Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS.

Spoilers: Marginal 11x02 "Past, Present, Future"—If you haven't heard where Ziva went by now, I'm not sure you'll ever be able to catch up :P

Setting: Two years after the episode. This fic operates on the premise that Tony had left Ziva something of his, too.

Enjoy!

-Soph


The Return

She has gotten very used to his clomping around.

Tony is the antithesis of her, in the sense that he is unable to keep quiet where she may be silent for hours on end, and that trait manifests even when he is puttering around his apartment. She can hear him no matter what room he is in—yelling at the TV from the living room, banging pots and pans in the kitchen, singing while showering—which is why she is startled by the sudden silence in his bedroom, where he generally makes noise even just by walking around.

She knows it is too early for him to have gone to bed. For one, it is ten o'clock in the morning.

For another, he just woke up.

Puzzlement, then, is what drives her to the doorway of the room, where she beholds the sight of him staring at his opened closet like he has never seen it before.

"What's wrong?" she asks, and he jumps.

"Uh, nothing," he mutters, turning around to face her. She raises a sceptical eyebrow. He caves easily. "You washed my sweater."

"Yes."

"And put it back in my closet."

She draws her eyebrows together. "Yes."

He breathes in deeply, his eyes shuttering from all emotion for whatever reason she is not privy to. His "okay" is deliberately neutral, and then he brushes past her with his well-practised game face on.

She is left to stare at the grey sweater, dumped in a messy pile atop his other clothes and crumpled despite the fact that she is sure she left it folded and neatly aligned with a stack of shirts, and wonder what the hell just happened.

xoxo

For the rest of the day, his mood is sour.

… Well, sour would be imprecise.

He is nicer than ever, but parries any attempts of hers to draw him out of his shell. He sulks when he thinks she is not looking, so much so that by the time dinner comes around, they are quiet and somewhat tense.

She clears the dishes after the meal, washes them, and takes a shower in his en-suite, all whilst leaving him sitting at the dining table.

When she comes out of her shower, she finds him still in the same spot, but with his elbows on the table and his face buried in his hands. He does not seem to be crying, but the tenseness in his shoulder concerns her enough for her to fly to his side immediately.

"Tony?" she calls gently, and he jumps uncharacteristically again.

"Huh?" he murmurs in answer.

"What is wrong?"

"Nothing." He drops his hands and shakes his head. "I'm just tired."

She frowns. "I do not think you have done enough today to warrant being tired."

His smirk is a weak imitation of his usual grin. "I gotta have a reason to be tired, huh?"

"Yes," she answers bluntly, sinking into the chair perpendicular to his and watching his faux smile fall. "Because this is you. You do not just get tired."

"Maybe I do now," he replies, a hint of melancholy in his voice.

She sighs. "Is it the sweater? Did you not like that I went into your closet to put it away?"

"S'not that."

"Did I get a stain on it?" she asks again. She is confused; she does not think a sweater would make him that upset.

He shakes his head again. "You found an apartment yet?" he asks abruptly, and she scowls at the change in topic.

"Look, if I am … infringing boundaries, you should just tell me."

"It is not that," he repeats clearly and sharply, as if a louder tone of voice will be more convincing. But, she is Ziva. She does not get distracted, and she does not get intimidated.

"It is obviously that," she retorts, and he looks away with what she guesses to be irritation. "You have been moody ever since you found that sweater. Why? It is your sweater; I thought you would appreciate having it back—"

"Did you ever think that maybe when I left it in Israel, it became yours?"

"And that is why you are mad?" she asks incredulously. "Tony, I am home now—"

"But you're not," he interrupts. "You showed up three days ago and had a happy reunion with everyone, and after your happy reunion with everyone you said you were gonna go stay in a hotel, so I offered you my place instead. I didn't want you to have to go through all the hassle." He shrugs. "'Cept you never said how long you're gonna be here and where you'll be going after this. So, no, I don't know that you are home. For all I know, DC could just be a pit-stop until you find somewhere else to go to, and you just didn't want to bring along that damned sweater that you no longer wanted, so you shoved it into my closet while I wasn't looking."

His voice cracks at his presentation of the last line, and that is how she knows it is not really about the sweater. It is about him. It is about his worry that she might put him away like she had his sweater; discard old memories before moving on to a new life. It is about her having turned his life upside-down by showing up after two years, just when—by his own admission—he had finally regained some sort of balance in a life without her, and not telling him what she is doing there or where she intends to go from there.

The truth is, she is scared. She has not seen him in two years, and she is far from being able to tell who has moved on more with their lives. She does not dare to tell him that as much peace as she has made with all other facets of herself, this particular side—as Tony's partner—is one she is stuck on. She never wanted to stop being his partner. She still wants to be his partner. But they have never truly been partners outside the boundaries of work, and she does not know how to tell him that after two years, she still wants something that they had never allowed themselves to be.

She had thought that by staying, by simply being around him, he would catch on. It is clear right now, though, that the avoided conversation has done nothing but harm: Their reluctance to speak has only fuelled his insecurities regarding her presence. He does not want her to leave, and perhaps he thinks that by staying silent, he can delay the inevitable conversation.

She takes in the inward curves of his shoulders and the lines sketched across his tormented brow—and realizes for the first time that maybe she never really had the weight of her world on her shoulders, because he had carried it for her on his own shoulders from the moment he had confessed to himself that he loved her.

That thought strikes her across the face like a slap, and her cheeks burn—whether from shame or from heartache, she knows not. She clears her throat. "I'm staying," she whispers, and the tension in his form eases the slightest bit.

"That's good," he says, almost reverently like a prayer.

"I will take that sweater back, if that's alright with you," she adds.

A muscle in his cheek twitches. "I gave it to you."

She palms the pendant that had been resting just below the hollow of her throat. "But … my necklace…"

A smile wavers across his face. "The Star of David and a sweater aren't the same thing, Ziva. This Star of David … it's you. It's your heritage. What does a sweater say about me?"

"It had 'OSU' stitched into it," she points out doubtfully.

"True," he concedes. "But it's a relic from my past, not an identity I was born with. And I just thought … maybe it would mean something to you, having something from me."

"It did mean a lot to me," she answers thickly. "It got me through a lot of tough nights."

"Then why'd you give it back?" he questions, his tone so hurt and confused, as if she has done something unreasonable that he cannot even begin to fathom.

"Because you returned to me my Star of David." She swallows. "And I thought it meant you understood that I was here to stay. I thought that by returning your sweater, you would understand that I no longer need it … because I have you now, right here, beside me."

His eyes glaze over. "So, not cutting me out of your life?" he asks shakily.

"No," she reaffirms. "Not in a million years."

His chuckle, as he brings up clumsy hands to smudge away the tears lingering at the inner corners of his eyes, sounds forced and slightly hysterical around the edges, and she comprehends that it is just a little too soon after her self-imposed, two-year journey of self-exploration to make a statement as such.

She persists, though, because this is them—Tony and Ziva—and it is important to her that they try.

She reaches her hand over to thread her fingers with his. It is the first real contact they have had bar the requisite hug—or two, or three—they had permitted themselves when she had made her reappearance in DC known.

He tightens their grip—it is a good sign, she thinks.

Maybe it important to him that they try, too.