WEATHERING THE STORM

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

On the way back from a routine questioning session, Tony and Ziva run into difficulties. With no way to solve the problems themselves, they have to hope the team will come through for them. However, as well as external issues, there are internal ones as well.

A first time story.

Written: July 2010. Word count: 6,795.

 

 

 

". . . And so there I was bonging a beer, which I can still do in six seconds, when - Ziva, are you listening to me?" Tony risked a brief glance away from the snow and ice covered road to look at his companion. Ziva was sitting bolt upright, her back not touching the back of the seat; one hand gripped the seat, the other seemed to be fingering her Star of David. She was staring intently at the road. "Ziva?" Tony said sharply, returning his attention back to the road as he felt the car begin to slide. "I said are you -"

 

"Listening to you? Yes, Tony, I am. What other choice do I have?" Out of the corner of his eye, Tony saw that Ziva was now looking at him. "And what is 'bonging' anyway?"

 

"Huh?"

 

"You said you could 'bong a beer in six seconds'."

 

"Oh, yeah. And I can."

 

"Well what does it mean?"

 

Correcting the skid he'd just let the car go into, Tony shrugged. "It's a drinking game. Someone pours beer into a funnel via a hose and the aim is to drink it as quickly as possible. It's not that easy."

 

"But what is the point?" Ziva's voice was higher than usual, shrill almost, and she sounded irritated - which wasn't anything new.

 

"Point?" Tony asked, again wrestling with the steering wheel. He heard Ziva gasp softly, as the front of the car veered to the right, heading towards the feet high snow-banks. "It's all right, Ziva," he said, winning the battle to straighten the car again. "It's just a bit of ice and snow." Again he risked glancing at Ziva; he found she was once again staring through the windscreen into the blizzard that had just started up.

 

She didn't answer him. After a moment he went on. "What was I saying? Ah, yes, the point. Well, it's to have fun. It's a competition. Something to do with the guys. It's mainly a Spring Break thing."

 

"Spring Break?"

 

Tony sighed. "Ziva, you're an American citizen now; you should know these things. You should - shit!" The wheels went into another skid, spinning the car around twice. Tony fought to regain control. He thought he'd succeed and released the fierce grip he had on the steering wheel, but the car spun again and headed at speed for the bank of snow on the left hand side of the road.

 

Acting purely on instinct, Tony put his arm out across Ziva and tightened the grip he had on the wheel with his other hand. "Hang on!" he yelled.

 

Seconds later the car hit the towering bank of snow and came to a shuddering halt. The windscreen cracked, but didn't shatter, the wheels continued to go round and round for several seconds and the engine spluttered into silence.

 

For what seemed like an age, the only sounds were heavy and fast breathing. Tony's forehead felt damp; he wiped it with the back of his glove-clad hand, expecting to see a sheen of sweat on the black leather, but the liquid was darker. He pulled one glove off, and touched just above his eyebrow. His finger was red with blood.

 

"You have cut yourself, just above your eyebrow." Ziva's spoke in a shaky and low voice.

 

Tony wiped his hand over the area again, pulled his glove back on and shrugged. "It's nothing. Are you okay?" He looked at Ziva. She was pale, ashen even; she was shivering and yet sweat stood on her forehead and upper lip. Her eyes were wide, her pupils dilated and her lips seemed devoid of color. And she was trembling. "Ziva?" He put his hand out and touched her arm; it was taut beneath his hand, and as he held it he felt her shaking. "What is it?" he asked.

 

She shook her head and pushed his hand off her arm. "It is nothing. I am . . . Fine, thank you. You should not have taken one hand off the wheel in a foolish attempt to protect me. Had you not done so, we may not have crashed." Now she glared at him; her voice while still somewhat shaky was once again almost shrill.

 

Tony shook his head. "Sorry to disappoint you, Ziva, but four hands on the wheel couldn't have stopped the car from crashing. Didn't you feel the tire blow?"

 

Ziva shook her head. "No. I did not." She began to breathe more quickly. "I just felt the skid and we went round and round and the snow was coming towards us so quickly and -" She fell silent and he watched as she calmed her breathing.

 

Under his gaze he watched as she slowed her breathing and lowered her shoulders that had risen to almost touch her ears. She was still pale and her forehead and upper lip were still damp, but she seemed to be shaking less than she had been. "Ziva, I -"

 

"It is all your fault!" She spat the words at him and her eyes blazed with fury.

 

"My fault? That's not fair, Ziva. I donít control the weather. I was just -"

 

"Paying far more attention to telling me a stupid story, as you always do, than to the road. I am amazed you did not mention a movie as well. But no doubt that would have followed. If you had been paying attention, we would not have skidded; we would not now be sitting here staring at a wall of snow. What happens if -" She stopped speaking abruptly and looked away from him; once again her breathing was faster than normal and again she was trembling. One hand was at her throat, the other held one end of her scarf.

 

Tony stared at her; silenced not just by her words, but also by the sheer venom she'd spoken them with. "It wasn't my fault, Ziva," he said finally.

 

She turned sharply back to him, her hair flying around her face. She brushed it off her face. "I told you that you should have let me drive. I would not have -"

 

"Have you ever driven in snow and ice, Ziva?!" Tony kept his tone low. "Well?" he demanded, when she didn't answer. "Have you?"

 

"I . . .That is . . . That is not the point. I have -"

 

"Have you ever driven in snow and ice, Ziva. Yes or no?" He touched her arm.

 

She shook him off, backing away from him. "No. I have not. However, I have been trained in all kinds of situations. I would not have . . . I . . ." She lowered her head; her hair fell around her face.

 

He watched her, taking the opportunity to calm his own breathing; it hadn't been his fault. No one, not even Gibbs, would have been able to stop the car from crashing into the snow as it had done. He'd felt the tire blow and he had known instantly that with the ground as it was and visibility down to virtually zero, he'd be lucky to keep the car the right way up. How dare Ziva accuse him of not paying attention? Why did she always have to be so perfect in everything? He had a good mind to -

 

He stared in surprise and horror as he saw her shoulders begin to rise and fall and heard what was clearly her sobbing. "Ziva?" he risked touching her; he put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "Ziva, what is it? Are you hurt?" She didn't answer him; she just kept her head down and kept crying. "Are you hurt?" he asked again, brushing some of her hair from her face, she pulled back and he let it fall. "Look at me." Still she didn't move. "Agent David, look at me!" he ordered, using his best imitation of Gibbs's tone.

 

He heard her gulp, felt her jump and she lifted her head. Tears streamed down her cheeks and her nose ran. Pulling off one glove gasping slightly as the icy air hit his naked skin; he dug into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. "Here," he said, pushing it into her hand.

 

She took it, her hand shaking badly. "Thank you," she muttered, blowing her nose and wiping her eyes. He said nothing else; he just let her calm herself down. But he was worried, deeply worried. He had never seen her like this; never seen her sob in the way she had been. He kept his hand on her shoulder, hoping the touch would give her some comfort.

 

Finally she looked at him. "I am sorry, Tony," she said, her voice formal. "I should not have -"

 

The response came automatically. "Never say you're sorry, Ziva, it's a sign of weakness."

 

She glared at him and again her eyes flashed with anger; he was relieved to see it. "No, Tony," she spat. "No, it is not. It is just one of Gibbs's stupid rules; rules that have no meaning; rules that are foolish, worthless and pointless. To say you are sorry is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. To truly be able to admit you were in the wrong and to apologize for it shows maturity - something that I sometimes wonder if either Gibbs or you have!" Tony's mouth fell open as the words poured from her mouth.

 

She went on. "Most of Gibbs's rules are stupid and we are stupid for following them, stupid for even listening to them. I am sorry, Tony. I should not have blamed you. It was not your fault we skidded, I know that. I was wrong to blame you and I could not have done any better. In fact I would have failed to correct earlier skids. Please forgive me," she said her tone again formal.

 

"Hey, Ziva, it's no big deal. Just tell me what the matter is." Tony squeezed her shoulder again.

 

She looked at him; again her eyes filled with tears; her cheeks were ashen; her lips red against the paleness; she quivered. "I am . . . I am . . ." She broke off and swallowed hard. "I am afraid," she said, her voice little more than a whisper. Tony felt his mouth fall open at Ziva's words. Before he could find an answer she spoke again. "I have never been afraid before." She reached for his hand and held it.

 

Still stunned by what she'd said, Tony fought for something to say. "But what about when you were in Somalia? Weren't you scared then?"

 

She shook her head. "I went there to die. I went there by choice. I was not afraid."

 

"There must have been other times, Ziva. You know when 'your life was in danger' times?" He took her hand between both of his and rubbed it.

 

Again she shook her head. "Those kinds of times are different."

 

"How come?"

 

"Because, I have a chance to do something; my life is to an extent in my hands. I can fight. This," she waved her other hand towards the towering snow bank, "and this," now she gestured at the blizzard that swirled around them. "This I cannot fight. This I can do nothing about. I am, we are, in the hands of . . . whatever it is you believe in."

 

"It's just a snow storm, Ziva. We'll get out of here, you'll see."

 

"How? How, Tony? You said it yourself, a tire has blown. You cannot get out and change it; you would freeze to death. Tell me how are we going to get out of here?" She clutched his hand tightly, but she seemed slightly calmer. Her voice was no longer shrill, a hint of color touched her cheeks and she didn't tremble as much. It was if having admitted her feelings, having spoken of her fear it had eased it to an extent.

 

Tony looked at her, and then he looked at the blizzard and the soaring snow bank. She was right - at least about going out in the whiteout. The nose of the car touched the snow bank, but fortunately it didn't seem to have penetrated it, at least as far as he could see though the blizzard. He reached for the key that dangled in the ignition and turned it. "I've driven on a bare wheel before now; we'll just keep going until we find a house or something." The key turned, the engine made a grinding, whirring noise and fell silent.

 

He swallowed and tried again; this time there wasn't a sound at all. "Okay," he said, with more bravado than he actually felt. "So driving out is not an option. But I'll get you out of here, Ziva. I promise."

 

She gave him a faint smile. "Now that should be a rule," she said.

 

"Huh?"

 

"Never make promise you cannot keep." She squeezed the hand he still realized she was holding.

 

"I will keep it, Ziva. I will. Look, I rescued from a Somali jail, I can get you out of a snow storm." And he would; or die trying. "Ah!" he pulled his cell phone out and switched it on; only the faintest hint of a signal showed on the screen. Nonetheless he pressed the number he wanted.

 

However, before he heard it ring, the phone switched off. "Damn it," he muttered, lifting it up as high as he could get it and trying again. This time he heard it ring once, before it again shut off as he once more lost the signal. He held out his hand, "Let me try yours."

 

"Tony, it is exactly the same." Nonetheless, Ziva handed it over. But it was even worse; he didn't get even a hint of a signal. "Try opening the window a little."

 

"Ziva, there's a blizzard blowing out there!"

 

"Is there? I had not noticed." Ziva's voice was still not her usual, confident, assured one, but her small joke warmed him. They'd be fine; they'd get out of there; they had to. There was things that had to be said; things he wanted to tell her.

 

"Okay," he said. "Ready?" She nodded and pulled her scarf up to cover her mouth and nose. He partially opened the window, gasping aloud as he was hit with icy cold, wet snow that poured through the gap. He held the phone partly outside the window and the signal strength increased. Again he dialed the number.

 

It rang once, twice and then - "McGee!" he yelled, not daring to move the phone closer to his mouth. "It's Tony. We're broken down and need help." He waited for McGee to speak, but heard nothing. "McGee! McGee!" he yelled again. "Can you hear me?" All he heard was half silence, half static. He decided to go on talking in the hope McGee could hear him, even though he couldn't hear McGee. "I don't know exactly where we are, but there's snow banks, ten, fifteen feet high somewhere off the -" He came to a halt as he realized the phone was once again in effect dead in his hand.

 

He pulled it back inside and shut the window again and wiped his coat, the steering wheel, the phone and his hand free from the covering of snow. He looked at Ziva. "I don't know if he could hear me," he said quietly. "I couldn't hear him. But I got a signal. I'm going to get out and try again." He pulled his own scarf up over his mouth and nose and reached for the handle.

 

Ziva's hand on his arm stopped him. "You cannot go out there, Tony. Look, it has got worse."

 

He peered through the windscreen, looking into nothing but sheer, unadulterated whiteness, as the snow pounded against it. The wind had increased and howled around the car, rocking it as it stood. He silently offered up a prayer to a God he had long stopped believing in, that the wall of snow would stand firm.

 

"It is so cold," Ziva said. He looked at her to see her shivering and her teeth were chattering together.

 

"Come here," he said, putting out his arm. "Snuggle up to me; shared body heat; it's the best thing."

 

She moved as far across her seat as she could and he did the same, putting his arm around her and pulling her as close as he could get her. But they weren't close enough; there was too much space between them. "Get into the back," he ordered. "Come on, climb over the seat. That's it," he helped her scramble over.

 

"Oh, the seat is even colder." She said, gasping as she sat down. "Hurry up, Tony. Oww, that was my knee."

 

"Sorry, sorry," he said, falling over the back of the seat and landing half on the seat, half on the floor. With her help, he scrambled up and pulled her into his arms, pressing as close against her as he could get. "That's better," he breathed, "or it will be. Here give me your hand." She did and he took it and held it tightly. His face tingled with the cold and his lips felt numb. His scarf had slipped down during his 'trip'. "Can you pull my scarf up for me?" he asked. "Over my mouth and nose? Thanks," he said when she did that and readjusted her own.

 

For several minutes they sat in silence, pressed so closely together nothing could have been pushed between them, not even a slip of paper. Her head was on his shoulder, the bobble of her hat brushing against his chin, finding the small gap where his scarf had once again slipped a little. He could hear her breathing and wondered if her heart was beating as erratically as his was.

 

They were warmer than they had been, but even through the various layers of clothing they both wore, he could still feel how chilled they were becoming. He had no idea what the temperature was, but it had to be below freezing. Despite what he'd said to Ziva, he was concerned; there was no way they were getting out of the situation under their own steam. He just hoped McGee had heard him and had been able to trace the call -

 

Trace the call. Again he dug into his pocket, pulling out his phone and with glove clad, shaking fingers managed to switch it on. The signal flashed for a moment, then vanished again. Nonetheless he twisted his arm and dropped the phone onto the parcel shelf behind them.

 

"What are you doing?" Ziva asked, lifting her head slightly.

 

"The signal keeps coming and going. If McGee heard me, then he'll be trying to trace us."

 

"Will it be enough? How long does he need?"

 

"He's McGeek, Ziva," Tony said, pride in his voice. "If anyone can do it, he can. If he heard me, he'll find us. He won't stop until he does."

 

Now she lifted her head completely from his shoulder. "You have that much faith in him?"

 

"Yeah. Yeah, I do. Tim'll trace us and Gibbs'll come and rescue us."

 

"I never did believe in fairy tales," Ziva said, her voice soft.

 

"But I did." Tony spoke firmly.

 

"The knights in shining armor rescuing the maidens in distress," Ziva quipped.

 

"Hah! So you do know fairy tales!"

 

"I did not say I did not know them; I said I did not believe them."

 

"Gibbs and McGee'll save us," Tony said firmly. "They will," he added, as he saw her face.

 

For a moment she frowned a little and he thought she was going to argue again. However, instead she touched his cheek. "Very well, Tony. I will believe you."

 

Now all he had to do was to believe himself. He felt Ziva shiver and once again press as closely as she could to him. The top of his face was numb and he was struggling to feel his toes and fingers. He glanced out of the window; the blizzard had subsided a little. "I'm going to get the blankets," he declared. Taking his arm from around her and rubbing his hands together. "From the trunk," he added.

 

She looked at him, then pulled off her hat and handed it to him. "Here, you will need it."

 

"Thanks." He pulled the emerald green bobble hat onto his head and tugged it to a rakish angle. "How'd I look?"

 

She smiled. "Very nice. Now go. Quickly. Argh," she gasped as he opened the door, fighting against a sudden gust of wind.

 

He slammed the door behind him, turned to head for the back of the car and slipped. He grabbed the door handle to stop himself from falling into the piles of snow, hanging on even though he couldn't feel his fingers, fighting with every bit of mental and physical strength to hang on. Falling into the snow would be lethal - he knew that. "Come on, DiNozzo," he growled to himself. "Get the hell up and stop messing around."

 

He hung there for what seemed like an eternity, his feet trying to get purchase on the glass like surface, before finally inch by painful inch he managed to force himself upright. Despite the effort he'd exerted, despite dampness under his arms, he was still shivering. "That's it, put one foot in front of the other. And stay upright," he muttered, as using the car to lean on he managed to cover the small distance to the trunk.

 

He pulled out the two blankets, stuffed one up under his coat, balled the other one up and stuck it under his arm and made the journey back. Breathing more heavily than he could remember doing, even after a hand to hand fight, he finally collapsed back on the seat next to Ziva. His gloves and Ziva's hat were soaked and he managed, with Ziva's help to pull them off and throw them onto the front seat, before sinking back against the seat and closing his eyes.

 

It took him a few minutes before he had the energy to pull the blanket from under his coat and arrange it over the two of them, then he put the other one, which was cold but mainly dry, over the top, once again put his arm around Ziva and tugged her as closely as he could.

 

Again they snuggled in silence, only the sounds of the gale and the now ice storm penetrated the car. After a few minutes, Tony groped behind him and got his fingers on his cell phone. He pulled it towards him and watched the signal vanish. He sighed and tossed it back onto the parcel shelf.

 

"They will rescue us," Ziva said, from the vicinity of his shoulder. "Gibbs and Tim; they will find us."

 

"Yeah, I know that," Tony said, with an agreement he no longer felt.

 

"Although I almost wish that it was McGee with me and not you."

 

"Gee, thanks, Ziva," Tony said.

 

She sighed gently. "No, I mean you rescued me once from an impossible situation; you would do it again."

 

Tony swallowed hard at her words; her suddenly intense faith in him. He wasn't worthy of it. "I didn't do it alone, Ziva," he said. "The others played their parts too."

 

"But you nearly died for me."

 

"I'd do it again, any time. You're my partner."

 

Ziva was silent again. Finally she said quietly, "Is that all I am to you?"

 

Suddenly Tony's mouth felt dry and his skin began to tingle, but not with the cold. He swallowed and licked his lips, trying to find some moisture. "What do you mean?" he asked, trying to buy a little time, while at the same time silently berating himself.

 

"In Somalia you told me," she paused and he heard her swallow. She was silent for so long, he wasn't certain she'd continue. Finally, however, he heard her swallow again; then she said, her voice low, uncertain, "You told me you could not live without me."

 

"Guess I did," he replied.

 

"Did you . . . Did you mean it? Or was it just the drug Saleem gave you?"

 

The truth or a lie? A lie or the truth? It was the question he'd been waiting for her to ask since they had returned to the States, but she hadn't. He'd had months to think about his answer and now his time had run out.  He thought back to another woman who'd asked him a similar question; he'd lied then. He'd lied for her sake and, he'd long ago admitted, partly for his sake too. Now he was being asked the question again.

 

A lie or the truth? The truth or a lie? They were going to die; he knew that; she knew that; they were going to die. Gibbs was not going to ride in on a white charger and save them. He didn't believe in fairy tales; that had been a lie. There had been enough lies between them. It was time for the truth and to hell with the consequences.

 

Yet he was Anthony DiNozzo; he couldnít say it simply. Instead he said, "Gee, Ziva, I don't know. After all, it was truth serum, Saleem gave me. What do you think?" His tone had been glib, jovial, matey, teasing to begin with. His final words, however, were spoken far more quietly and far more seriously.

 

She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him. Her brown eyes studied him carefully, they gave nothing away. He noticed her face had lost its ashen paleness, but was now tinged with blue; her lips were almost invisible. Her hair was flat and rumbled; she'd never looked more beautiful. "You could not live without me?"

 

He shook his head. "Couldn't. Can't."

 

The silence stretched between them. Finally Ziva broke it. "Why did you not say something when we returned to the US?"

 

"Why didn't you ask?"

 

She frowned. "I asked you first."

 

He shrugged. "Jeanne. Michael. You. Me. The past. The present. I don't know, Ziva. It seemed . . . You seemed . . . I didn't know how to reach you. At times I thought you hated me for saving you."

 

"At times I think I did. But to hate someone you must also be able to love them." She paused and cupped his cheek with her hand. Then she leaned forward a little and replaced her hand with her lips. "I love you, Anthony DiNozzo," she said simply.

 

He pushed her away a little. "And I, Ziva David, love you too." He slipped one hand behind her neck and pulled her towards him until her ice cold lips met his.

 

For what seemed like eternity and also like a fleeting moment they sat pressed closely together and kissed one another; that's all they did. They were wrapped up in so many layers, Tony couldn't even feel her heartbeat, despite them being so close, but he'd never experienced anything as sensual; not even Jeanne had touched him on the level Ziva was touching him, moving him.

 

Finally they broke apart and he looked at her. Her brown eyes seemed slightly glazed and her lips now showing a little color were swollen. "Thank you, Tony," she said softly, again touching his cheek. Then she sighed and snuggled back under his arm, her head again resting on his shoulder. Her bitterly cold hair brushed against his cheek as she settled down.

 

"Hey," he shook her. "Don't you go closing your eyes on me, Ziva. Okay? Stay awake. You can't go to sleep. Talk to me."

 

"About what do you wish to talk?"

 

"I don't know. Anything. Quote the constitution at me. Tell me what . . ." He trailed off as he heard her sigh and then heard steady, shallow breathing.

 

"Ziva!" he cried, shaking her. "Ziva David, wake up or else I'll . . ." He'd what? What was the point of waking her up? They weren't getting out of there; no one was coming to rescue them. Why wake her up and let her freeze? It was far better she slip away in some degree of comfort.

 

Instead he kissed the top of her head and wrapped both arms around her, pulling her even closer to him. "I love you, Ziva," he murmured. "I love you so much. Sleep, honey. I promise you'll be warm and I'll be with you." And pulling her that extra bit closer to him, he let his head come to rest on hers and ceased to fight the battle to keep his own eyes open. He couldn't, he wouldn't, live without her.

 

 

Slowly, Tony started to become aware of his surroundings. He was warm, just as he'd promised Ziva she would be, dry and comfortable. As he became more aware he began to make out noises, beeps, the odd clang or two and, most oddly of all, Ducky's voice! What the hell was Ducky doing in - wherever he was? Was he dreaming? And if so, why would he dream of Ducky?

 

Slowly he opened his eyes, blinking several times and looked around him. He blinked hard as he not only heard Ducky, he saw him! Now he was hallucinating. "Ducky?" he managed, his voice croaky.

 

"Oh, my dear boy, you are finally awake." Ducky smiled and squeezed Tony's hand. "You gave us quite a scare, you know - both you and dear Ziva. But you'll be fine. You're quite safe now."

 

Still more than a bit confused as to where he was and why Ducky was there, holding his hand, Tony opened his mouth to ask about Ziva, but Ducky spoke again. "Timothy," he called, turning away from Tony. "Do go and tell one of the lovely nurses that Tony is awake."

 

"Tony's awake? Oh, that's great news." McGee's voice was warm and tinged with a hint of emotion, the kind of which Tony hadn't heard directed at him before. "Welcome back, Tony." Tony felt his other hand taken and squeezed.

 

"Thanks," he managed; still not entirely sure if he was dreaming or really in the hospital - at least that's what he assumed Ducky meant by 'lovely nurses'.

 

And then two things happened that proved to him that he was alive and safe.

 

Firstly, he heard Abby. "Tony's awake! Tony! Tony! Tony! Tony! Oh, Tony, Tony, Tony." He watched as Abby pushed McGee out of the way, snatched his hand and squeezed it tightly.

 

"Hey, Abbs," Tony managed, wincing as the grip Abby had on his hand became tighter and tighter. He gave her a faint grin. "Hey, Palmer," he added, seeing Palmer appear behind Abby.

 

Palmer beamed. "Hello, Tony."

 

For a moment Tony just lay there basking not only in the fact that he was safe and warm, but surrounded by his family and friends, who were showing him so clearly how much they cared about him.

 

And then came the final piece of evidence that he wasn't dreaming. "See you've finally decided to wake up, DiNozzo. About time too."

"Jethro," Ducky chided gently, but when Tony glanced swiftly at Ducky, he saw Ducky's eyes were twinkling.

 

"Missed you too, boss," Tony replied, looking up at Gibbs who loomed above him, coffee in hand. He looked tired, more tired than he normally did and paler - but that could have been the light.

 

"You found us then?" Tony asked.

 

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Gee, DiNozzo, it's good to see the cold hasn't had any affect on your brain power."

 

Tony grinned and then swallowed hard. He'd honestly thought he'd never hear Gibbs snapping at him again, or hear any of the others talking to him. "How'd you manage?" he asked.

 

Abby, McGee and Palmer all began to talk at once.

 

"Children, children," Ducky called, clapping his hands together once; the three fell silent. "Now, Timothy, you were going to go and tell the nurses that their patient is awake."

 

"Yes, Ducky, right away. See you later, Tony," McGee said and hurried away.

 

"Abigail, do let go of poor Anthony's hand or at least loosen your grip somewhat."

 

Abby pouted, but obeyed. "Yes, Ducky."

 

"Now," Ducky said patting Tony's hand once more and standing up. "No doubt the nurses will shoo us all out of here once they come in, they do have a habit of doing that. So let us saying goodbye for now and go and find a cup of tea - although some of us seem to have found refreshment already."

 

Gibbs grinned at Ducky. "You know me, Duck," he said.

 

"Yes, Jethro, I certainly do. We'll come back later, Tony, and tell you all about how we found you."

 

"And why the entire team is here," Gibbs added, his tone dry as he once again stared at Ducky who met the stare and just gazed back at Gibbs.

 

"Well now, Jethro, you did not really expect Abigail, Jimmy and myself to stay behind, did you? Not when our fellow team members needed us?"

 

"Gee, Duck, Don't know. Always thought you were the sensible one of the team. Would have thought you'd have reckoned it better not to risk any more lives."

 

Tony grinned at the normality of it all. And then it hit him; how could have he forgotten? He hadn't forgotten; he'd just . . . He sat up suddenly, "Where's Ziva?" he demanded.

 

He saw the look in Ducky's gaze change as it flickered to him and back to Gibbs. He saw Ducky communicate with Gibbs without speaking and saw Gibbs reply. He could see Palmer and Abby's looks as they stared at Gibbs and Ducky. The silence was deafening. "Where is Ziva?" he demanded again, moving towards the edge of the bed.

 

Ducky hastily sat back down and caught Tony's arm. "She was in a worse condition than you, Anthony. But she is alive; she wasn't breathing when we found you, but Jimmy and I performed CPR and she started to breathe on her own. She's in intensive care, but it's more a precaution than anything else."

 

"I want to see her." Tony yanked his arm away from Ducky and threw back the covers; he barely felt the needle from the drip come out of his arm.

 

Ducky caught his arm again and held him. "Now, Anthony," he said, his voice low, reasonable. "You can't help her, and the staff won't let you see her anyway. Now get back into bed and -"

 

"I want to see her," Tony snarled, once again trying to pull away from Ducky. He was surprised at the strength Ducky had as he held him. "Let go of me, Ducky. Or -"

 

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs snapped his name.

 

Automatically Tony stopped struggling and looked at Gibbs. "You can't stop me, boss," he said.

 

Gibbs didn't say a word. He simply stared unblinkingly at Tony, until Tony mutinously flopped back down.

 

Ducky was fussing with his arm. "Now look what you've done, Anthony, the nurses will not be pleased with you. Here let me see if I can -"

 

"Duck."

 

"Yes, Jethro?"

 

"Leave it to the nurses."

 

"Oh, but I can -"

 

"Duck!"

 

Ducky sighed and stopped fussing. "Very well, Jethro," he said.

 

"Come on, I'll buy you a cup of tea."

 

"Us too?" Abby nodded towards Palmer. Only Abby would dare ask that.

 

Gibbs looked at her and grinned. "Yeah, you two as well and McGee. And DiNozzo," he glared down at Tony. "If I hear from the nurse that you've moved an inch before they tell you can . . ." He trailed off and just continued to silently glare down at Tony.

 

"Got it, boss."

 

"Good boy," Ducky patted Tony's arm and stood up again. "Come along then, my dears," he said shepherding Gibbs, Abby and Palmer out of the room. "We'll come back and see you later, Anthony."

 

FOUR HOURS LATER

 

Tony sat by Ziva's bed, holding her hand and trying to ignore the throat tube, the various drips and the machines that all beeped at him - at different levels and different speeds. The battle firstly with the hospital staff and then with Gibbs and Ducky to allow him to see Ziva had been hard fought, but it had been one he'd had no intention of losing. He'd even have resigned from NCIS before giving in.

 

"You're going to live, Ziva," he murmured for the fifth time. "You hear me? You are going to live. You can't die on me, not now. I won't allow it - and if that's not enough for you, Gibbs, Ducky and the others won't either. So you are going to live. Okay?"

 

The hospital staff and Ducky, who'd persuaded one of the nurses to allow him to see Ziva's chart (Tony thought the nurse had given in simply to stop Ducky from talking), had all assured Tony that Ziva would be okay, that it really was now just a case of her waking up. However, Tony wouldn't be happy until Ziva did that thing. In fact he wouldn't be happy until she was sitting up and talking to him.

 

THREE WEEKS LATER

 

Tony opened the door to his apartment and stood to one side to let Ziva go in first. She smiled at him and went inside.

 

He followed her, closing and relocking the door, before ushering her towards the living room. "Wait here." In the doorway he caught her arm and reached around her to grab a small remote control from a table just inside the door. He pushed a button; soft lighting from several table lamps lit up the room and music began to play. He'd drawn the curtains before he'd left to collect Ziva from her apartment and left a bottle of champagne in an ice-packed bucket.

 

She looked at the room and then at him. She smiled; he'd never get tired of seeing her look at him like that. "Tony, you did not do this, did you?"

 

Just for a fraction of a second he was tempted to brag, but he didn't. He shook his head and took her arm to guide her inside. "No," he said. "Got McGeek to fix it up for me."

 

She laughed. "Now that I do believe." She turned to him and put her hand on his cheek. "Thank you, Tony, for a wonderful evening."

 

He shrugged. "I'm glad you liked it."

 

"Who would not? I must confess I had not expected you to be so . . ." She trailed off and let her gaze flicker away from him.

 

"Romantic?"

 

She looked back at him. "That as well, but that was not the word I had in mind." Her eyes shone as she stared at him with happiness, love and humor.

 

He pulled her into a loose embrace. "Go on then," he said, "insult me."

 

She laughed and kissed him lightly; her hair tickled his cheek and her perfume surrounded him as the world seemed to contract to just Ziva and him and the room they stood in. "I was thinking of mature," she said.

 

He laughed a genuine laugh and kissed. "I guess I had to grow up sometime."

 

She smiled. "As long as it is not all of the time," she said solemnly. "I do not wish to completely lose the Anthony DiNozzo with whom I fell in love."

 

"There's not much chance of that," he said. "Now how about a glass of champagne?" She nodded and he went to open the bottle.

 

When he returned he handed one glass to her and held his up. "To," he paused. He wanted to say something that was special to just them; something he'd never said to another woman; something that was personal; something that wasn't trite or too soppy. And then the perfect words came to him. "To not living without you."

 

Her eyes became slightly misty as she smiled at him. She touched his glass with her own. "To not living without you," she repeated.

 

SEVERAL HOURS LATER

 

They lay in Tony's bed, the bottle of champagne was empty, the lighting muted, soft music still played.

 

Ziva lifted her head from where it rested on Tony's shoulder, pushed herself up onto one elbow and looked down at Tony. "There is one thing that surprises me," she said.

 

Tony twisted a stand of Ziva's hair around his finger. "What's that?" he asked.

 

"When we were trapped in the snow, you did not tell me what movie it reminded you of." She stared down at him.

 

He laughed and pulled her back down. "Now that you mention it . . ."

 

 

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