y'all...I've been a Tiva stan my whole life and yet these two capture my heart beCAUSE THE PAIN TIVA CAUSES IS TOO MUCH but anyway hope NCIS writers don't ruin these two 3 enjoy, much love!

Qasim dies on a winter's night, stranded from her reach on a hospital bed. Barely recognizable, barely Qasim. He looks empty, and—he is.

When she drives home in a daze, there's a bag of kung pao chicken on her countertop, just there, because he knows how much she loves eating… anything. Torres doesn't say anything the next day, or the weeks or months after, but she almost wishes he does.

It doesn't matter. Her stomach is full and her heart is empty, and Bishop spends the time After staring at a black-and-white picture of Kai Chek.

It rains in DC when they find out Torres is taken, lost in New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras.

Everytime the word undercover is mentioned, Nick becomes a different person—shuts down, slinks back into the darkness to the way he used to be: a snake lying in wait in the wilderness, ready to strike, maim, and kill. It's what he's good at.

But he's also good at being a friend. A teammate. Ellie's trying to teach him that, but he waves it off as if it means nothing to him.

It means a lot to her.

So when she finds out, she triples the bags of junk food on her desk and spends the hours before receiving news that they've found him hunched over her laptop worrying at her fingernails.

She's lost Qasim: sweet, unassuming, gentle Qasim. She doesn't want to lose Nick Torres, with his quiet smirk and childlike eyes and lone wolf tendencies.

Her apartment is pitch-black when she turns the key and slowly opens the door. Exhaustion is a word too mild for her. She closes her eyes briefly before stepping inside, locking the door behind her. She can still smell the stench of the explosion, of burning wood and metal and Kai Chen's bones. Ellie leans against the door and sighs.

"You killed him?"

Bishop jumps, desperately grabbing for her weapon with one hand and the lights with the other. Her right hand shakes imperceptibly with the weight of her SIG as the flood of her apartment lights reveals Torres, hands up in an innocent gesture. His eyes are anything but that: they're seeing right through her, behind her mask in the After, behind her brain firing up questions of how he broke in without a trace when she's ignoring the right one—why is he here?

"Because you're my teammate," Nick says, as she realizes she asked that question out loud. "And, well, apparently I don't play well with others and I'm trying to prove people wrong here."

She scoffs, or attempts to, because it comes out more as a sob and a shudder. His eyes hold an all-too-knowing look, and she's reminded of when he came back from New Orleans, when she asked him if he was alright and all he could manage was, "Of course, been there, done that." They were wilder then, but this is the same gaze, tense and understanding and filled with grief.

Then suddenly she's angry, and she wonders what stage of grief she's in right now, because she should know better than to let her emotions run through her veins and empty them out onto Torres. "You shouldn't be here. I don't need a babysitter. Go back to Gibbs and let him know I'm fine."

"Gibbs didn't send me. And you're not fine."

"How would you know?"

"For starters, Bishop, you're still waving your gun at me," he says nonchalantly, palm stretched outwards towards her right hand. Her finger isn't anywhere near the trigger, but still. She closes her eyes again, whispering apologies and setting the SIG on her countertop. The same countertop he placed a takeout box of Chinese food weeks ago.

"Okay, now can you go?" She turns away, heading for her couch. Ellie doesn't want to look at him and let him know how much she hasn't slept or how much she'll crash tonight and still drag herself in tomorrow to distract herself. Then again, he probably already knows.

There's cloth shifting behind her and she hears him following her as she drops onto the sofa. It's warm, rough where the fabric stitches together, and she's hit with memories of Qasim smiling as they're watching some stupid movie that she'll never see the end of because she'd much rather look at him than whoever the main character is. Tony would disapprove.

Nick clears his throat, breaking her reverie. "Bishop."

Swallowing a sigh, she turns her head to stare at him, head-on. She isn't one to back down. Neither is he. "I just wanted you to know that I'm not that hard to talk to, you know?"

"Couldn't you have done that without breaking into my apartment?"

He lifts up a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug, and he works his jaw, looking around her apartment until his eyes settle on hers once more. She waits, curiosity taking over, easing some of the heaviness within her.

"I had a teammate, once, undercover. We weren't supposed to make contact until I moved up the ranks of this cartel. I found out later there was a mole who knew about me but not him."

She knows where this is going. This is why Nick came back from NOLA shaken, if only for a day, and then rebuilt his walls overnight. This is why Nick doesn't believe he's a good "team player". He isn't trying to convince anyone but himself.

"They had me for a week. They wanted to know who my partner was. Then on the last day, the door opens, and it's him—it's my partner, and he's getting me out and I'm thinking, finally, when the big boss comes in and shoots him five times right in front of me."

Ellie flinches, because he's looking right at her when he says this, and she thinks about Qasim and his blood on her clothes and her hands and her shoes. "How'd you get out?" she rasps, looking away.

It takes what seems like several minutes for him to reply. "It took NCIS a month to find me. I couldn't kill the big boss himself because I was too out of it and he'd fled to another country without extradition." Now he's the one not looking at her.

I'm sorry is stupid. She knows she can't bear to hear it right now, either. It wasn't your fault is worse. So she waits a beat, smiles ruefully, and says, "I didn't kill him. He killed himself."

When his eyes meet with hers again, they're Torres', hard and unyielding. "Good."

Paraguay is a mess. None of them are naive enough to believe Gibbs and McGee are alright, that they are not being tortured every minute they sit here, wondering what to do and how to find them.

Still, she feels terrible when the relief sets in that Nick wasn't with them when they were taken.

This time, she sneaks into his apartment when he's giving his debriefing to Vance. She'd seen his eyes and they had the nearly untamed quality as they did when he returned with a cut across the head and a bruise on his cheekbone from Mardi Gras.

She shimmies the lock open, just like Tony taught her, and steps into Nick Torres's den. She has a bag of takeout in her hand and she searches for a light to guide her way to a countertop.

The apartment is empty save for a barren bed that seems as if the springs were more than twenty years old in a bedroom at the far side of the hallway adjacent to an unkempt kitchen next to the doorway.

She realizes, placing the brown paper bag that's beginning to sog with grease at the bottom on the edge of the stove, that this is Torres's life. This is what he is accustomed to: having nothing of his own except for himself, his mind, and his newest alias. A nomad, shifting whichever way his orders blow.

She's glad he joined the team. She could never imagine having to live that way. She could never fathom the raw strength Nick must have to remain Nick after erasing himself time and time again.

She doesn't mention it, like he never mentions what he did for her AfterQasim. She owes him that much.

They come back and her shoulders finally feel free.

They come back and Nick's eyes finally lose that look he gave her in the apartment.

It starts slowly, maybe once a week. At first, it's just her and Clay at the bar on a Friday after they get Gibbs and McGee back, letting the worry from those two months melt into relief.

Then there are cases, and as temporary team leader, the boys and Abby decide to treat her to a post-case celebration.

And suddenly, they're all having drinks or pizza or both after every case, which is two to three times a week, and Reeves and Abby always leave early, which leaves her and Nick at the bar, laughing at some stupid comment they're making about some guy who's desperately trying to impress his date and miserably failing.

And maybe she's so close to hammered at this point and he's halfway there and they almost lost a kid this case and just barely managed to catch the kidnapper, which, in this case, meant three rounds to the chest from Ellie, Nick, and Clay, quite possibly traumatizing the girl for life, and she's only fourteen, because she blurts out as her vision hazes, "Look, I'm sorry you guys have to deal with me being team leader. It'll end soon enough, thank God."

When he looks at her, he almost looks sober (maybe he is, maybe he's had to feign being drunk undercover before), and he leans in, and his eyes look lighter than ever before, clearer, free (or maybe it's the alcohol in her system talking), and he whispers, "Hey, you're doing great, Ellie. I always knew you would."

She forgets what happens next, but the next morning she wakes on her couch with a massive hangover and the only other memory is his callused hands brushing her hair away and his voice whispering, "Goodnight, El."

When he tells Gibbs that she surprised him by leading the team, they can't stop smirking, as if there's some secret inside joke between them about that night, even though nothing "adult" happened. Not that anything would. It's not like they're in high school.

Then again, the way they're looking at each other, they might as well be.

That's how Nick Torres graduates from teammate to partner. When he's stuck with her and her high school bully on a ship in the middle of a storm, when he doesn't just cave into her opinions, when he qualifies them and gives her the best advice anyone could ever give, that's when he truly becomes a friend. A good friend.

Her criteria for teammate, partner, and friend have risen since Jake, quite reasonably so.

The time After Qasim only made her reinforce the walls surrounding her life. And yet, Nick Torres manages, with his wittiness, seemingly flamboyant arrogance masking his large heart, and his ridiculous need to flaunt his dance moves, to start dismantling the bricks she has built.

She realizes she's slipping when they're Charlie and Luis. They're in a claustrophobia-inducing motel room, patching each other up; there are only small cuts and bruises, but they are both still reeling at the proximity of the explosion.

There's only one bed. It would look suspicious if they bought two bedrooms, but none of them are complaining anyway. She doubts either of them want to be alone tonight.

The walls are an ugly shade of green and at two in the morning, it is silent. The television, which seems like it came from the eighties, is off in fear that it would only bring complaints and undesired attention to the couple that showed up just after midnight, one in a snazzy dress designed to pick up customers and the other with an angry look on his face, cuts marring both their faces. No questions for a couple extra bucks.

He's squatting and dabbing wipes across her face from their small first-aid kit in the trunk of their car. The anger isn't for show. Nick hasn't said a word to her since she slumped onto the edge of the (their) bed and let him fix her face. There is a slight tremor in his fingers. Her hands are also fidgeting. She's not angry, he is. She, on the other hand, is annoyed.

His cheek is bleeding, though, so she stretches out a hand to help him, as well, but he flinches back so violently that she does as well.


"Sorry," he winces. "I got it. I'll finish up with your face."

"I know. I got you, too." She tries not to be hurt by his shocked expression that leaks in for a moment before he schools himself back to neutral. Gritting her teeth, she says, "I knew we should've gone to the hospital. Or at least gone to Gibbs's house."

He leans back in. "Then not only would our covers been blown, Gibbs would have gone down with us." She can't deny that he's right, that this was a good play to keep on working undercover and finish off this case. But, again, every time an undercover operation is even mentioned, Nick becomes Torres, primed to take on whatever role there is for him. She can't count how many times she's said protocol in the past two hours. When he's done, he offers a smirk, volatile and wide, and he mutters, "Like nothing ever happened."

She stretches out her palm. She can't have an injured partner on her hands. "My turn."

"Just can't resisting putting your hands on my face, huh? Trust me, I have the skin of a baby."

"I'm sure." His deflection doesn't stop the bitter edge of his voice. Even when she's checking up on him, his fists are clenched, nails digging deep into palms. She can't believe how easily she deflates. "Nick?" she asks, and waits.

"I should have known. I should have pulled us out earlier, that was stupid. I'm sorry, this is—"

"Not your fault."

He chuckles darkly. "If I had a penny for every time I heard that one…"

She gives him a pointed look, dabbing at his cheek with more pressure. There's no time for them to do this, not when there is a murderer out there and a drug ring they have to take down. "We have to focus. Playing the blame game isn't going to get us anywhere."

She finishes and throws away the wet pink-stained cloth, returning to his side to find him staring at nothing, but at least their hands are calm.

She pulls out Turner's phone records and it catches his attention, making him lean over to look over her shoulder. "We might as well make good use of our time," she says.

With time, they isolate the number and identity of his drug supplier. It feels lighter between them, working as a team to do their job. And it works spectacularly. Them, that is.

But she can tell he's dead on his feet, and so is she. Without thinking, Ellie places her palm on his cheek and surprisingly, he leans into it and turns toward her. She swallows. "The best and only thing we have left to do now is sleep."

She should have known what comes next. "Oh, Bishop. The things you say to get me in bed."

She pretends not to smile at the laugh muffled by her thrown pillow.

From the diner, they climb into the car, exhaustion in their bones. She wants to bite her tongue, but, then again, she doesn't.

He beats her to it. "Don't say it."

"I told you so. I told you, let's go to Gibbs, let's debrief. Now we're ordered to and you better follow orders."

He slams the car into reverse. "This coming from the woman who said not to play the blame game."

She squints as he drives off toward Bethesda, car jerking in response to his foot. "You didn't follow protocol. Yes, you made a decision; yes, I agreed, but we should have found a compromise at least."

"Yeah, well, now we're going to the hospital."

The car ride is silent. She's looking out the window, gritting her teeth, wondering why they're both so angry when it hits her: Ellie's scared. It's the same feeling of Mardi Gras and Nick coming back a little bit broken.

They arrive at the hospital, and she slams the car door shut on her way in for extra measure. So does he.

But she turns to him and asks, "Meet you out front when we're done?"

His face is clear when he agrees.

She learns that when his expression is too much of a poker face, he's lying. It's his undercover look.

It's ridiculous. She's firing the weapon in Abby's lab, and all she can think of is how stupid she felt, waiting in the lobby for an hour until she asked the receptionist if she's seen him.

He never checked himself in in the first place.

Not only is he putting himself at risk, he thinks he can handle this entire operation by himself. Lone wolf at his best.

When he saunters into Abby's place, she wants to scream and hurl something at him because, dammit, doesn't he trust her?

She knows the answer to that. It's more that he doesn't trust himself, that he wants to take all the falls and protect her from his own little undercover world. A dense thought.

"And at the end of the day, it's how you stay alive," he says, and she realizes something: Nick's scared, too.

There are few things that stay with her, that make her feelsomething so deeply in her heart.

There are fewer things that make her feel like she might burst hysterically into laughter at any given moment.

When she pulls away from Nick, savoring the pull of his lips, his eyes, surprised and confused and impressed and something else altogether, are one of those rare treasures. And suddenly, all is forgiven.

Then he's not there. And it's Mardi Gras but worse because she's his partner. It's not supposed to happen. She's supposed to have his back, and now his cover might be blown, and she can't stop thinking about It took NCIS a month to find me.

They find him, with two cracked ribs, laughing his head off. At least they find him, and it doesn't take a week or a month later. At least they find him and he doesn't look grief-stricken or lost, but very much alive and Nick.

It doesn't erase the fear she had when she thought she lost her partner.

Maybe it'll happen like this:

She'll be staring at him, and he'll stare right back. "What do you think they would say?" she'll ask.

"Gibbs let you off on Rule 12 once before, right?" Maybe her heart will twinge just slightly at Qasim's memory before falling back into rhythm. "I'm sure he can make an exception for me. And McGee, well, he's used to it, after his old partners did it right in front of him."

She'll let the corner of her mouth twitch. "No. I mean them—Tony and Ziva. I never got a chance to meet her, and you've never met any of them, but—do you think, maybe, we can avoid the dancing and the what ifs?"

"Do you want to be like them?"

"No. I want to be like us."

He'll smile softly with his eyes. "I think we already have."

Or maybe it'll happen like this:

Her arm will burn at the site of the graze, teeth gritting in frustration. The petty officer, or whoever the Bad Guy of the Day is, will be running away, frantically shooting at whoever runs toward him. She'll raise her arm, close one eye, and shoot him in the shoulder, nice and easy; he'll be coming around the corner of the alleyway and cuff him, reading his rights, making a stupid joke, and she'll roll her eyes and smile. Then she'll remember that a bullet managed to nick her arm, so her other hand will come up and away with blood, and she'll hiss in pain.

He'll look up with a sharp "B?" and shove the perp in McGee's direction; his eyes will meet hers as she scrunches them and shakes her head, mouth opening in a "It's fine, I can take care of it later", but she'll know from the irritance in his eyes that he won't take that as an answer. He'll pull out his phone and ask for an ambulance, hand reaching for hers to clamp down on the wound more.

Another hiss, and he'll say, "Sorry." Considering her again with a penetrating gaze, he'll ask, "You okay?"

Sometimes he has a soft, gentle voice that reminds her of Qasim; other times, he's untamed and dangerous and he's approving of her forcing a murderer to kill himself because that's what he would have done, had he gotten the chance. There is nothing in him that reeks of Jake; everything within him points to integrity, loyalty.

This will be one of those moments when she sees Nick, thoughtful and cautious in his actions, allowing only small parts of himself to slip out and show that he cares. This is the Nick she sees in the kung pao chicken takeout, the Nick who breaks into her apartment and tells her about his grief and guilt, the Nick she sees when he's talking to her about her feet or about them being "cogs in the machine", the Nick she saw briefly flutter behind shocked eyes as she kissed him as Charlie and Luis.

This is the Nick who will press his lips back against hers when she says, "No, I'm not okay. Not yet," and jumps in, head first.

Or maybe it's already happened with the look in his eyes when he bid "Charlie" goodnight, and she hadn't noticed.

But it happens like this:

There's an undercover operation. Of course there is. And who volunteers to pose as a new inductee of a local cartel suspected of recruiting petty officers because he has the most experience dealing with cartels?

Nick doesn't get made. He's said this before to Vance. He gets caught. All those years ago, he didn't blow his cover, somebody else sold him out.

And today is no different.

The boss's name is Ricky Diaz. They've met before. He's the one who killed Nick's partner and tortured him for a month. They don't find out until it's too late, when she speeds and swerves to the apartment he was meeting the higher ups of the cartel. The door splinters under her kick and all that's left is shattered glass, spilled scotch, Nick's fake ID, and a note that says, "Thank you, NCIS. I've been looking for dear Nick this whole time."

She shatters another glass of scotch before McGee drags her away from the room. She goes kicking and screaming.

There are five empty bags of chips on her desk. She's sitting on the floor, pouring over Nick's old files, his entire history with Diaz. It's been a day. Sometimes she feels like she can't breathe, like her world has just stopped and there isn't enough room for her to think and she's just about ready to tear someone apart.

A day must be a lifetime for Nick. A day makes all the difference.

Diaz is a monster. Nick had told her they'd has him for a month. She didn't realize that most of that time was for Diaz's fun.

And her hands can't stop shaking, even though they're typing away and fishing through printed pictures of Diaz, his contacts, and oh, God Nick after Diaz, and her mind is racing through all the information in front of her, searching for a way to find them, because in the back of her mind she sees Qasim in the hospital room, quiet and empty, and Nick betting her five drinks tonight that they wrap this case in two days thanks to his undercover work.

McGee comes and sits with her halfway through the day. Her eyelids droop and she can feel her arms falling off her shoulders, but she keeps going. Her mind is still sifting through possible warehouses, private jets, ships, trucks, anything. Tim's hand on her shoulder stops her thoughts. He squeezes gently when she turns her head his way, her eye catching a picture of Nick, and she gags though she's seen it ten times in the past hour. His eyes are red and filled with despair; they are lost, dull, and nothing like him. There's a purple bruise on his cheek and his lip is split in three different places. She read the report. (She memorized it.) Four broken ribs, both ankles broken, three fingers broken and reset incorrectly, signs of electrocution and waterboarding, an infection-induced fever when they found him. A month.

How much has happened in twenty-four hours?

"Ellie, you have to rest. Eat."

"I'll sleep when we've found Nick."

Tim's shaking his head. "Okay." That surprises her, makes her look up at him. His eyebrows are furrowed and he, too, has hooded eyes and ghosts behind them. None of them mention Paraguay. "But here. Eat." He hands her a sandwich and Ellie thinks of Chinese takeout. She eats it to appease him.

But her stomach is full and her heart is empty, and now she stares at a black-and-white picture of Ricky Diaz.

Diaz is an old man, grey hair mixing with black strands. He is clean-shaven in his old pictures, but the security footage from which they identified him before he took Nick shows a growing beard, a mix of white and grey.

Bishop doesn't plan on killing him. No, she's going to incapacitate him and push the gun into Nick's hands. She won't deny him the right to gain closure. Nothing stopped her. Nothing would stop him, not if she has any say in it.

It's been forty hours when they find them, forty-one when they reach the warehouse in Maryland. The winter air steels her nerves; the graffiti on the grey walls are striking. Her foot makes contact with the wooden door, and it splinters under her fury.

It opens to a small furnished office, maroon wallpaper covering the walls. There is an old-fashioned desk in the middle, blocking the way to another door.

Diaz. He's sitting at the desk, looking up, startled and frustrated for a moment, but he covers his reaction quickly with a smile. It sends shivers down her spine, and she grips her SIG even tighter.

"Agents! So soon? I was just getting started." She wants to scratch the damn smug look of his face, her fingers itching and fidgeting.

"Put your hands on top of your head and interlock your fingers," she rages. In response, he laughs, but obeys. Her jaw aches.

"You must be Eleanor Bishop," he sneers, even as she's snapping handcuffs on his wrists, McGee staring him down behind his gun. Her heart skips a beat. "I've been doing my homework about Nick ever since I found him again. You two have quite a partnership, don't you?"

"Shut up." She wrenches his wrists and slams his knees onto the floor, berating herself for doing so. Gibbs is throwing her a warning look, but she doesn't care anymore. "Where is Nick?"

"You'll find him soon enough."

That's enough for her to leave, a look from Gibbs letting her know that he'll take care of Diaz.

She leads the way, gun ahead of her, McGee trailing her. They follow a long hallway, kicking down doors along the way to find nothing but storage rooms and weapons until the end of it.

The handle of her gun is imprinted in her palm, digging into her skin harshly. McGee pushes the wooden door open, and she steps in.

Three things happen. She sees four people: three are around one person in a chair, one of them pointing a gun to his temple, the other two swinging fists into him. She realizes that this is Nick, and she sees that he looks absolutely terrible: his eyes are swollen shut and there are bruises mottling his cheek. Then, all she sees is red.

The next time she blinks, the two who were beating Nick are on the floor, bullet holes in the center of their chests; she turns and the other has a nine-millimeter gap in his forehead. Her breaths come in heavily within the next moments and she finds that her hands finally stop shaking.

"That… that was hot." Her arms drop instantly, and her mind tames at the sound of his voice. Nick.

"Are you okay?" she asks needlessly, knowing he's not, jamming her gun in her belt and cutting through his restraints with a knife.

"Just peachy. What took you so long?" They ignore the whimper in his throat and his difficulty breathing. She lets him have his moment.


"Ambulance, done."

"Thanks," she breathes out, relief crashing through her knees. She squats in front of Nick's chair as he slumps forward without the rope holding his hands together. He looks like he's about to fall, so Ellie sticks her hands out to steady him. When they make contact with his shoulders, he hisses sharply, and suddenly Nick is struggling to breathe.

She pulls away, standing up, alert. "What's wrong?" His face is scrunched up in pain, and she watches as he forces himself to open his eyes to look at her. They're uneven. He's been drugged. "Nick, you're okay, what did they give you?" Her words and her breath are swift, and she licks her lips as he struggles to stay awake. Possible concussion. She opens her mouth to demand he stay awake when he completely disobeys her silent order, and he falls into her.

And her hands start shaking again, and she hears herself scream his name, and the medics pick a perfect time to rush in as McGee drags her away.

The sight of Nick's eyes rolling to the top of his head, the whites of his eyes showing, is something she may never get out of her memory.

The hospital, for once, has comfortable seats. But the warm fabric does nothing to calm her and her hands are still icy and fidgeting. She doesn't know how long it's been since they rushed Nick inside. It was almost an overdose of some chemical that heightened his senses, increasing the pain Diaz inflicted on him.

Her fists clench at the thought of him. Nick didn't get his shot, not like she did with Kai-Chen. But it's better than Diaz escaping another time. Now he'll suffer a lifetime in a high-security prison.

There's a rustle to her right, and with it, a warmth inside her. McGee has been her rock throughout this, and all she's been to him is rude. "I'm sorry, Tim, I'm just…"

She trails off. Just what? Worried about her partner? Angry that she didn't have his back? There are so many things she wants to tell Nick Torres: that he is a good teammate, partner, friend. She almost lost her chance to do so.

"I know. Trust me, I know." Tim presses his shoulder against hers, leaning over the wooden armrest between their chairs. Vaguely she wonders how uncomfortable that must be. "Ellie."

The gravity in his voice makes her look up. He's near tears, but there's a certainty in his eyes that make him look strong. It's what she needs right now, and she's never felt more privileged to have a friend like Tim.

"There was this one summer, when Ziva had gone on another mission," he starts, and now Ellie knows the tears aren't for Nick. She knows where this is going, remembers her fantasy once where she and Nick are talking about Tony and Ziva. "We didn't hear back for a long time. Then Tony kept insisting to trace her, to find out, at least, where she was. We found a cargo freighter that she was on. Then we found out it went down in a storm off the coast of Somalia."

"The Damocles, right. I read the file—she went missing for three months and you found her again, sent out a rescue mission," she finishes.

He's shaking his head. "Yes, we found her. On accident."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, it wasn't a rescue mission. It was for vengeance." Tim is lost in memories, smirking faintly though he slumps from the unfortunate reality of his best friends. "That's the word Tony used. Vengeance."

It hits her, then, that Tony had been willing to die for Ziva, even after her supposed death. That he would fly halfway around the world for a suicide mission because he was incomplete without her.

Tim looks at her now, serious and the air is heavy and she can't breathe, she hasn't been able to since two days ago. "Tony loved Ziva, with everything of him. He still loves her. And she loved him back. Please, Ellie, don't make the same mistake they did. Don't be too scared to be honest with each other."

Ellie looks away, takes a deep breath, and thinks of Qasim, blood, Tony's face when they saw Ziva's safehouse burn down, and her shaking hands and heavy breaths. When she meets Tim's expectant, knowing eyes, she gives him a watery, determined smile. "Thanks, Tim."

So it'll happen like this:

She'll be waiting by his bedside for him to wake up. Unlike Qasim, he will.

When he blinks awake, the first thing he'll see is her, and as his vision clears, he'll smile at her worried face. "See? I told you. Two days. You owe me five drinks, Ellie."

And then she'll laugh, and her hands will stop shaking, and she will finally be able to breathe. "I thought you'd never ask."

Her hand will twist into his, and she will lean down and press her lips against his, and he will have that surprised and confused and impressed and something else altogether look.

And maybe, hopefully, something new will begin.