Gibbs walked down the hospital hallway, coffee cup in hand. It was late, past visiting hours, and the only lights on were the lanterns high up on the walls. Most patients were sleeping; he had used his badge to bully the nurses into allowing him- and his senior field agent- to stay.
He arrived at the room, hesitated, and then pushed open the door. Tony was leaning on the wall just inside, hands shoved in the pockets of his suit. Several seconds passed before Tony felt Gibbs' presence, and then he turned around. "Hey, Boss."
Gibbs took a sip of his coffee and took in the younger man's appearance. There was a stain on his shirt, and a few splotches of blood on his collar. His eyes were red, his hair was mussed, and there were worry lines on his forehead. Finally, he said, "She hasn't woken up?"
"No." Tony ran his hand through his hair. "Is that bad?"
"It's fine, DiNozzo. She was under a lot of medication while she was in surgery. We just have to wait for it to wear off." Gibbs paused, then shook his head slightly. "There's nothing you could have done."
With a sound of disgust, Tony turned back toward Ziva and took in her sleeping face, her hospital gown, and the bulge of bandages on her side. He rubbed his face. "I could have pushed her out of the way or jumped in front of her. I could have shot the guy down. There is plenty I could have done."
"That shot came out of nowhere," Gibbs argued quietly, eyes on his agent, who moved closer to Ziva's bed and tentatively touched her hand. "There was no time to do anything. Besides, how do you think Ziva would have reacted if you'd done something drastic to save her? She would have turned around and shot you."
In spite of his mood, Tony managed a small smile. Then he wrapped his own hand around Ziva's, completely enveloping it.
Ziva and McGee lowered their weapons once they established that nobody was in the warehouse's security room. They had reason to believe that a suspect was hiding out there, but, assuming that Gibbs and Tony hadn't found him, either, it looked like they were out of luck.
Putting her gun in her waistband, Ziva walked over to a table and peered inside a box. "Surveillance footage," she said. "Dating back three months. We might as well take it; it could be helpful."
"Uh, don't we need a warrant?" McGee asked nervously as he watched Ziva stick the box under her arm.
"Warrants are overrated."
"That's my girl," Gibbs said, striding into the room with Tony behind him. "Guy isn't here. Whatever you found, bring it with you."
The four of them made a quick sweep of the security quarters, concluded that there was nothing else worth taking, and started out of the warehouse. When they got to the door they had entered through, Gibbs and McGee went through it, and Tony held back to hold it open for Ziva. She smiled at him, stepping over the threshold carefully and holding her box steadily, and it was the second her feet hit the concrete outside that Gibbs yelled, "Hey!"
Then the sound of a shot carried through the air.
The cardboard box fell to the ground, the surveillance tapes spilling out of it.
And Ziva crumpled to the ground as her already dark NCIS windbreaker became even darker.
Tony drew his gun and stepped outside, pointing it in the direction of the shooter, but all he saw were two retreating backs: one Gibbs', one unknown. McGee was kneeling beside Ziva, already dialing 911. For a split second, he was torn: back up Gibbs, or help Ziva. But then, Gibbs tackled the shooter to the ground, and Tony turned his attention to his partner.
"Ziva," he said, loudly, partly because she was losing consciousness and partly so he could hear himself over the pounding in his ears. "Ziva. Hey. Look at me."
She moaned low in her throat, but craned her neck in order to do as he asked. Tony lifted her windbreaker and shirt in order to see the wound. It was on her side, a couple inches above her hip, and gushing blood. As he took off his own jacket and bunched it up to use as a temporary bandage, he held her wavering gaze. "Don't close your eyes."
In the background, he heard McGee talking on the phone and Gibbs manhandling the shooter, but all he could focus on was Ziva's eyelashes as they met her cheekbones. Leaving one hand to kept his jacket in place, he reached up and placed the other on her face. "Ziva, stay with me." With one finger, he lifted her eyelid. As soon as he let go, it fell back down. "Ziva!"
Tony tore his gaze away from Ziva's face and saw a timid-looking nurse hovering in the doorway. In his sleep-deprived haze, he couldn't quite place her, though he was sure he had seen her before. "Yeah."
"I need to ask you to step out, just for a few minutes, while we change her bandages."
He blinked a couple times before processing the request, and then rose from his hard plastic chair, grunting as his back popped. Before he stepped away from the bed, he reached out and smoothed down Ziva's hair for what must have been the fiftieth time. The softness of it reassured him. When he started toward the door, the nurse smiled at him and asked, "Is your boss here?" It was then that Tony realized this was the same woman Gibbs had intimidated until she allowed them to stay with Ziva overnight.
"No," he said, almost smirking when he registered the nurse's relieved face. "He went for coffee. Not a big fan of the stuff you have here."
Tony yawned as he stepped into the hallway, thinking that he could use some coffee of his own. He was thoroughly exhausted, though, and it seemed like so much work to walk all the way down to the cafeteria. Instead, he wandered to the waiting room. The sun was just beginning to rise outside; there were only a couple other people there, meaning he had his choice of uncomfortable chairs. As he stood among them and tried to make a decision, a door to the side opened and McGee came in, carrying a tray of Starbucks coffees.
"Probie!" Tony yelped in surprise, rushing over and removing one of the tall paper cups from the tray. "Bless you."
"I'm pretty sure that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me," McGee said dryly, taking a sip of his own coffee and observing his partner before adding, "Is Ziva awake?"
"Not yet. They kicked me out of her room so they could change her bandages."
The two men stood in silence for several moments. Finally, McGee placed the remaining coffees on a small table and then looked into Tony's face. "Are you okay?"
Tony looked away and held his drink to his lips for a long time. When he finally swallowed and brought the cup down, he said, "I'll be okay when I know she is."
Gibbs made his way back toward his agents, dragging the handcuffed shooter with him. "Ziver?" he called as he got close. "Did you call an ambulance?"
"On their way," McGee replied, then looked back at Tony. "Is there anything else we can do?"
"No," he grunted, still desperately trying to stop the bleeding. His hands were slick with blood. "I think she's lost consciousness."
McGee leaned over and lightly tapped the side of Ziva's face. She didn't respond. "Crap."
In the distance, they heard the sound of sirens, and with every passing second, they got closer. Tony closed his eyes and said a silent prayer of thanks. Behind him, he heard Gibbs forcing the shooter into the car, and he had the fleeting thought that if anything happened to Ziva, that guy was going down.
"She has a pulse," McGee said, and Tony shifted his eyes to her pale face, slightly comforted. He leaned closer to her and rested his forehead lightly against hers.
Filled with a deep regret- because why had he waited to do this until it might be too late?- he whispered, "I love you, Ziva." The sirens drew ever closer, probably only a block away. Tony drew away from her and blinked rapidly, trying to keep a cool head and his tears at bay. "I love you. Don't- wake up, Ziva. You gotta wake up. You gotta be okay."
The vaguely familiar voice filtered into Tony's thoughts, and he thought he heard himself grunt.
It was Gibbs. Gibbs, whose voice was soft and a lot nicer than usual. That couldn't be good, could it?
And then he remembered where he was, and he opened his eyes and sat bolt upright. Had he actually fallen asleep in the waiting room? Even after drinking that coffee? His eyes landed on the Starbucks cup on a table beside him, and he picked it up. It was mostly full.
Finally, after collecting himself, Tony looked up at Gibbs, nervous for what was to come. "What's up, Boss?"
Awake. Ziva. Awake. She's okay. Any remaining traces of fatigue evaporated as Tony hopped out of his chair. "Can I see her?"
Gibbs nodded, taking a sip of his coffee. "Go on down. Nurse sent me to get you."
He didn't need to be told twice. As he strode down the hallway, he caught a glimpse of a digital clock on the wall and was almost taken aback at what it said: 11:26 AM.
Was this some kind of sign?
No. Tony shook his head, running a hand through his hair. In the heat of the moment, when he thought he might lose her, it had seemed fine to tell Ziva how he felt; repeating it now, when she was conscious and actually able to hear him, was nothing he planned to do. Yes, it was item number twenty-six on his bucket list, and yes, he wanted- planned- to do it someday… but today, he was too scared.
He reached her room and stood outside the closed door, preparing himself. Would she be weak? In pain? Such characteristics were so out of place on Ziva; he was almost worried that he wouldn't be able to handle them.
But he would. For her, he would handle anything.
It was as he was thinking this that his eyes landed on the little plaque featuring the room number, a number he hadn't noticed before but sure did now.
There was no way. Nuh-uh. Wasn't gonna happen.
Ziva's voice, coming from inside the room, made him jump. Hesitantly, he pushed open the door and stepped through it, peering at her suspiciously. "How'd you know I was out there?"
"I could hear you breathing," she said matter-of-factly. "You are very loud." She sounded tired, but overall, good. There was one I.V. in her arm, and she lying down with the head of the bed raised. Her hair was in a loose ponytail curling over her shoulder, and despite the fact that she looked peaked and had a bullet wound in her side, Tony thought she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
And then he knew- just knew- that after almost losing her (again), and finally saying those three words out loud, he would no longer be able to sit across from her at work every day, keeping this secret. He just wouldn't. A corner had been turned here, and he knew that no matter the consequences, he had to make sure he knew how he felt.
"You have huge bags under your eyes," Ziva noted as Tony pulled up a chair by her non-injured side. She smiled slightly as he picked up her hand in his, rubbing the back of it with his thumb.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, ignoring her observation.
"I am fine," she said immediately.
"You're going to be fine," he corrected. "I'm glad you're going to be fine. But I want to know how you feel right now."
Ziva opened her mouth with the intention of protesting, but Tony stared her down until she sighed. "I am a little sleepy. And sore."
"Maybe I should let you get some rest," he said, beginning to stand up.
She grabbed his hand with both of hers and looked up at him with eyes that, if they didn't belong to Ziva, might be described as pleading. "I do not want to sleep yet, Tony. Stay here a while."
He lowered himself back into his chair, and then his hand was on her face, sweeping back loose strands of her hair. She didn't pull away; rather, she held his gaze and continued to hold onto his other hand. Finally, she murmured his name, and he wanted to kiss her so bad, but he didn't. Now wasn't the time for that.
"Ziva." Tony leaned forward, disentangling his fingers from her hair and using that hand to prop up his chin. "Listen for a minute, okay?"
Now Ziva was watching him warily, scanning his face with her eyes. "Okay."
"I have to tell you… that…" He was so afraid of what she would say. The thought of their friendship being ruined was unbearable, but… so was the thought of him losing her- or her losing him- and her never being able to know the truth. "I-"
"I love you."
Tony broke off, shocked. She put her hand to her mouth, cheeks turning pink, like she couldn't believe she had just said that. For several seconds, they stared at each other, and then Ziva stammered, "Tony. I am- I am so full of painkillers, I'm sorry-"
"Shh," he said, drawing her hand away from her mouth and holding it tight in his. He tried to keep the grin off his face, but it was hard; his job had just gotten a whole lot easier. "It's okay-"
But Ziva wasn't finished. "It is just, I woke up and the first person I wanted to see was you, Tony, and I thought… I think that you will always be the first person I want to see-"
"Whoa. My ninja." She trailed off, biting her lip. Tony stood up out of his chair, positioning his face directly over hers. "If I was the one in a hospital bed, you would be the first person I would want to see."
"I love you, too, and I just needed to tell you that because I was so freaking scared I was gonna lose you again and that I wouldn't be able to bring you back." With that, he pressed his lips to her forehead, and she closed her eyes, savoring the warm pressure. Tony looked down at her, cupping her cheek, and then drew back. "Listen. You need to focus on recovery right now. When you get out of here, I can wait on you hand and foot and we can talk about all this. Okay?"
"Okay," she murmured, entwining his fingers with hers. Trying to hide a smile, Tony turned his head away. "Stay right there."
"Okay," she said again, softer, already drifting off. Tony watched her, an enormous weight off his chest. They still have to sort through all their feelings, but admitting they had them was a good start.
Gibbs opened one eye, then the other, then looked over at McGee, sitting in the chair beside him. "Yeah."
"Uh…" The younger agent shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Yesterday, when Ziva got shot, while you were arresting the guy, and Tony and I stayed with her… Tony said something…"
Silence. McGee continued, kind of wishing he hadn't brought it up. "Tony told Ziva he loved her."
It was several moments of incredulous staring before Gibbs said, "Well, duh, McGee. Does that honestly surprise you?"
"Well… maybe not." He swallowed, looking away. "Dumb question. Sorry, Boss."
"Don't apologize, McGee," Gibbs said, settling back in his chair and folding his hands over his stomach. "It's a sign of weakness. Rule twenty-six."
It's 3:55 am, FYI. Anyway, I hope you liked- please review if you did, or if you didn't, or if you are just indifferent. Long story short: REVIEW! : )