setting: NCIS, a few days before 7x18 "Jurisdiction". No real spoilers for this episode, although there are some for the beginning of the season. It just works there best, chemistry-wise.
Tony/Ziva, established relationship, but still early stages and shaky. This is a follow-up to History, in which Tony discovered that there are things in Ziva's past that he isn't ready for. Now, there is the need to deal with it.
warnings & rating: Angst. This is not a nice story, and there is no fluffing things over involved, so please be aware of that before you go in.
word count: around 3,100
comments & feedback: very much appreciated.
She leaves him early that Sunday, and he isn't surprised. It's also no real surprise, although it does hurt, when she doesn't talk to him on Monday, except for the rudimentary comments necessary to get through their work day. On Tuesday, McGee asks him what he did to piss Ziva off, and Tony just shrugs and sneaks a glance at her. Meets her eyes and sees that she has heard the Probie's question.
Shortly after that, her masks are firmly back in place and she throws a joke at him and acts as if nothing has ever gone wrong in the world.
He can't stand the playacting for more than an hour before it starts to seriously grate on his nerves, and so he follows her into the elevator when she excuses herself for a coffee break. She doesn't react at all to his presence, not even when he flips the switch that brings the cabin to a screeching halt. She just leans back against the wall, crosses her arms in front of her chest and waits, staring at the cabin door silently.
He looks at her then with a frown, really looks at her for the first time today, and what he sees doesn't make him happy. She's wearing almost no makeup, and her hair is pulled back into the tightest ponytail ever. It looks like it has to hurt. She's wearing something that looks a lot like one of her old Israeli uniform shirts, the ones she used to wear whenever she needed something to feel secure and comfortable in. He has no idea where she got this one, though, since her own all burned down with her apartment back then. For some reason it makes him nervous that she's wrapped herself in something that she's been trying so hard to leave behind lately.
She stays silent the whole time he gives her the onceover and doesn't spare him a single glance, like she's waiting at a train station and he's just another stranger passing by.
"This is your cue to start talking, Ziva," he reminds her eventually, and she blinks, slowly.
Her eyes narrow in a weird way while her gaze skims over the elevator floor. "Why talk about what you do not really want to hear?" she asks, quietly, and he takes a deep breath and has to remind himself that she's doing it to make him back off.
Still, it stings that she wants him out of her soul, and that's what this is really about, after all, so he replies with the one thing he knows for sure. "You need to trust your partner."
Her head comes up fast at that, and finally, for what feels like the first time in days, she meets his gaze. He isn't sure what he sees in her dark eyes, though. Just that it isn't quite what he was going for.
"Are you saying that you cannot trust me?" she asks. Her voice is incredulous, and there's even a hint of anger playing across her face now, but he's weirdly glad about that because it's better than the stranger's face that has shown him nothing at all.
"No," he replies carefully, and he really hates the role he has chosen, hates that he has to keep talking, keep poking and pushing her. And he hates that he already knows this will not go over well. "I'm saying that you still don't trust me."
Her eyes widen as if he'd physically slapped her, and he sees her chest heave with a couple of deep breaths before she can react. When she speaks, her voice is very low and cautiously controlled. Her hands, though, tremble with something that isn't easily constrained. "I thought I had made myself clear..."
"With your body, yes," he interrupts her. "With your heart, not so much."
She opens her mouth to object heatedly. Then, just before her angry words start raining down on him, she hesitates. And that hurts worse than a slap, worse even than a kick in the balls.
He does some free-flow associations while she keeps staring at him like that silently, and some quite random images dance around in his head. Ziva is in most of them, which isn't all that surprising. One of them keeps coming back, though, like his own perverse version of Clue. DiNozzo, in the living room, with a gun. He clears his throat and tries not to get distracted by his own issues now.
"You are so used to running away if things get rough..." he says, and a muscle in her cheek starts to twitch at that. Still, he continues, because it needs to be done and there is no one else around to do the job. "Assignment's done, you pack up your stuff and leave nothing behind except a body or two. But you're no longer a field agent, Ziva. You're one of us now." He wants to say 'You're mine', too, but that's the one thing he can't get out, yet. "You want to make a home for yourself? That means you get to stick around and deal with the bad stuff that happens, too. Because that's the price of being loved."
"And how would you know that?" she hisses angrily, almost spitting the words into his face.
And yeah, she's quite mad by now, and he's been expecting her words to sting, but for some weird reason they don't hit him as hard as he expected them to. Maybe because he knows that she's just playing the wounded animal to keep him from pressing on. Maybe, though, because some parts of his own past are not quite as scary anymore. Whatever the reason, it makes him hold her gaze steadily as he says, very softly, "I learned the lesson."
She blinks. Lowers her eyes and breaks the contact fast. Her cheeks flush as she realizes what she has said. "I am sorry, Tony. That was out of line."
"Way," he agrees. "But don't apologize, Ziva. Talk to me."
She is quiet for a long time after that, and he watches a dozen things happen to her face at once while she is staring down at the floor. All those emotions playing her leave her looking so vulnerable that he gets lost in staring at her, and he almost flinches when she finally continues to speak. "It is my past. It is long gone, and there isn't anything that can be done about it."
"It's what made you who you are, so it's not gone yet," he objects, and that makes her tense up instantly again. He sighs and runs a hand through his hair because that is the last thing he wanted. His frustration is like a sharp pang at the back of his throat because words are hard sometimes, and choosing the right ones is even harder. And he wants her to get it so badly, so he has to get them right, of course, and right away. Way to not pressure yourself, DiNozzo.
"Ziva, with the exception of Gibbs, you are the one person that knows me better than I know myself," he says after a while, and he can't help it then and takes a step towards her because he just can't say that from the other side of the room... elevator. "I'd just like to be able to be the same for you one day."
She takes a deep breath at that and rolls his words around in her head for an even longer time. "That is a scary thought," she says eventually, glancing at him sideways.
"Yeah," he replies, and to take the intimidating relationship edge off his words, he smiles one of his brilliant bee charmer smiles at her. "But it's not that bad once you accept it."
He does see her face and body soften up at his smile, and that's one of the moments when he feels like running away screaming himself, because this - all of this, the them part of it - seems to be too overwhelming for a few heartbeats. He's used to those moments by now, though, and he hasn't given in to the urge to run lately, so he just takes a few slow breaths while he waits for her to stop hesitating.
She's thinking hard now, and it makes him itchy when she is quiet for so long. He keeps imagining Abby calling the fire brigade because the elevator might be seriously stuck, but some things can't be helped, and some things take as long as they do, so the world outside will have to wait for a little while longer.
Eventually, she shakes her head, confused and by now obviously lost in a swarm of unwanted memories buzzing through her. "I wouldn't even know where to start."
"I wouldn't know either because I have no idea what to expect."
She raises her head again and meets his eyes. He sees another shadow cross her gaze, and just like that, she's withdrawing again, long before she even started to open up, and he resists the urge to smack the wall beside her with his fist just to keep her attention focused on him and not the bad stuff.
"I do not think this is a good idea," she finally says, shaking her head the tiniest bit. "You would not like some of the things I... did..." Her voice trails off, and he knows she just remembered something really bad, something she had managed to push away for a long time.
"Try me," he says, and when he raises a hand to touch her cheek, she flinches, meeting his gaze with that same haunted look on her face he saw when he was in bed with her. And just like that, he knows he's doing the right thing. He knows that all of this is important, even more important than getting her out of Saleem's dungeon was, because that was merely saving her, and anyone could have done that. This, this is rebuilding her. "Last Sunday, you hit me out of left field, and yeah, I reacted badly. But I can do better. For you, I can do better."
He sees her draw in a deep breath, and when she looks at him, the ice inside her eyes is melting, little by little. And yet, not nearly fast enough.
"I wouldn't know where to start," she repeats after a while, very softly, and this is the first time he has ever heard something like pain in her voice.
He takes another step towards her, carefully. Not cornering her, not crowding her, not even touching her yet. Just being there, right by her side, right in her face, so she can't ignore his presence.
"One thing," he offers, and the back of his hand brushes against her fingers softly because he can't help himself for a second. "Tell me just one thing about you that happened since you came here. One thing that shaped the Ziva I know."
She closes her eyes, leans her head back against the cool wall of the elevator, and he sees the pulse in her neck jump hard. He wants to suck it until she moans. Wants to pull her into his arms so desperately then. Wants to hug her and hold her close until neither of them can breathe anymore. Wants her to remember, and to forget, and to be happy for once. And for some reason he knows that for either of these to happen, he has to keep his distance now and not touch her again until she lets him. It's most likely the hardest thing Tony has ever done in his whole life.
She chases her own thoughts for what feels like ages. When she opens her eyes and looks at him, her chin is set and there is a tense air about her, some weird kind of stubbornness. And he knows, just like that, that she has picked the one thing that she thinks will make him run in terror from the monster he has awakened.
"It was not Gibbs who shot my brother."
Her words, as soft as they are, still echo loudly in the tiny cabin, and it takes a few moments until Tony gets it. He waits for it to sink in and really hit him, waits for the breathless pain to start, but strangely, all that rises in him is an overwhelming sadness. It just doesn't want to feel like one of the big surprises, and maybe he'd suspected it deep in his gut ever since that one night long ago when she'd told him who Ari had really been to her. Maybe just because he never believed she could love a man like she loves Gibbs if he had killed her own flesh and blood, no matter how batshit crazy.
She stares at him now, willing him to react, and so he does and asks her quietly, "Your father's orders?"
She flinches hard at his question, maybe because it sounds so much more matter-of-fact and less shocked than she expected, and her eyes widen. Then she nods, just a curt jerk of her head while her hands clench. And he sighs.
"Girl," he says. Shakes his head, and holds her gaze, and lets her see all the sorrow that he feels for her right then. "How can you breathe with that weight on your chest?"
He sees her lips start to tremble at that, and she presses them together as hard as possible for a few heartbeats. The muscle in her cheek twitches again.
"It is... hard, sometimes..." she says eventually, and that's when he reaches for her. She follows his movement easily and almost falls into his arms, and he wraps himself around her so tight that she can't be comfortable. She doesn't complain, though, just raises her own arms and grabs big fists full of his shirt and buries her face into his chest while she clings to him.
It is a start.
And it isn't enough.
And so he has to keep going.
"Why did you put a bullet to his head?" he asks, and it hurts, even though he knows that he has no choice now except keep pushing her. That this is the one single chance he will ever get at this. "Why did you not just... incapacitate him?"
Her slender body feels completely different all of a sudden although she hasn't moved a single muscle. She's tense again, ready to attack, just like that, and he feels her breath harshly against his chest, even through the fabric of his shirt. Her answer, when it finally comes, sounds too controlled, like something she has rehearsed a lot of times. "Ari was a dangerous man, Tony. Even severely wounded, he would have most likely taken out both of us."
He breathes, once, twice. Shares her rhythm. "Why didn't you even try?" he says then, and that's when she trembles ever so slightly in his arms. "Why not just put a bullet to his shoulder? To his leg?"
"Sometimes, you have no choice." And even while she says it she's starting to shake for real, because she remembers Tel Aviv now. Her hands crawl further up his back and she claws at his shirt with a small gasp. She sounds so out of breath now that he knows she's trying hard to keep it all from spilling out in a rush. She bites her lip and finally settles for something that is murmured very quietly against his chest, so soft-spoken that he almost can't understand it. "Ari... would not have done well in prison."
He closes his eyes and presses a soft kiss to the top of her head, and even though it breaks his heart that he has to break hers, he still says, "And you would have had to face him. After you betrayed him."
Her body comes alive in a mad flurry of movement, and she pushes her hands against his chest and shoves him away hard. Stumbles back and stares at him, wide-eyed. "How..." she whispers and then clamps a hand over her mouth in shock to keep the rest of her words in.
And that's when he realizes that maybe he's already halfway up the mountain path of knowing her.
She stares at him and searches his face for such a long time that he can't help wondering what she is looking for. He gets it when she finally asks him, though, with a voice so small, so shocked, like a scared girl lost deep in the woods. "How can you know and still look at me like that?"
There are so many ways to answer that question, but he really has no idea what to say, because the only truthful way is also the one that still scares the shit out of him: He has no choice in this. He never had.
In the end, he just crosses the gap between them, pulls her back into his arms and wraps himself around her body that feels strangely stiff against his own. Not resisting, but not quite with him yet, either.
"Because, Zee," he says and presses another soft kiss into the curve of her neck. He can't see her face because it's buried against his chest again, but eventually, he feels how the icy tension flows out of her body. "Just because," he repeats and starts stroking her back. And that's when he feels the heat of her tears.
He has no idea how long they block the elevator, just that it takes longer than any emergency talk he ever had in there. Eventually, when she stops shaking, he digs in his pockets for tissues. He offers to escort her to the bathroom and glare at anyone who dares to ask questions, but she shakes her head at that, and so he lets her finish this on her own.
It doesn't take long until she returns to her desk all freshened up, with just a hint of red around her eyes remaining. At first glance, she doesn't look all that different, but there is this one moment when she looks at Tony and gives him a kind of smile he hasn't seen on her before, and it feels so good that he can't stop grinning after that.
He knows that the big wet splotches and mascara stains on his own shirt raise a few eyebrows, but he isn't tempted to change into a fresh one for a single second. He's always worn her marks proudly, and there's no need to change that habit now.