summary: Tony thinks he needs to move on because he has no idea how to move forward.
setting: Towards the end of season seven, a bit before 'Borderland', just for the chemistry. No spoilers, really. Nothing to warn about, too, except some angst.
notes: So, this one began its life a few months ago when countryole was assigned to write a story for anr at the ncis_ficathon. Because I hadn't signed up for that, she asked me to plot something with her, and this setting was born. Now, since my dear brain sibling is swamped by the demands of RL, I asked her if I could write the story because I still loved the whole mood and idea and because I think that anr really needs to get her presents. ;) I'm not the official pinch hitter for the ficathon, though - there'll be another story posted over there for her soonish.
The prompt anr gave was this: Tony/Ziva. Thunderstorms, scars, daffodils. all is lost / hope remains / and this war's not over...
word count: a little over 3,000
comments & feedback: very much appreciated.
"There she is," Ziva says, and he follows the direction of her nod. "And her contact, it seems."
Tony raises his camera and pretends to snap a holiday memory of his partner sipping her tea while he actually zooms in on the Petty Officer they've been waiting for.
Ziva turns her head back towards him and smiles for good measure. "Seems like you were right, for a change."
"For a change?" he huffs in mock indignation and tries to give her his best stern frown while simultaneously keeping his eyes on the blonde. No small feat, but somehow he accomplishes it. "I'll have you know that my instincts are usually pretty good, Miss Overanalyzer."
She tilts her head and looks at him with a curious expression on her face. Then she taps her index finger against her lips, and not for the first time today he'd give a good portion of his income to know what she's thinking right now.
It always confuses him when she looks at him like that. Like she is pondering things that might unhinge the fate of the world. He knows how to read her so easily when she just acts, but her thinking? That still eludes him after all these years.
"Yes. They usually are," she says eventually, and he almost drops the camera in shock.
He knows he's supposed to watch the target but when Ziva stops at a small stand selling flowers on the sidewalk he can't help glancing at her. She's smiling but it looks so sad and wistful that he moves closer and puts his palm to her back out of reflex. She looks at him over her shoulder while she lets her fingers play through a bunch of daffodil blossoms of the purest white.
"Narcissus Ziva," she says, and her mouth quirks in a strange way. She almost looks like she's trying to get herself back under control, and it confuses him again because this time she hasn't even lost it.
"There's a joke in here somewhere, right?" he says eventually while he leans closer to her, giving her his best charmer's smile. "About you and self-love...?"
She laughs out loud at that. "They would be called Narcissus DiNozzo then," she replies, and he pretends to be outraged. She shakes her head, still chuckling softly. "No joke. They're just native to Israel. I grew up with them."
"Oh. So you've gotten a ton of them from your admirers, huh?" His eyes flick back to their mark for a second to make sure they haven't lost her. His hand stays on Ziva's back, though, and that's how he notices the stiffness that suddenly rises in her.
"No," she says while her mind wanders off. "They are much too symbolic for that."
"Symbolic? They're flowers, Ziva." He snaps a few more photos. "Roses talk, sure. They say I want to get into your panties. But daffodils sure don't get that thought across."
She stiffens more and doesn't say a word, and after a few quiet seconds he lowers the camera and looks at her, completely confused now. "Okay, I'll bite. What do they mean?"
She moves away from him abruptly, and for a moment there's outright anger in her eyes. "You spend so much time googling stuff you have no business knowing, why don't you find that one out yourself, too?"
He watches her turn and cross the street, and part of him knows she's just trying to get closer to the Petty Officer in the hopes of catching some of the girl's talk with her contact.
The bigger part of him can't help the thought that she's suddenly trying to get as far away from him as she can.
She's weirdly silent while he drives them back to the Yard later and he really has no idea what got into her this time. He's doing his best to ignore her mood but it's hard work, and after a while of breathing carefully in the thick silence he turns on the radio so he has at least something to hum along to.
She glances at him in instant irritation, and he's pretty sure she's fighting the childish urge to just turn the radio off again without a word. He meets her eyes in silent rebellion, and her eyebrows draw together into a tight little frown that shows him how annoyed she really is.
'Maybe you and me got lost somewhere, we can't move on, we can't stay here.'
He blinks at the strangely intrusive lyrics, and he can't help thinking that Rob Thomas, friend of many a moody hour, has suddenly turned on him and mocks him now.
He takes the next turn sharper than would have been necessary, then glances back at Ziva to see if she is ready to tackle what's going on here, but all he sees is an expression that turns from angry to carefully guarded when she meets his gaze. Then her head whips around and she looks away again. She stares at the road, not saying a single word, not even acknowledging his presence any longer.
'Well maybe we ain’t meant for this love.'
He resists his own urge to slam his fist into the radio when he reaches over to turn it off.
And then, later in the bullpen, there is this one moment that, truthfully, isn't very different from a lot of other moments they had before. And yet there is something not usual about it. Maybe it's just the way Ziva cocks her head while she answers Gibbs's question. Maybe it's the way she shakes it afterwards when she glances at him. Whatever it is, it also turns into the one single moment where Tony suddenly realizes that she will probably never love him the way he wants her to. His chest is suddenly tight and for a few moments he has trouble breathing.
She chooses that one moment to look at him, and there's the frown again, almost instantly. He blinks, slowly, and pulls up Google, just so he has something else to look at than her irritated face. But because his mind is still reeling and because he can't think about anything else anyway, he types in Narcissus Ziva before he realizes it.
It distracts him enough to browse through the search results with a slight frown. Pretty, like their namesake. Rebirth. New beginnings. That ain't too bad. Why was she-- oh. Right. A symbol of unrequited love.
He closes the page and breathes deeply. Rubs his eyes that feel tired all of a sudden.
"Will you stop it already?" he mutters, not to anyone in particular but the universe in general. "I get it."
"That would be a first," McGee chuckles without bothering to look up from his own screen.
Sudden anger rushes through Tony, so forceful that he finds it hard to control. Anger at himself, for being too dense in certain matters. At Ziva, for not being on the same plane he is. And anger at McGee, the snide bitch of late. As much as he usually loves Timmy, right now he is tempted to beat his face to a bloody pulp.
He blinks again and takes a few more deep breaths.
Let go already.
He's very aware that Ziva stops her typing and stares at him again but he refuses to look at her while he powers down his computer, grabs his backpack and mumbles something about a headache.
Her gaze is heavy in his back. He can feel it for the small eternity it takes him to reach the elevator.
The universe seems to think that maybe it wasn't obvious enough, and so it starts raining while he's wandering around in the park, trying to get his thoughts back under control. It's not the warm spring fizzles he's so fond of, but rather the little sister of the last wintery thunderstorms, and within seconds he's soaking wet and very alone in the park because everyone else is running for their cars or cover.
Tony doesn't run, though. He wants to, but somehow he can't bring up the energy or the nerve to go home just yet. Maybe because staring at the TV or the walls of his apartment would drive him nuts tonight. Maybe because the blues is strong in him tonight and needs more fodder. So he just keeps walking, only stopping when he reaches an abandoned gazebo that provides some meager protection from the cold floods. Probably not the best idea ever while there's a storm coming up but he can't really bring himself to care tonight.
The wind's howling now and Tony shudders while he sits down on the lonely bench and stupidly watches the rain pour down. He's not sure if the chill he feels in his bones is really a physical reaction.
His phone goes off, and he digs it out of his pocket with numb fingers. Ziva, of course. He stares blankly at the screen and wonders if the damn flowers were too much. Maybe he should have talked to her instead.
But then again, they're never good at talking when it comes to important stuff, and most likely he'd have screwed it up anyway and ended up not making any sense at all, so just leaving the daffodils in front of her door somehow seemed appropriate. Ending something old, sending her off to something new. Rebirth, new beginnings, sort of a goodbye. Just a nicely dramatic statement without being overdone. Would make for a damn good movie scene, in his opinion.
Apparently, Ziva doesn't think so.
The ring tone quiets. He keeps staring blankly at the screen while it goes dark and the rain runs down his face in cold rivulets. Thirty-six seconds later the phone rings a second time, and he flips it shut and shoves it back into his pocket. There's no third call, and that's just as well. He's so very tired suddenly.
He knows already it'll take a long while to get over this one, much longer than anyone before her. Maybe because he hadn't even realized how big a thing this really was for him.
Oh, he'll be fine tomorrow, at least on the outside. They won't see a lick of difference when they look at good ol' Anthony DiNozzo in the morning.
Tonight, though, he'll mourn, and he'll do that properly. He'll mourn for one more thing he can't have. For the years he was careless and let her get too close. For the years he'll spend from now on with keeping her from getting even closer.
His phone pings again. This time it's a text message from McGee, telling him that Ziva's looking for him and that she forced the probie to track his location. Tony's mouth twists into a grim smile while he can't help but appreciate her efficiency. His ninja's not one to waste her calls.
He wipes his face and grimaces and decides that the rain really fits his lousy mood. Except that he is no longer quite sure if what he wipes away is just rain.
When she finds him half an hour later she's just as soaked as he is - maybe even more because she's been running around in the rain for a while now and it's been getting heavier by the minute. She loses her angry stride the moment she sees him, and she stops dead in her tracks just outside the gazebo, staring at him with too wide eyes.
"Are these yours?" she says, raising the hand that clutches a bunch of daffodils, and there's something in her voice that twists the knife a little more. Funny. He always thought it was just the physical scars that hurt during weather swings.
"Answer me!" she demands when he just looks at her blankly. Her voice rises a notch and a weird mix of aggression and sadness flits across her face. "Are these yours?"
He breathes out slowly. Nods.
He's not prepared for the way her eyes suddenly narrow to slits.
"Are you mocking me?" she hisses while she shakes the fist at him that's holding the flowers.
He blinks, stares at her. He tries to get it, but she's been thinking again, and that's always the best way to make sure he doesn't have a clue what she's talking about.
"Why would I mock you?" he asks in the end, surprise ringing in his voice.
Her chest heaves, and he watches her eyes widen impossibly. He waits for an explanation but she seems to be as much at a loss for words as he is. So much for talking through this calmly.
"You're crushing them," he remarks quietly when she does just that, and that makes her come alive again in a flurry of movement.
"I don't care," she spits out furiously, and there's a sound coming from deep in her throat like she's the one hurting here. Lightning splits the sky behind her while she storms into the gazebo suddenly, crowding him, and he has to admit that makes for a pretty impressive image.
"I don't want them!" she yells, and he flinches hard when she suddenly hits him and slaps the flowers across his chest, once, twice. "Not from you, you idiot!"
He grabs her shoulders out of reflex, keeping her at arm's length, and she stares at him angrily without really seeing him. He says her name to snap her out of it, and her muscles tense in his grasp. She's ready to fight him about this, and he feels his fingers dig into her shoulders harder.
And then she opens her mouth again, and he suddenly realizes this may be the very last time they'll ever talk like this. Like more than partners.
The words to make any of this better still won't come, and he frowns at his own inability to get it right.
"It's okay," he says eventually, and for some reason her eyes get angry again. He watches her warily, confused, but sure suddenly. "I just realized today we're not where we could be. And maybe it's better to... I don't know. Put some things to rest, you know?"
She stares up at him with wide eyes, so fragile, mouth slack and shocked. "We're not where we could be?"
He nods, and something gives inside him. Strangely, it doesn't hurt all that much. It's like a pain that's been with him for too long, like an old wound that needed to be reopened to heal properly, and now there's suddenly just a dull throbbing left. It distracts him enough so he forgets about keeping her away for a moment, and he raises a hand to push her wet hair out of her face. Her eyes flick to his hand and then back to his face, and for a second she doesn't seem sure how to react.
"Some things have changed, but some things never will, and these things keep us from reaching the right place," he says quietly and takes in her face because he really needs to remember this. "And I have run out of ideas on how to get there."
He shrugs apologetically, and her eyes are suddenly so wide that she looks scared. He runs his hand through her hair again and wants to scold himself for breaking his resolution to stay away from her so soon after he made it. But she never let him touch her like that before, and for some reason that seems like a big thing and one he needs to remember while he tries to forget her.
She shudders, and that's when he realizes that she's actually shaking from the cold and her lips are turning bluish because she's freezing. It's a reflex to take off his jacket and sling it around her shoulders, and the gesture is almost amusing in its ineffectiveness because his clothing is just as soaked as hers.
He starts to rub her shoulders to get some warmth back into her, and she bites her lip and kind of leans into him while he does that. And maybe it's just the way she cocks her head again, or maybe the way she looks up at him, with that angry frown still marring her face, but suddenly he draws her closer instead of pushing her away, and then her mouth is on his and she gasps and he trembles. And because this time she doesn't think and just acts, he suddenly gets it.
This war isn't really over. He's just been on the wrong battlefield.
He suddenly breathes hard, and he waits it out while he kisses her back, heart racing, pulse pounding in his ears. Waits for either of them to tense or flinch or pull away, but neither of them does, and in the end that's the thing that really shocks him.
She's shaking badly against him now, and he knows he should get her out of the rain and into a hot shower, but just then she wraps her arm around his neck and his jacket slides off her shoulders and to the ground. And he really can't go through with not touching her while she clings to him like she's drowning, can he?
Lightning cracks once more, too close this time, and Ziva jumps and pulls back after all. She's breathing hard now, too, and she stares at him as if she has never seen him before, and that's alright because he certainly knows the feeling.
She wants to say something, and her lips part, but he just shakes his head and runs his thumb across her lower lip until she closes her eyes and leans into him once more to press her face into the curve of his neck.
She keeps shuddering violently, and he's pretty sure it's not just from the cold now. His arms come up around her, and she makes this tiny sound against his chest that loosens something else inside him.
His hand runs down her back, stroking her slowly, carefully, afraid to break something. "I should have bought the roses," he whispers quietly into her neck, and she slaps her palm to his chest once more, hard, frustrated. And then her fingers curl and dig into his flesh because she's not ready to let go of him.
There's that tiny noise again that sounds suspiciously like a sob, but he pretends to ignore it.