I will let go of the badge.

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It is late- very early morning, actually- by the time Tony arrives back in D.C. He is physically and emotionally exhausted, but his body has been operating on Middle Eastern time for months, and it is afternoon there. Sleep, he knows, will be elusive for the next few hours. This is regretful. Unconsciousness would be a blessing at this point; he will take any escape he can get from the hollow feeling in his stomach, the tears he has been fighting ever since he left Ziva behind. He tried to sleep on the plane, but his memories would not stop playing out behind his closed eyelids. Now that he is moving, his new strategy is to try and lose himself in the thud of his own footsteps as he walks through the airport. Exits through the main doors. Waves a cab over.

It doesn't work. No matter what he attempts to busy himself with, he cannot forget. Not for one second.

He realizes, then, that Ziva David is going to haunt him for a very, very long time.

"Where to?" the cab driver asks as he climbs inside, and Tony pauses. The prospect of sitting alone in his dark apartment is not terribly appealing. Maybe he should go to a bar. Get a drink. After the day he's had, he sure as hell deserves one.

But, in the end, he finds himself reciting Gibbs' address.

The front door is unlocked, of course. Tony closes it behind him and walks through the house, coming to a stop at the top of the basement stairs. He inhales deeply. As the familiar smell of sawdust fills his nostrils, he is surprised to feel a little bit of tension ease out of his shoulders.

"Come on down, DiNozzo," Gibbs calls after a few more seconds pass.

Tony starts down the stairs. Gibbs is sanding something, but stops when Tony reaches the bottom.

"You look like hell."

He doesn't doubt the validity of Gibbs' assessment. He knows that there are dark bags under his red-rimmed eyes and that his hair is sticking up in nine different directions. He wonders how long it will take for him to look- and feel- normal again. "So do you. What happened to your eye?"

"Not important. You just get home?"

"Half an hour ago."

"You came straight here, then."

He shrugs. "Yeah. It's been a while. Thought you might want to… you know. Touch base. Fill me in on what I've missed."

"Only been a few days since our last contact." Gibbs sits back on his barstool, leaning against the workbench behind him, and folds his hands over his stomach. He raises both eyebrows expectantly. "How about you fill me in."

Even though he phrases it as a suggestion, it's an order. Tony lets out a breath and pulls up his own stool. He fixes his gaze on a point just beyond Gibbs' shoulder. "I tried to convince her to come home. Didn't work. Swallowed my pride and flat-out begged. No dice." He speaks carefully, willing his voice not to waver, and does a pretty good job of it. "She's in Israel. Safe. That's the most important thing."

"Yeah, it is," Gibbs agrees. They sit in silence for a moment. "I got off the phone with her about an hour ago."

Startled, he looks into the older man's face. "You did?"

Gibbs nods. "Yeah. She told me why she's staying over there. I told her I understand and that I'll try to make sure everyone else does, too." Another pause. Tony's heart lifts slightly, because he honestly hadn't expected Ziva to call so soon. "She also wanted me to make sure you're okay."

And just like that, the lump in his throat returns. "I'm fine."

"She teach you that line?"

He chuckles humorlessly. "Probably."

"Look." Gibbs leans forward. In vain, Tony attempts to avoid the gray-eyed stare boring down on him, but of course he cannot. He meets it hesitantly. "I got a pretty good idea what happened with you two, but I don't need- hell, I don't want the clarification or the mental images. Okay?"

Tony nods. Heat tinges his face as he recalls the two long nights he spent wrapped up in Ziva, touching and tasting and loving her. Cherishing her.

Contents priceless.

"That being said, I've always got a spare barstool and plenty of bourbon to share, DiNozzo."

"Thanks, Boss." He is grateful for the offer, but he also knows that he will not make a habit of brooding in Gibbs' basement like a spurned lover. That would be like saying that Ziva is gone for good. That he is distraught and depressed, doomed to be lonely forever.

That would be like giving up on her.

He never has before. And even though a million things have changed in the past twenty-four hours, that won't.

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They stood in the orange grove for an immeasurable amount of time, foreheads touching, breathing each other in, before Ziva closed the gap between them. Tony was relieved to feel her soft lips pressing against his. He exhaled through his nose as he closed his eyes and tightened his grip on her waist. She coaxed his mouth open with her tongue; he tugged her as close as physically possible, tilted his head, deepened the kiss. He didn't know what was going to happen tomorrow or the next day or the next. All he knew was that he was here right now. And so was she.

This moment was all he had to live for.

When they pulled apart, gasping for air, Tony cupped the sides of her flushed face and peppered it with light kisses. She slid one hand from his neck down to his chest, leaving it right over his racing heart. He leaned forward and kissed the shell of her ear before whispering, "It's beating for you, Ziva."

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When she finds one of Tony's polo shirts wedged between the mattress and the headboard of her bed, Ziva buries her face in it and cries. She cries from guilt and sorrow and pain. She cries because she misses him; because she longs for the strength of his embrace; because she sent her soul mate away. She cries because she loves him more than she has ever loved anybody else.

She cries because she fears that, despite his insistence to the contrary, he will have moved on by the time she is able to return to him.

She cries until she falls asleep, clutching that shirt to her chest as if it is her lifeline.

She awakens sometime later to a pounding headache. With great care, she folds the shirt and places it neatly on the bedside table. Then she pads into the kitchen to start some tea. The water has just begun to boil when a ping sounds from her laptop.

Ziva approaches it cautiously, but relaxes when she sees that it is only an instant message from Tony. Home safe, it reads. Thought you might want to know.

Her fingers settle hesitantly over the keys. For a moment, she just stares at the screen, debating whether or not she should reply. Whether it is a good idea to keep in contact with him right now.

She cannot actually ignore him, of course. It is not in her. She needs him too much.

I am glad, she types. Todah.

His reply comes quickly. Prego.

And for the first time since he boarded that plane, she cracks a smile.

Clearly, I am very, very bad at being retired.

Because this is a multi-chapter story. I'm only on chapter four right now, but I'm guessing there will wind up being about ten total. I began work on this story just a few days after PPF aired… it's my coping mechanism, I guess.

Just so you know, I don't watch NCIS anymore; I don't really know what's happening, so I'm sure this story will be very inconsistent with what's going on in the show.

And… yep. I think that's it. Hope you enjoyed the first chapter!