Author's note: For those of you playing the home game, this story takes place sometime in Season 9, before "Housekeeping." Also – at the time of this writing, it is a few hours before "A Desperate Man" is to air. So I know nothing, except what we saw in the preview.

With all he'd seen, all he'd done in life, Tony had learned a lot. Some of the most important things, he had learned from Gibbs. Among them was one of the unspoken rules: one could spend a lifetime building dignity, only to lose it in moments. Tony thought that one deserved a number, but Gibbs had been reluctant enough to go to fifty-one, so it was left alone.

One of those dignity-stealing moments came the first time Tony wanted to take a shower – and subsequently realized that he had an open tube in his throat that led directly to his lungs, so pouring water down it was probably not a good idea. There was no bathtub in the hospital room's bathroom. Tony had thought about persuading the cute night aide to give him a sponge bath, but that had more to do with his fantasy life than getting clean. Besides, he really wanted an actual shower.

The nurse had produced what she called a "shower shield," an awkward piece of plastic that fastened around Tony's neck and kept him from inhaling water or suds. It was a useful item, Tony could admit, but it looked stupid as hell. No one he knew was actually going to see him wearing it, but he felt ridiculous anyway.

The device in question was itching the back of Tony's neck as he turned the shower on in Ziva's bathroom, the door firmly shut and locked. He had been discharged from the hospital that morning, but the doctor had wanted someone to stay with him the first night, in order to be sure things went smoothly. Gibbs had volunteered to let Tony stay at his place, but to Tony's surprise, Ziva commandeered that discussion. She had let everyone know in no uncertain terms that she would watch out for Tony, and he would be sleeping at her apartment. Normally, Tony would have taken the opportunity for lewd speculation, but he had been surprised and confused by her offer – demand, really – and had decided against it. He had gathered the bag of emergency supplies that the doctor insisted he must have with him at all times and had let Ziva drive him to her home.A shower had been his first order of business, because he knew they were going to have One of Those Talks – he could tell from her expressions – and Tony wanted time to gather his thoughts. He did some of his best thinking in the shower.

Tony went to grab the soap, and found an empty soap dish. There were, however, two bottles of body wash. One was bright pink, its label advertising it as "Raspberry Fresh," a combination wash and shampoo. The other was a generic bottle of men's body wash, no doubt Ray's. Tony actually had to stop to debate. One the one hand, Ziva's stuff was girly and hers and really kind of girly. Also, it smelled awesome. Ray's smelled like the men's perfume counter of any given department store, and Tony was not at all sure he wanted to end up smelling like Ray. Of all people. The guy treated Ziva like shit, letting her hang for weeks and sometimes months on end. Then he'd whisk her away to Miami beaches and expect her to forget about it. It got on Tony's nerves. Ziva deserved better than that. She deserved someone who would treat her like a queen all of the time, not just when it was convenient. And then he would use his job as a cover. Bullshit. Tony's job required him to go deep undercover sometimes, too, and he never dropped off the radar entirely. Maybe a little bit, but never total silence for that long.

If they were going to talk that night, the last person Tony wanted Ziva thinking of was Ray. He squeezed a dab of the pink, raspberry-scented gel into his hand, and soaped up, hoping he had used a small enough amount that Ziva wouldn't detect anything. After rinsing off, he got out of the shower, with no answers beyond "Ray's a douchebag." It was just in time for Ziva to knock on the door.

"You have been in there forever," Ziva called. "Are you all right?"

Tony pulled the shower shield off and blocked his trach to reply, "I didn't drown, Mommy." He had a difficult time raising his voice, because most of the extra air required to do so leaked out the trach, but Ziva apparently heard him, because she didn't inquire further.

Once dressed, Tony walked into Ziva's living room and waved at her as he passed. She frowned and leaned forward toward him. Puzzled, Tony let her, then sighed when she sniffed him.

Ziva pulled back and cocked her head at Tony, looking amused. "Why, Tony – do you feel like...how would you say...a pretty, pretty princess?"

Tony held up his free hand. "Pretty, pretty ninja princess." He took a breath before adding, "Who uses girly pink stuff."

Ziva laughed. "That is not saying much for you."

"I have a lot to say," Tony told her. "But if I talk too much, I cough, and there's snot, and it's gross." That, he had unfortunately learned from experience.

"Well, we would not want that." Ziva crossed her arms, but she was smiling.

"So we don't have to talk?" Tony asked hopefully.

Ziva shook her head. "No, we talk. But we can take time. There is no rush."

Tony yawned in the most exaggerated way possible. "Tired."

She didn't fall for it. "You are a very bad liar."

"Not specific enough?" Tony guessed.

"Rule seven," Ziva confirmed. "Here, sit." They moved to the couch, sitting facing each other, a cushion's space between them. "I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating. I wanted to thank you for what you did for me." With catlike reflexes, she caught his wrist before he could raise his hand to cover the trach to speak. "And I want to inform you that I am ordering you to never, ever do anything like that again."

Tony pulled his hand free. "You can't order me."

"Then I will get Gibbs to do it." Ziva set her jaw firmly.

"No," Tony said. "We're partners. Part of the territory."

"But you could have died!" Ziva protested. "For me!"

"Would you die for me?" Tony challenged her.

"That is different," Ziva said, her tone less certain. "I owe you my life as it is. Now, multiple times over." She shook her head and gave Tony a determined look.

Tony held her gaze. "You've saved me. We're even."

"No." Ziva's ferocity melted into...was that guilt? "We are never even. You...you came to Somalia. Even after the way I treated you!"

"We talked about this." Tony shook his head. "It's over." It had wounded him deeply when Ziva had been so quick to mistrust him. But he hadn't taken into account the way Michael had pulled the wool over her eyes – and more importantly, it had wounded him deeper to think of her being gone from his life. She was one of his best friends – as close to him as McGee was, but in her own special way. He harassed McGee; he flirted with Ziva. Tony had his own ways of showing love.

"How can it be over?" Ziva asked. "Just like that? I apologize and we do not discuss it again?"

"Pretty much," Tony replied. Whatever letting go of his own hurt he had left, he could do it in private. He had forgiven Ziva, and so he was perfectly content to let the subject rest. But old hurts stirred up other memories in Tony's mind – and, then, he had a flash of revelation. "Do you love your father?"

Ziva frowned. "Yes. But -"

"Me too," Tony interrupted. "And Senior screws up way more than you."

"I see." Understanding began to dawn on Ziva's face, then gave way to a questioning look. "Are you saying...?"

Tony cut her off with a finger to her lips before she could say too much. He was always terrible at talking about emotions. "Like Abby loves puppies."

Her face gave nothing away, but her voice was soft when she spoke again. "That is still a lot."

Tony leaned forward and slung his arm around Ziva's shoulders. "We're just like peas and carrots." The trach had made his Forrest Gump impersonation terrible.

Ziva smiled. "Now that movie, I have seen." Her eyes sparkled impishly. "Would that make you the mentally challenged one?"

Tony grabbed a couch pillow and hit her with it. Ziva grabbed her own and swung back. Within seconds, it was a full-scale war, which only ended when both of them laughed so hard, they had to gasp for air.