The silence of the bullpen reflected the silence that surrounded them on the floor. The skylight above showed only the stars of the night, while the computers below cast an ethereal glow on the agents working late. Speech was limited as they all fought to finish their paperwork or keep their eyes open.
Tony DiNozzo paid no attention to his quiet surroundings as he gazed at the small, velvet-covered box in his hand. The lid was open and nestled inside was a simple diamond set on a flawless silver band. Though there was an absentminded smile curling his lips, his heart was wracked with turmoil, an internal struggle that caused an unsettling feeling of indecision to coil itself into a ball in his stomach.
"Are you going to propose, Tony?"
The words, so softly spoken Tony knew he would not have heard her had she spoken them from her desk, broke through the contemplative bubble he had wrapped himself in. He jumped, closed the lid with a sharp snap, and moved to shove it into his open desk drawer. But before his hand could so much as move an inch, the box had disappeared from his fingers and was now cradled in her hands.
He watched her, wide-eyed and panicking, as her small fingers lifted the lid and she gazed down at the ring inside. He audibly gulped as he watched an emotion he couldn't describe flash through her eyes. It was gone in less than a second, and then Ziva's face was once more the carefully constructed mask Tony was used to. But somehow, he knew he wouldn't forget that little flicker.
"As a matter of fact, I am," he said in a low, tense voice. He watched nervously as she continued to gaze at the ring. A feeling of anticipation snaked through his chest, wrapping itself around his heart and causing his hands to shake, the back of his neck to prickle, and butterflies to flutter around his stomach with nerves. But why he was so nervous, he did not know.
"It is pretty," she said finally several, tense-filled moments later, angling the box in different directions so she could get a better look.
Tony released a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding. He felt the tension in his heart ease a bit at her response, and he asked himself why her approval had been so important.
"Thank you," he said, reaching out his hand, palm up, so she could give the box back. But she ignored him.
"I am not one to usually wear jewelry," she said, and she glanced up in time to see Tony's eyes move to the gold chain around her neck, the Star of David glinting against her olive-toned skin in the glow from his lamp. She smiled, chuckled a little, and lightly touched the Star with the tips of her fingers. "It was a gift from my mother. It is the only piece of jewelry I wear."
Tony shrugged it off and was about to ask her if she could give him the ring back when she suddenly pulled it from the safety of the cushion inside the box.
He was out of his chair in a second, moving with enough force that the chair slammed into the filing cabinet behind his desk with a bang, knocking a pile of files to the floor.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, leaning over his desk to get closer to her in case she did something.
Ziva glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, a smile curling the corner of her mouth. "Admiring your ring," she said before slipping it onto her left ring finger.
With the speed of a bullet, Tony moved around his desk to stop, to yell at her, to force the ring off her finger, something, but a glint of light in the corner of his eye caught his attention and he froze.
She was holding her arm out, stretched to its fullest length, her fingers spread out as if she was giving someone a high-five. The ring sat on her finger comfortably, catching the light of the desk lamp and shining beautifully against her tanned skin.
Tony felt his breath catch and his chest tighten. A feeling – an emotion – he couldn't describe or even begin to understand spread through his body, making his fingers tingle and twitch. His stomach lurched and a warm glow spread through him, taking what was left of his breath and stifling it.
A scene, long ago forbidden to enter his mind lest he castrate himself, was suddenly brought to the forefront as he stared, agape, at the ring on her finger. It was a scene conjured up many years ago, late one night after he'd had a few too many to drink, thinking about nothing but a marriage that had not happened, but was never forgotten.
He was standing at an altar, dressed in a crisp black tux with a rich purple tie hanging from his neck. He was surrounded by the people he loved, and the people he had yet to meet. Placed delicately around the room were white and purple flowers, gather together in bunches made even more beautiful by the sunlight streaming through the windows.
Standing in front of him was not the woman he had come to recently love again, but the woman who had grabbed his heart many years ago and had never given it back. Her dark brown hair framed her face with soft, cascading curls, covered with a white veil that trailed down her back to rest on the floor behind her. She wore a beautiful off-shoulder white wedding dress, the bodice attached to her small form like a second skin before flaring off at the waist. In her delicate hands was a small bouquet of flowers, and, resting on her left ring finger, was a silver band holding a simple diamond that caught the light from the sun.
Ziva met his eyes with unshed tears gathering in the corners of hers and Tony reached up as the first few escaped to gently brush them away with his thumb. Then he rested his palm on her cheek, cupping it as a smile lifted the corners of her lips. He was speechless as she leaned into his touch, only love and admiration for him shining from her eyes.
He was suddenly brought back to the moment when Ziva began to turn in a slow circle, watching as the ring caught and reflected the light at the different angles. After turning a full circle, she stopped, facing Tony, the tip of her thumb a mere inch from just barely touching his cheek. She caught his gaze for less than a second, and from that moment, Tony felt something inside him shift, a single piece of the puzzle falling into place. But he couldn't see what the bigger picture was yet.
"Wendy is very lucky," Ziva said softly. "To be getting this ring." As she slipped the ring off her finger and back into the box, a feeling of sadness and longing rose from the pit of his stomach. A lump formed in his throat that he found he couldn't swallow past, and his chest felt as though a gaping black hole had ensnared his heart and ripped it away from him, leaving nothing but an empty space behind.
The sudden snapping of the box being closed made him jump, but he kept his features composed as Ziva handed it back to him. He clasped it in his grip as he watched her walk back to her side of the bullpen and sit down.
After a moment of staring unseeingly in her direction, Tony sat down behind his desk, slipped the box back into the drawer, and closed it. He thought about the feeling of indecision he had been feeling not five minutes ago, and how, as sudden as the sun dipping below the horizon, it was so much harder to think of the right move.
He sighed in defeat, covering his face with his hands in despair. He loved Wendy, there was no doubt about it, and he thought he was ready to take this next step. But now…
Now he felt as though everything had changed.
A/N This was inspired by a scene from Once Upon A Time, right after Snow and James escape from the trolls and Snow tries on James' mother's ring. The look on his face was stuck in my mind and I wondered how he would have felt when he saw the ring on her finger.
I'm hoping to get the next chapter up in a couple of days, as soon I finish writing it :)