WHEN: post "Dagger" AU
WORD COUNT: 3284
DISCLAIMER: Characters are not mine, I'm just playing with them.
Tony is a pig. He is also childish, immature and more often than not, irritating.
Tony is her partner; brave, reliable under fire and a good agent.
Tony is someone she is in love with.
She tried to suppress it, deny it and ignore it more times than she can count, spending hours counting his flaws, making mental lists of why she should not be in love with him, but all it took was one smile from him and she would forget why could they never work.
After two years of fighting her feelings, she is just too tired to keep it up. It is not a conscious decision; he says that he is tired of pretending and she says that she is too, and she knows that he knows exactly what is she talking about.
His dismissal hurts her more than she thought possible, and she is left stunned in an empty elevator, unable to move.
She had put her heart in his hands and he dropped it on the floor and stepped on it on his way out.
Her hope dies without a sound.
A week later, they both get blown up. It is his third time and it is her fifth, but it is the worst for both. And it is all his fault.
When she wakes up in hospital, she sees double and is sick to her stomach. Her head hurts and every breath is agony, but she still tries to get up. McGee holds her down and she trashes wildly, but she is too weak to shake free.
He releases her only when she promises to stay down.
She asks him where is Tony, trying to remember what happened after they got out from their car. Most of it is hazy, but some things are crystal clear; Tony's eyes going wide when he sees the ticking clock, the sound of his voice when he yells for her to run, and the weight of his body on top of hers before the world exploded around them.
McGee looks shaken with her question but recovers quickly and tells her that Tony is in hospital too.
She breathes a sigh of relief and goes back to sleep.
The second time she wakes up Abby sits next to her bed, clutching her stuffed hippopotamus to her chest. She looks lost, tired and on the verge of a breakdown but still offers a shaky smile when she sees that Ziva is awake.
Abby does not say anything, just reaches for Ziva's hand and holds on.
This time, Ziva does not ask about Tony. She has a feeling that it is better not to know.
She dreams that Tony is gone and no one but her seems to notice. It is like they do not remember him ever being there, and she is desperately trying to find some kind of evidence that he is not just a figment of her imagination.
She wakes up breathless and her hospital gown is soaked, making her shiver in the darkness. There is something soft next to her cheek and she realizes it is Bert when she wraps her hand around it and hears it fart.
It should be funny, but the fact that Abby left her favorite toy with her and not Tony scares her to death.
She sits up slowly, but her cracked ribs still protest. Her left wrist is probably broken so she wraps her right arm around her middle and gets up from the bed. The world tilts and she almost passes out but the need to find Tony keeps her on her feet. By the time she reaches the door of her room she is gasping for every breath, but still soldiers on.
The hallway is dimly lit and she shuffles against the wall, looking in each room as she comes across it.
She almost moves past Tony without recognizing him, but her stomach drops even as her eyes dismiss him as someone too hurt to be her larger-than-life partner. It was, after all, just an explosion.
She halts in the doorway and stands frozen, heavily leaning against the door-frame and wishing that she had stayed in bed.
Tony is attached to more machines than she wants to count, various tubes connecting him to them. She takes a tentative step closer and the world is spinning again, but she refuses to lose consciousness now. When her head clears she gets to his bed and lays her good hand against his shoulder, blinking back tears and concentrating on his face instead of his broken body.
His head is wrapped in bandages and there is a cut on his cheek and a tube in his mouth, but she does not want to think about death.
It could have been her laying in his place if he had not shielded her with his body, and she wants to be angry at him for risking his life so recklessly, but she can only feel thankful. She knows it was not about her; Tony would do it for anybody else and it is making everything worse somehow. Exhaustion makes her sway on her feet, but it feels wrong to leave him alone. There are no chairs in his room and he occupies the only bed, and it is another reminder that she is not supposed to be here.
She sits down on the floor and rests her weary head against the edge of his bed, next to his hand.
Ziva will not leave him alone.
She wakes up to afternoon sun shining straight in her eyes and can not remember how did she got back into her bed. For a moment she thinks that her late night walk was just a bad dream and that Tony is better than she is, but then she turns her head and sees Gibbs standing on the other side of her bed with a haunted look in his eyes and knows it was all real.
He reprimands her for wandering around the hospital in the middle of the night but there is no flare in his words. The last time she saw him like this was after Jenny died and she demands to know what is wrong with Tony.
''He got blown up, that's what's wrong with him'', Gibbs snaps, but his eyes remain dead.
''I was there too'', she tells him, and he smiles sadly.
''Yeah, but DiNozzo was stupid enough to put himself between you and the flying car motor. If he just fell down next to you instead of on top of you, you'd be pretty banged up, but the damn thing would fly over both of you instead of-'', Gibbs trails off and now she is angry at Tony because it was all in vein.
''Will he recover?'' she asks, her voice barely over a whisper.
''They don't even know if he'll ever wake up'', Gibbs answers and she closes her eyes, silently praying for him.
It appears it is the only thing she can do.
In the beginning, there used to be just Kate and Tony. Now they are both gone and her and McGee are alone. Gibbs refuses to hire anyone new in Tony's place and she understands. She does not want Tony replaced either, because that would be like accepting that he will not wake up and come back, which is something she can not do, will not do.
She goes to see Tony every day, and in time it starts to feel like going to confession. She speaks in a low, soft voice and tells him about her day, trying to convey every McGee and Ducky antic as best she can.
She tries so hard, but Tony never responds to anything she says or does. His eyes remain closed and his hands are cold and he is so pale now that she might mistake him for the dead if there was not for the gentle pulse in his wrist when she wraps her fingers around it.
She closes her eyes and remembers his smile, his silly jokes and those green eyes sparkling with mischief 24/7.
She remembers how it felt to kiss him, to lay cushioned against his arm and tell herself she does not feel a thing.
Before she leaves him, she always presses a kiss on his now stubbly cheek and expects a miracle.
It does not happen.
It is ironic that when Tony finally wakes up, four months after the explosion, she is nowhere near him. In fact, she is not even in the States, chasing some obscure terrorist cell across the Europe with Gibbs and McGee. Abby calls in the middle of the night and she is making very little sense but the gist is that Tony is awake and Ziva can barely believe her ears, pinching herself on the arm just to be sure she is not dreaming.
There is underlined tension in Abby's voice but Ziva does not want to discuss his condition over the phone and Abby seems relieved.
Gibbs puts her on the first plane back and she has never been more anxious about meeting anybody than she is now about meeting Tony. She had been hoping for him to wake up for so long, but she never allowed herself to think about what will happen when he does. The doctors were reluctant to give any prognosis, but words like possible blindness and amnesia were often spoken.
On her flight, Ziva alternates between complete belief that he will be okay and fear that he we will not remember her.
She does not want to even think about blindness.
Ten hours later, she is standing outside the hospital and trying to gather courage to walk inside. She has a perfect excuse to postpone this because she has not eaten anything since her departure and she is sweaty and jet lagged and cranky, but she knows that it is now or never.
Abby meets her in the hallway and looks at her with a silent warning in her tearful eyes. Ziva hugs her briefly and goes into Tony's room.
It feels exactly like facing a firing squad.
She barely steps into his room before he says her name, but his head does not turn toward the door. Something very cold nestles in her stomach as she crosses the room to stand next to his bed, already knowing what is amiss.
''I am here, Tony'', she tells him softly, placing her finger under his chin and turning his face toward her.
His eyes does not focus on her face and she feels her knees buckle. She drops down on the edge of his bed and bites her lip hard enough to draw blood.
''Ziva… I can't see you'', he says softly, in a voice that is not entirely his. Ziva blinks back tears when his hand reaches blindly for her. She takes it in both of hers and draws circles on his palm with her fingers, silent tears rolling down her cheeks.
She tells him she missed him.
He tells her he dreamed about her all the time.
Now that Tony is awake and more or less healed, always preoccupied with PT and MO lessons, Ziva feels both unwanted and uncomfortable around him. She tries to tell herself that he is still Tony, but it is clearly that he is not the same. She is not sure is it because of the blindness or just the explosion in general, but he is more serious than he had ever been. Yes, he still jokes and teases her and calls her Zee-vah, but there is no light in his eyes and his smiles are just shadows on his face and she does not know how to help him.
She never thought she would miss him being obnoxious.
Still, she tries not to let her worries show. She comes to see him every day after work and they talk about her day and his day and she is often crying as soon as she is out the door.
If there was not for that special smile on his face when she walks into his room and he realizes it is her, she would stay away and let somebody else deal with him.
The only thing they never talk about is the explosion and how it affected him, but Ziva keeps waiting for him to snap at her and tell her it was her fault.
At work, Gibbs hires Tony's replacement and she acts like a bitch. She knows that Tony can not come back to work, but every time the elevator door opens, she expects to see him walking in.
She claims his desk as her own because she can not stand to see it empty.
The last thing she wants to do after another fight with Gibbs about inadequacy of the new agent on their team is to go see Tony, but she is moving on autopilot by now, certain that she could find her way from the office to the hospital in complete darkness.
Again, the irony does not escape her.
She finds him sitting on the couch in the common room and drops down next to him, hoping to keep her visit as short as possible.
''Who pissed you off today?'' He asks offhandedly, turning down the volume on the TV.
Ziva huffs and says nothing.
''Come on, Ziva, I know something's off'', he coaxes and the genuine concern on his face makes her furious.
''How would you know? You can not even see me!''
The words are out before she can stop herself but she presses her lips shut nevertheless, waiting for the outbreak.
''Excuse me?'' He does not even have the decency to raise his voice and she wants to hit him for being so calm.
''You got blown up needlessly protecting me and Gibbs had to hire a man I can not stand because he is not you and you are pretending that everything is okay and I-'', she stops her rant and bites her lip against a sob forming in her throat, angrily wiping the tears from her eyes.
''Oh Ziva'', he sighs and reaches for her, pulling her against him when he finds her. ''I can't afford thinking about how messed up everything is 'cause then I might break down, and DiNozzos don't do that.''
''It is not healthy to hold things inside.''
''Look who's talking. You were probably bent out of shape over this ever since I woke up and I had no idea.''
''Just talk to me, Tony. If you fall apart, I will put you back together before anyone notices.''
His arms tighten around her and he presses his cheek against her forehead, her whole body tingling with anticipation.
She has not been this close to him in years and it is making her dizzy.
''I hate the dark. I hate not being able to see where I'm going and I hate most of the people on the planet who can.''
Ziva stiffens and tries to pull away from him, but his grip on her is strong and unrelenting.
''I said most people, Ziva. You've been with me through everything and I don't regret trying to save you. They say that you didn't need it, but I say better safe than sorry.''
Ziva draws a shaky breath and wraps her arm tightly around him.
''Thank you for saving me, Tony'', she whispers and closes her eyes, finding immense comfort in his warmth and scent, in his breath against her skin and his voice in her ear saying: ''You're welcome.''
She has not come to visit him since they released him from hospital. He seemed relatively back to normal the last time she did saw him so she decided to give them both some time off from each other.
She misses him every second they are apart, and for a moment she thinks she is hallucinating when she sees him walking out of the elevator.
The white cane in his hand is like a cold shower, but she is still almost ecstatic to see him.
Abby comes running down the hall and slams herself against him and Ziva feels tears prickling her eyes when Gibbs smacks him on the back of the head for coming to distract them from work in the middle of the day. McGee laughs and Tony calls him Probie and time seems to move backward; everything is like it used to be.
''Where's my ninja?'' Tony asks, and her heart drops at the affection in his voice.
They had crossed that fine line between partnership and something else and she did not even notice until now.
''I am here, Tony'', she says from behind his desk and their colleagues make themselves scarce in a matter of seconds.
''Snooping around the new guy's desk, are we?''
''No. This is my desk now'', she tells him and there is that smile on his face again, the one that is lately reserved only for her.
''So where is my replacement, then?''
She gets up and comes to stand next to him, smiling faintly.
''Gibbs sent him on a wild dog chase.''
''Wild goose chase, Ziva'', Tony promptly corrects and she can not believe how much she missed it.
When he reaches for her hand, she is already half way to give it to him.
''I missed you, Ziva'', he tells her, and she shrugs.
''I wanted to let you get settled before I came to see you.''
''It's been days'', he feigns exasperation but she can see that her absence made him worried.
''I can drive you home. I am sure Gibbs will not mind.''
Tony cringes, but there is a grin on his face.
''I might. How about you walk me there?''
''Your apartment is 30 blocks away!''
''How do you think I got here? Sure wasn't gonna try my chances with public transportation without some serious back-up.''
Ziva laughs and he wraps his fingers around her arm, letting her guide him back to the elevator.
McGee and Abby duck back around a corner and she rolls her eyes at them.
She is just walking Tony home.
''Ziva? What are we doing?'' He asks, his long fingers tightening around her own. They had been sitting on this bench outside his building for hours and she can not even remember how they came to be like this; her head on his shoulder, his arm around her, her hand in his.
''I do not know, Tony'', she tells him truthfully, because no matter how good this feels, she does not know what it means.
''Do you want to keep doing whatever we're doing?'' He prods, and she smiles to herself, a little amused with his uncertainty. ''Ziva? Still with me?'' He shakes her gently with a comical quirk of an eyebrow.
''Still with you'', she says softly, and he releases her hand, bringing it up to cup her face. ''Are you with me, Tony?'' she asks him, her voice shaky, her eyes searching his for the answer.
In the soft street-light, she can pretend that he is looking back at her.
''I couldn't be without you, Ziva'', he answers her huskily and she is too overwhelmed to speak or move, just closes her eyes and feels his lips on hers.
They do not know what they are doing, but it feels too good to stop.
Ziva used to believe in many things, but fairy-tales were never among them. Now, when Tony is kissing her, half a year after she stopped believing in anything at all, fairy-tale comes true, and nothing is wrong with the world.
Tony kisses her, and Ziva believes.