranquility, refrains from seizing her waist; he focuses instead on her taste and warmth.
She draws back first. "Tony," she says, one hand trailing up his chest. "Tony, I can't-"
"Yes." He levels his gaze at her. "You can."
For a moment, she looks almost regretful. Then her muscles relax and she leans forward and hooks her leg over his. It is not a sexual maneuver, he can tell; it's an attempt to get closer to him, purely for comfort. Tony, immensely grateful that she isn't putting her guard back up, twists her ponytail around his fingers. She puts her head on his chest. They begin to breathe in tandem: in, out. In. Out.
"You don't have to say it back," he tells her honestly. "You don't have to do anything. I just needed you to know."
A long silence follows his words. Finally, she says, "Let's survive tomorrow, Tony. And then we will talk."
Ziva won't let him go inside the abandoned building with her. She gives him an earwig and orders him to wait by the door she is planning to use as her exit.
"Are you sure he's alone in here?" Tony asks.
"We were on stakeout for eight hours," she snaps. "Did you see anybody else go in?"
He sighs. "No."
"If whoever he's meeting shows up, tell me," Ziva continues. "How long has it been since we saw him in the fourth floor window?"
"Fifteen minutes, maybe."
"I assume he's still there, then." She runs her hands over her belt, checking to make sure all her weapons are in place. "Okay. I'm going in."
This is the moment he's been dreading since yesterday. Before she can leave, he grabs her arm and forces her to look at him. "Don't make me live without you," he says softly. "Because I can't now anymore than I could before Somalia."
Ziva nods. "I will do my best."
It's not the most reassuring thing she could have said, but he will have to accept it. Tony reluctantly lets her go. She flashes him a small smile before turning around and slipping into the building.
Time crawls by as he strains to register the slightest sound in the earwig and his stomach flips over and over. He wishes she would say something; just hearing her voice once more would make him feel better. Making unnecessary noise is the last thing she should be doing right now, though. All he can do is wait.
Several more minutes of anxiety pass before a sudden gunshot makes him jump. His hand flies to his ear. "Ziva?"
"Ziva!" Tony makes no attempt to keep his voice down. She lets out a low groan, and that's it. He rushes inside, gun drawn in case Bodnar appears, and takes the first flight of stairs he finds. On the fourth floor, a corridor stretches in both directions. He follows his gut and goes left. Just as he is about to turn around, he happens upon an intersecting hallway, and there is Ziva, crumpled on the floor. Blood pools beneath her body.
Tony drops on his knees beside her and picks up her wrist. Her pulse is faint, but there. "Thank God," he breathes before taking off his jacket and pressing it to the wound in her abdomen. "Ziva, are you awake?"
She mumbles something unintelligible.
"Where's Bodnar?" he asks.
"Gone," she chokes out. "Snuck up behind me. I… I pre- pretended to b- be dead."
"'Atta girl." Tony fumbles with his phone. "I'm calling an ambulance, okay? Hang in there."
Ziva is gasping for air. "Tony-"
"Shh. Don't try to talk."
She weakly clutches his forearm. Her eyelids are at half-mast when she whispers, "I love you, too."
And she goes limp.
Tony has been pacing for hours in the waiting room of some hospital. Nurses and doctors and patients are all around him, spewing German. Even if he knew the language, he wouldn't be able to comprehend anything they say. He is too busy worrying. He worries about Ziva, obviously, but he also has a smaller, selfish worry- how is he going to cope if she doesn't make it?
She'll make it, he keeps telling himself. Ziva won't go down without a fight.
The confession she made before losing consciousness muddles his already overworked brain. He can't even pinpoint how he feels. Hell, beyond the obvious- for her to be okay- he doesn't know what he wants.
His sole comfort: no matter what happens, she'll know that she is loved.
She looks awful. Bruised, battered, pale.
But she's alive.
For one of these reasons- he can't be sure which- he begins crying the second he sees her.
The steady beeping of her heart monitor serves as Tony's background noise late into the night. He has turned his cell phone off because Gibbs kept calling, and he isn't quite ready to divulge the details of what has happened. All he can do with his remaining wits is sit by her bedside and rub the back of her hand.
His exhaustion is threatening to overcome him when the monitor's pitch suddenly rises a couple octaves, causing him to jump. Now fully awake, he leans over Ziva. Her eyelids flutter. "Hey," he whispers. "Come on. Wake up."
Her heart beats faster. For one moment, his stops- but then he is looking into dazed brown orbs, and something like peace settles over him. "Tony," she murmurs.
"Hey," he says again. "How do you feel?"
"F- fine." Ziva swallows loudly. "Thirsty." He pats her thigh over the blanket and turns around. "Wait," she croaks. "There isn't… you did not find Ilan?"
It's been hours since Tony gave the bastard any thought, but now he realizes that Bodnar has surely gone into hiding and could be anywhere in the world. "I didn't," he tells her reluctantly. "I found you, you'd been shot… I'm sorry."
"Don't be," she says, gaze focused on the ceiling. "It is not your fault. I am the one who failed."
Tony opens his mouth. There's nothing to say, though. Nothing that will make her feel better. He goes to the sink and fills a small paper cup with water, then takes it back over to her. She winces when she tries to sit up.
"Here," he says, cupping the back of her head and holding the cup to her lips. Slowly, she drinks. "There you go."
"Thank you." Ziva eases herself back down. The hospital sheets pool around and dwarf her body. His hand finds its way into her hair as he methodically strokes her scalp. She reaches out to take his other hand, and her touch- warm, despite the circumstances- is the best damn thing he's ever felt. Silence envelopes them for a full minute, maybe two, before she suddenly says, "I meant it."
It takes him a second to realize what she's talking about. I love you, too. How long has he been waiting for her to say that to him?
Not like this, though. His numerous fantasies involving her and those words have never involved her being hurt.
"You didn't have to say that," Tony says. "We can forget it, if you want."
Ziva narrows her eyes. "Do you want to?"
"No," he replies truthfully.
"Neither do I." She slowly lifts her torso from the bed, refusing his help even when she cries out in pain. By the time she's upright, she is panting. "When I was lying there, Tony… when I thought I might never get another chance to tell you… I hated myself. I hated myself because you said it and I did not have the courage to return it. I hated myself because my revenge had become the number one priority in my life, such a priority that I pushed away the love of… of the only person I really wanted it from."
He swallows the lump that has grown in his throat. "Ziva," he murmurs, skimming a knuckle across her cheekbone, so very aware of her fragility. With moist eyes, she looks at him. "I followed you over here, didn't I?"
Her brow furrows. "Yes."
"So what makes you think I won't take whatever you give me, whenever you decide to give it?"
And before she can answer- before she even has the chance- he takes the plunge, cupping her face and capturing her lips with his. She immediately stiffens, but Tony doesn't let this discourage him.
He hasn't forgotten that a little over twenty-four hours ago, she was kissing him back.
And now, now, she does respond. She tilts her head, caresses the stubble at his jaw, opens her mouth and proceeds to explore the inside of his. As he becomes completely immersed in her, everything but Ziva and the rapid beating of her heart- beepbeepbeepbeep- melts away.
Reality can never be avoided for long, though. He knows it will have to come up sometime and might as well be put out there now, so the first thing Tony says when they break apart is, "You still gonna go after Bodnar?"
Ziva sighs. Her cheeks, previously pale, are now flushed. "I do not know."
He stares at his feet and nods.
"Tony, I… this might be something I have to do for my own closure."
"I get it," he says, and is very proud when his voice only wavers slightly. Her fingers curl around his. Startled, he looks up.
"I said might." The corners of her mouth twitch a little. "But I'm willing to go home first-"
"Explain to Gibbs why we've been gallivanting around Europe-"
"And try to figure out… us," Ziva finishes. "I am willing to try and move forward."
He has to kiss her again, because this hope in his heart is like nothing he's felt since he brought her out of Somalia alive.
She smiles when he pulls back- a full-blown smile. It's beautiful. She is beautiful. Then she lays down, holding her wound, and Tony helps her get comfortable. He tucks the sheets around her. Fluffs her pillow. Moves her messy hair off her face.
"Are you staying here?" Ziva asks.
Tony leans down and briefly nuzzles her neck. Then he settles into his chair and sandwiches her palm between both of his. "Always."