A/N: A short and simple post Double Blind tag that I needed to get out before Tuesday.
It bothers her all night.
She can't look at him without this pang of guilt chiming inside of her chest – her hollow chest. Because he was blunt with her. He held his ground and when normally he would have backed down – he didn't. He told her exactly how she'd always known he'd feel.
Her guilt and unsettlement doesn't improve the next day.
And it was a good thing that there was such a trying and immediate situation holding her attention because she was so close to tears. And the thing was that she didn't even really know why.
Because it shouldn't bother her.
That's the bottom line. There is no reason. He's her partner. They're not in a relationship. So shouldn't feel bad about what she did when she was grieving. She was confused and hurting and she just wanted to feel – something else. And Adam gave her that. And he knew exactly what he was getting himself into – that he wasn't getting into anything.
But it only takes a quick glimpse of him to make her crack. So she's thankful, despite how disturbing it is, that they have so much on the line that they can barely breathe.
Gibbs is escorted off the premises. It scares her beyond anything she's ever experienced. She cannot loose Gibbs' constant presence in her daily life. The past few days have been far too much. First, she see's that look on Tony's face. And then there's the thing with Shmeil that she's barely begun to understand. So he was working for the government and…she doesn't know what to think because he was supposed to be the untainted thing in her life. The innocence.
She's in the car that night when she finally lets all the tension drain from her. Her body sags.
Ziva leans her head against the steering wheel and sighs.
"Do you not know how to work your fancy new car?" And today would have been the proper day to not park next to him, but she hadn't done that, now had she?
"I was just…resting."
"Yeah?" And he's still standing between their cars, staring at her.
"No?" He echoes.
"No, Tony." And she can't help the bite in her words. She really can't. Because she just wants to scream at anything and everything, including this car that she thought would solve all her problems.
"Well, have fun…whatever you're doing."
She rolls her eyes and she wonders why he's still mad at her when he can barely stay mature long enough for one serious conversation to lead to another. "Goodnight, Tony."
She puts the key in the ignition and turns it. The car starts with force, but she's not ready to go so she cuts it.
And out of the corner of her eye, she sees him turn. And suddenly he's leaning over her passenger side door, raising an eyebrow at her.
"Can I tell you what's going on right now?" He asks.
She rolls her eyes, but nods.
"I want to be mad at you, but can't." He shakes his head at the absurdity of the statement. "And you," he drawls, "You want to be mad at me because you think I'm mad at you, but…you can't do that either so instead –"
"Okay, that's enough, Tony," she says, "Point taken."
"So I was right?"
Ziva holds his gaze tightly and defiantly for a moment before she falters – that false bravado and irritation seeping from her. "Probably," she sighs.
Tony purses his lips and gives her a reluctant nod. She watches him contemplate his newest idea – his eyes averted back to the pavement – and then he looks back at her. "You know, I was hoping that giving you the cold shoulder would make you come to me – clear the tension, I guess." He shrugs. "But you haven't and…" He reaches inside the door, flipping the lock up and then sliding in. "And I…I have this inability to watch you drown."
And she honestly doesn't know how to respond to that. Because she had been drowning earlier. She knew he'd been ignoring her. He wouldn't even look at her and it was killing her. She turns in her seat and her eyes feel heavy – like they had earlier and yesterday – and she wills herself not cry. "What do you want me to say?" She asks.
"Nothing," he sighs. "I just…you totally violated the post-elevator us."
"By sleeping with Adam?"
"No." He shakes his head. "By feeling alone and not telling me."
"I was in Israel." She stammers. "There's nothing you could have done to help."
"Ziva," he smiles and it is so affectionate that she just wants to fall into his lap. "You've underestimated your partner."
Before she can even piece together the meaning of his words, he's out of the car and stepping into his own and by the time she realizes that she could've used him by her side back in Tel Aviv and that he would have certainly come, even if she'd realized that after landing at Ben-Gurion – he's already pulling out of his space and driving off.
She shows up at his door much, much later.
She had gone home, scrounged together some food, allowed herself to cry through all her confusion in the shower and then tried occupy herself with a mindless television show.
But it hadn't worked and so, not bothering to change out of her boarder-line pajama like clothing, she slipped on her sneakers and hurried out the door.
She is nervous as she waits for him to answer but she's rooted to that spot so she won't runaway.
You had to stop sometime.
There's a knowing yet resigned smirk on his face when he opens the door and lets her inside. She stares into his kitchen for a moment and then slides herself into a table chair.
He stands against the fridge with his hands stuffed in his pockets. She wishes he'd sit down with her, but counts herself lucky that he's not closed himself completely off from her. His arms aren't crossed.
"You deserve an apology from me," she begins.
He rolls his eyes. "Oh, yeah?" And she shouldn't be hurt by the eye roll because she expects it and probably deserves it and yet, there's a lot of things she shouldn't feel and yet she still does.
"I am sorry for hardly ever returning the favors that you've done for me over the past eight years."
"Please don't go all monastic martyr on me. I didn't like it the last time."
Again she's struck by the way he impeccably recalls and resurfaces their history. It's never out of place either.
"That," she points to, candidly, "was another time where I failed to acknowledge your deep…" And she can't finish the sentence because she doesn't know how far this conversation is supposed to go tonight, but evidently he has an idea because he finishes the statement for her.
The last words cause her eyes to widen and her neck to snap up because they weren't really about to do this, were they?"
He rubs his hands over his face and sighs – he's frustrated. "Damnit." He mutters. And then he laughs and she realizes that things are spiraling and she's scared. "I vowed," He says slowly, "I vowed to myself that if I ever…told you…it certainly would not be like that."
She shifts uncomfortably in her seat.
"And yet, you haven't taken any of my anything but subtle cues, so here we are."
"That is not fair." She says.
"How?" He cocks his head and she knows that he doesn't expect to value whatever answer comes from her mouth, but she tries anyway.
"You are not in my head. You don't know how I received some of your…cues."
"Well you haven't responded," he scoffs. "I didn't want to just come out and try to start something with you while you were still grieving the loss of your father, but I did think we'd begun to imply something." Tony shrugs and she can see just how dejected he really he is. But she wants to press on. She can handle it.
"We had," she agrees.
"So – I just don't understand how you can say we were on the same page, but your actions, they just imply something else."
"I never said all of my actions were right." It's a forceful reply, one boarding on a growl, but she needs him to understand that she regrets not showing him just how much she was crumbling. She regrets telling him to leave her alone when he woke her up in his bed. She regrets not begging him to come to Tel Aviv with her. Ziva regrets not clueing him in before McGee, even if he would have just sat with her as she watched McGee put his MIT degree to work in catching Bodnar. "And we are not on such different pages as you think."
He raises his eyebrows at her.
"You did not want to start something right after my father died because that would have compromised us in the long run and I…could not come to you for casual sex because I…don't want it to be casual and that had to be."
"I still could've done something."
"I know," she nods "And Tony, I am sorry."
He holds his stoic face for a while before eventually giving her one curt nod and sitting down beside her.
He turns towards her.
"If you don't really want this," he gestures between them, "if you're never going get your head into fighting for it – then I need to know right now. And I know this shouldn't be our priority, with Gibbs about to be put away for life in federal prison, and fine, during the day – it won't be –"
"At night," she interrupts. "At night we both fight for this."
She knows the interruption and vow catches him by surprise, but she also knows that he will not completely trust her words until she proves them. She really can't blame him.
"Partners by day and partners by night?" she asks and she flips over her hand on the table, inviting – begging – him to take hold.
"Yes," he says, cautiously smiling at her and affectionately eyeing her. He does take her had, thankfully, and when he laces his fingers through hers, she think they may have a chance left after all.
They both keep their word. It's partners for Gibbs by day and partners for themselves by night. And it takes almost an entire month for their latest disaster averted to become officially averted.
"I need to ask you something," she says one night. She's laying against him, not paying any attention to the TV screen in front of them.
"Well that doesn't sound good," he says. He picks up a strand of her hair and twines it around his finger. He's not concerned.
"When I say it, you are going to think it's me not fighting for us, but it has nothing to do with that. I promise."
He sighs and pushes himself into a more upright position. She knows she has his attention now. And so they face each other and she swallows.
"With everything settling down now, I know you'll want to tell Gibbs soon."
"And you don't want to?"
"No." She shakes her head. Ziva watches him inhale and exhale slowly and he looks bothered now. Because, yes, he now doesn't think she's willing to fight for them.
"Why not?" he asks. "He probably knows anyway."
She nods. "Yes, he probably does, but the policy at NCIS – because I've now done extensive research – is that interagency relationships must be formally disclaimed and acknowledged and with all that the team has been through, I wouldn't be surprised if Vance wanted one of us to move teams or at the very least not ever work together in the field."
"I'll give you the latter." He says, "And that wouldn't be so –"
She cuts him off with the incessant and erratic shaking of her head. "No." She says forcefully. "I can't do that. No yet, at least."
He reaches for her hand and she grasps his like the lifeline that it is.
"The longest constant in my life has been you at my side in the field. Nothing has ever lasted that long. And I trust McGee with my life and yours, but…I still need you … I need you more."
"Okay," he says.
"I mean, with all that's gone on in the last year . . . I'm so accustomed – I couldn't have a written rule against you having my back." She looks up at him and she knows she looks all kinds of scared and small right now. "You have always had my back," she shrugs.
He pulls her back down against his chest and kisses the side of her head as anxiety seeps through her.
"I'll always have your back," he promises, "And I'll be there when you need me, an order from the Director won't change that – ever, but we'll wait. Don't stress, we'll wait."
"Thank you." She says. "I…I love you, Tony." Ziva doesn't turn, but she knows what his eyes look like right now. All glittery and with the smallest bit of moisture, because this one of the last things left. Saying it out loud.
"I love you, too." He says, all thick and laced with emotion. He kisses the side of her head. "And I'm not just saying that to say it back, you know."
He twines a piece of hair around his finger again. "Ziva?" he asks.
"Can you say it one more time?"
"Just once?" She smirks.
He looks at the fifty-eight on the clock, "Well, this hour."
"I love you."
A/N: Please let me know what you thought.