DISCLAIMER: 1: NCIS and its characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. 2: The title of this story is taken from the song Breakeven by The Script. 3: I quoted the first two lines, and paraphrased the 6th line of Nothing Gold Can Stay; all credit to Robert Frost.
MANY THANKS to: The Muse for coming back. Doc S for telling me not to be an idiot. My A for being there for me. And to Hagar for real-time Hebrew corrections :) SPECIAL HEAPS AND TONS OF THANKS to my Awesomest Proofreader mayIreadtoday.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story will make more sense if you read Kidon, Between Hammer and Anvil, and Complexity first. Per usual... Con-crit is welcome, and thanks in advance.
DEDICATION: This story is for my A, aka, La law_nerd, who put up with grumpy-grouchy-oh-so-depressed-and-mopey me while the Muse was off gallivanting somewhere for NEARLY FOUR GODDAMN MONTHS... Ahem. As I was saying, my A, this is for you, cos after all that head!desk editing of students' horrible writing, you need a break of the read-just-read variety. I love you.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To needledinkrsa[at]gmail.com

It Don't Break Even
By needled_ink1975


Ziva put down her desk phone and snorted annoyance when her cell phone quit ringing the moment she touched it. She frowned at McGee's name, because right above it was the time: ten-thirty-two a.m. The call was surely work-related then, but why hadn't he called her desk, or better, called Todd?

Ziva pressed the call button. McGee picked up after two rings.

"Personal," he said at once.

"So that is why you called my cell. You are such a yeled tov Yerushalayim," Ziva chortled.

"Good boy Jerusalem?" McGee mumbled.

"Yeah. On the one hand it means you are the kind of guy every straight girl's parents would love. On the other it means a goody-goody boyscout who follows all the rules."

"Can it also mean 'worry-wart friend'?" McGee asked.

"Huh? No. Ma karah?" Ziva said, frowning. What's wrong?

"Regah," McGee said. Hold on.

Ziva heard shoe soles on a hard surface, and she guessed that McGee had stepped into the stairwell. She hoped he'd remember to keep the blast-proof door open, or they'd lose the call.

"We still got cell signal?" McGee asked.

"Ken. Nu?" Yes. So?

"Something's up with Tony, and he won't talk to me."

"Did you mention this to Gibbs?"

"Gibbs told me to try talk to him," McGee said.

"So Gibbs already tried," Ziva said. "This does not sound good."

"I've been worried about him for about a week, but mildly. Y'know what he's like when he's had his feelings hurt—"

"He works it out himself, and then makes a point of spending time with us. That is his method, and I respect it."

"Same here, but this is different, and he might talk to you."

Ziva tapped a pen on her thigh. Her options were few, but one of them might work.

"Okay. Time to reverse-engineer his usual method."

"Gibbs tried to get him to go for a beer and a pool game last night. Tony said no."

"I will not give him that option," Ziva stated.

"What're you gonna do, kidnap him?"

"Ani musmechet," Ziva said, smirking. I'm qualified.

"Ziva," McGee complained.

"No kidnapping; just a bit of subterfuge," she promised.

Ziva had muttered something, in Tony's hearing, about an Israeli expatriate witness and a cold case that she'd been asked to look into. She made sure to mutter as well about her prospects in a Bureau travel companion: she apparently had a choice between two people that Tony knew and disliked. Ziva had asked Jen if she could spare anyone. It was Thursday and Ziva intended to leave early on Friday. Jen mentioned the fact that whoever decided to go with Ziva would have to give up one day of vacation time. Gibbs refused outright, and McGee had given the honest excuse of needing his paid time off to attend a family gathering. That left Tony. He'd agreed to tag along with Ziva on the two-day trip.

Tony didn't notice Jen, McGee, and Gibbs's abrupt change of topic, and that was when Ziva's level of concern edged up a few notches. Listless: that was a good word to use; Tony was listless, almost apathetic. She pretended not to notice and talked instead about departure times, total travel time, and where they'd be staying. Tony didn't object even when she mentioned the fact that they were headed to a veritable Tiny Town, USA. Not good at all.

Riding shotgun in Ziva's Mini Cooper, Tony stared out of his window at scenery that was beginning to change from winter-drab to an early spring green so pale that it almost blended with yellow grass. What had Frost said– "Nature's first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold." His mind returned the short poem, one he'd learned by heart in high school. With personal understanding, that line about Eden sinking to grief hit especially hard now: a blade that had been no more than a stage prop during his schooldays abruptly had an edge. He managed not to groan aloud. Tony shifted in his seat and decided not to think about the rest of Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Behind the wheel, Ziva had been trying to read Tony, but his expression was flat and his eyes were hidden behind shades. They'd been on the road about an hour, and Tony hadn't said a word since they'd promised Jen that they'd drive safely. Ziva decided that it was time to come clean. She turned off the radio, which got Tony's attention.

"There is no expat Israeli witness; there is no case," Ziva said quietly.

And she looked at him for a couple of seconds: Tony's frown was expected, but it wasn't as intense as it should've been.

"You have been sort-of-willingly kidnapped," Ziva said with a small smile.

"What?" Tony muttered, barely angry. He wanted to feel more but he just didn't have the energy.

"You will not talk to Gibbs, or to McGee."

Tony said nothing and went back to staring out the window. He didn't want to talk, dammit. It would hurt; it would hurt even more.

"Who is she and what the fuck did she do to you?" Ziva demanded, because her gut was saying that direct was best.

Tony jerked in his seat and looked back at her. He didn't want to but he had no option. Command presence and tone-of-command: Ziva had both in spades. To use both to full effect was unfair, especially now. Tony gritted his teeth and willed himself to focus on faint anger.

"I don't wanna talk about—"

"You are going to," Ziva said, but her tone was less forceful now. "You must, and you know it. Who is she, and what did she do?"

"It's Jeanne, and she didn't do anything," Tony said woodenly.

"You saw her?" Ziva asked, considerably surprised.

"By accident. She walked out of a hotel. There was a medical conference going on. Guess that's why she was here..." Tony paused and shut his eyes a moment. This was going to hurt even more. Still, it had only been a day less than a week, and he was so damn weary of being alone with all this. He cleared his throat, and said, "So we literally walked right into each other. It was raining, and she slipped, and I caught her... If I hadn't touched her—No, I held her. That's the worst of it. And she didn't say a word. Just stared at me, and she was so damn angry. I let her go and she just walked away. She crossed the street and this guy got out of a car. She kissed him, and he didn't look surprised. I... That guy doesn't make this worse, not for me, personally. I mean, I'd never wanna stop her from being happy. Y'know?"

"Yes," Ziva said.

"So if I saw him, if I could say anything, I'd just ask him to look after her..." Tony swallowed hard, but the lump in his throat stayed put. He rasped out, "I could never have said any of that to the guys."

"You have my number," Ziva said, but gently, without a hint of accusation.

Tony shook his head. Ziva caught that movement out the corner of her eye, and looked at him quickly. She looked at the road again: straight. She reached out and wiped a tear off his cheek with the back of a finger.

Tony didn't pull away, and when Ziva dropped her hand onto his arm, he fumbled and found it with his. She squeezed gently, and he gave up. It hurt like hell, but he wasn't alone with it anymore, and he wasn't ashamed to sob quietly.

"This looks familiar..."

Tony leaned forward to get a better look through the windshield at a small, somewhat weathered clapboard house framed by a pair of old oak trees. The house was isolated from Tiny Town by a long stretch of road and a driveway that curved in such a way as to hide the house from that road. When Ziva pulled in under the carport, Tony was given a partial view of an unfenced backyard bounded by woodland.

"You have seen this house in a couple of pictures. Me and Jen brought Ellen out here a month ago. One of Jen's friends owns this place... I thought we would drop off our bags before we go grocery shopping. Or I can do that by myself."

"No, I'll go along," he said. Maybe the talking would be easier later. Right now it was hard to say, "Don't wanna be alone."

"Be'seder," Ziva said simply. Okay. She added, "Let's go inside?"


Nothing fancy. The house was simply furnished and plainly decorated. A note said that the bed linens were fresh, and that there were clean towels set out in the bathroom. A key to the shed out back had acted as a paperweight for the note. Tony tagged along with Ziva and was rather surprised to find a gas main in the shed.

"Look through those trees out there," she said, pointing east.

Tony stepped out of the shed and ducked and bobbed a little, the better to peek past branches in new leaf. He managed to spot parts of a much larger residence.

"Aah. That's the mansion and this is the cottage?"

"Something like that," Ziva said. She made sure that the gas main was all the way open, and replaced a wrench on its hook. Outside, she closed and locked the shed door. "That house is more noticeable at night, when the lights are on."

"So those light switches inside actually work," Tony said. Ziva didn't answer immediately. He frowned and repeated, "They do, right?"

"Tony, would I ever put myself through the hell of taking you somewhere with no electricity?"

"Masochism's not your thing," Tony said with a small, relieved grin.

"Jen would argue. She says that climbing looks like self-torture."

"She's got a point."

Ziva clucked her tongue dismissively, a decidedly Israeli mannerism. She started to yank on Tony's sleeve, but softened her grip and linked her arm into his.

"Let's go and get those groceries so we can just relax."

Tony nodded and walked along with her. Everything was choking him up. Ziva's arm in his seemed almost impossibly thin and fragile. He couldn't shake that thought, even though he knew that she was whip-wiry, damn strong, and well on her way to being as fit as she was before she was shot. And someone else was strong, too, in different ways, but many of them were similar to Ziva's less tactile strengths.

"I gotta thank Jenny for this, and I won't need reminding," he said quietly.

"She cares about you as much as I do; more, maybe," Ziva said. "She was angry with herself, because she did not notice—"

"She's had a helluva week, so that's—"

"Not the point. It is not the point," Ziva interrupted firmly. "The point is that she cares, and when you thank her, if she apologizes, you will let her. If you were in her place? Nu– tagid li." —Go on– tell me.

"Yeah, I'd apologize," Tony said.

"Gam ani," Ziva said. I would, too.

They stood on either side of the kitchen island. Cooking was something that they both enjoyed but rarely did together. Tony worked carefully but skillfully, and reduced brown button mushrooms to slices with a broad-bladed Japanese santoku knife that Ziva had brought along. He hadn't been a bit surprised about that. She was particular about blades, especially when it came to cooking prep. The rest of her knives were either tools, or weapons. Tony chose not to think about the latter. He didn't particularly want to think or talk about Jeanne either.

"It was easier to try and... Easier to try and put Jeanne away," he muttered.

Ziva nodded and didn't prompt further. She'd hadn't pressured him at all for most of the day. When they'd started to make dinner, she'd asked Tony to talk, and that was enough.

"Missing you at work is also easier to put away," Tony admitted. "Not to sound melodramatic, but I kinda lost both you and Jeanne in one go."

"I do not think that is melodramatic. It is true. You still see me, but it is not the same as working with me five or six days a week. And I miss you, too."

"Who'd a-thunk it, huh?" Tony said. "Three years back—"

"You were such an ass," Ziva said with a grin.

"And you were so damn, uhh... Right: kachol ve'lavan," Tony said.

"Who taught you that one?"

"Jenny, ages back now."

"Well, I am still very kachol ve'lavan," Ziva said. —blue-and-white/Israeli. "I am just more tolerant of Amerikayim metumtamim." —idiotic Americans.

"Oh, thanks," Tony said and laughed.

"That bracket is reserved for many others, but not you."

"So I'm not a... kotz ba'tachat anymore?"

"No, and did McGee teach you that one?" Ziva asked and giggled.

"Nope. Doron from the Israeli embassy."

"Aah. He is almost ten years younger than me. It is correct Hebrew, but most Sabras my age would not say that. We just say 'pain in the ass,' mixing English with Hebrew, but many people pronounce it like 'pen-in-thee-azz.'"

"Really?" Tony said, laughing.

"Fast like that," Ziva said and nodded. "In general, I speak pretty quickly, so I do not use contractions, because that reminds me to be careful with my enunciation. Anyway, the younger ones are saying 'kotz ba'tachat,' though, so it is not wrong. But kotz does not mean 'pain'; it means 'thorn' or 'splinter.'"

"Oh, well at least the shape's similar to a pen," Tony said.

"And both would cause 'pen,' yeah," Ziva chortled.

She focused for a while on lightly browning sliced chicken breasts. That was tricky because she'd chosen to throw those slices in with caramelized onions, and she had to keep everything moving in the pan so that the onions wouldn't burn. She turned the heat down eventually and added finely chopped garlic. After stirring that around for a while, she tossed in the mushrooms that Tony had sliced, some herbs and spices, and half a glass of white wine. Tony gave a carton of cream a shake, and opened it, and he poured it in while Ziva was stirring. Ziva turned the heat down to a low simmer. Later she would do her trick with a small amount of cornflour mixed into a little milk, and with that added, the sauce would be thicker and richer, and perfect for tagliatelle pasta.

For now they got on with cleaning up, and Ziva hadn't missed how easy it was for Tony to clam up. He hadn't said a word for the last twenty minutes. That wasn't a bad thing right now. Tony had inadvertently given her some room to consider a few things fully.

"Regarding what it was like when I started at NCIS, the saying might be trite, but it is true: kol ha'hatchalot kashot—all the beginnings are hard. You thought I was there to take Kate's place. Tipshi? Ken, aval..." —Foolish? Yes, but...

"But... What?" Tony asked.

"You have not talked about Kate either," Ziva said quietly.

"Y'see someone die, and that's..." Tony paused and shook his head. He was somewhat surprised by Ziva's change of tack, but at least he had his thoughts lined up here. "You see someone die like that, and it's not just closure; it's like a door being slammed."

"Slammed, yes, but not locked, and those doors never fit properly, so what is shut up inside starts leaking out."

"Y'know, Kate gave me a harder time than you ever have," Tony mumbled.

"You look like somebody hit you over the head," Ziva said.

"The term is 'poleaxed,' and yeah, I kinda feel that way. Lemme think about this..."

"Sure," Ziva said.

Tony kept his hands busy, wiping down counter-tops. It took him a few minutes to get that done, and to get to the root of the matter.

"Comes down to the fact that I stopped comparing you to Kate a while back. Simple as that... And there really isn't much to say about Kate," Tony said while washing his hands. "The stuff leaked out, you're right about that. It leaked out in little bits, and each bit hurt, but I worked through it... Used to have nightmares. Hearing the bullet hit, seeing her fall, hearing the shot, over and over, like a bad movie on an endless goddamn loop. Haven't had that bad dream in more than a year."

"But you had it for about two years."

"Yeah, and I agree that wasn't good," Tony said. He folded his arms and leaned a hip against a counter. He paused before saying, "In her place I'd recommend it, so I'm guessing that Jenny said something about getting me to go see Doc Paulson."

"Better that you choose to see a shrink before she feels she must send you to the department shrink. My psychologist is very good."

"Okay, but for now you're it," Tony said.

"Not only for now. You can talk to me whenever you feel that is better than talking to Ingrid. In some ways, friends are always better than shrinks."

"For one, friends aren't usually on-the-clock."

"And we are a lot cheaper," Ziva said.

"Huh. Yeah..." Tony drawled.

He didn't object when Ziva tugged him away from the counter and gave him a nudge towards the small kitchen table. He sat down and thanked her for a glass of white wine. It was far too good to use for cooking, but that half-glass hadn't been too much to give up. Ziva sipped from her glass and crossed her legs under the table, accidentally brushing Tony's calf in the process.

"Do not make the expected footsie comment," she said, wagging a finger.

"You've gotten boring since you and Jenny hooked up," Tony said with a grin.

"I hate that phrase," Ziva grumbled.

Tony couldn't think of another, except 'paired up' which, to his mind, made Jen and Ziva sound like albatrosses or another species of mate-for-life bird. He doubted that Ziva would be amused by that, so he kept it to himself. He had a question to offer instead:

"If D.C. ever gets marriage equality, would you two get married?"

"The piece of paper would be useful, but we would not rush out to get it. At the moment we have... Oh God, I think fourteen sets of documents, Stateside. The most important are the hospital visitation authorization, enduring power-of-attorney, living will, and the advance directive, which made it possible for Jen to tell doctors to turn off life support, if necessary. Jen had those before I got shot, because I have no next-of-kin here. Now the documentation is all doubled so that no-one can ever deny me access to her if—chas ve'shalom—she is in hospital. The rest of the stuff relates to property and insurance."

"You've got the same documentation on the Israeli side?" Tony asked.

"Yes, but there are even more legal documents there, and it was really difficult to get them because Jen is not an Israeli citizen. If we do get a piece of paper with 'MARRIED' stamped on it here, that will be recognized by the civil courts in Israel without question, and the Rabbinical Court can go play in the traffic on Highway Fifty."

"Heavy traffic, I take it?" Tony chuckled.

"Very. Lots of big trucks and buses," Ziva drawled. "So anyway, as I said, the piece of paper would be useful. But you should not expect to be invited to a ceremony of any kind. As far as we are both concerned, our commitment is an every day thing, and that piece of paper would be a some-time convenience... But enough about me and Jen. Your thoughts about Jeanne, they went as far as marriage?"

"Yeah," Tony muttered. He cleared his throat and pushed away an urge to change the subject. "Really unprofessional, huh?"

"I am never going to apologize for anything I said to you regarding Jeanne," Ziva stated. "That must be clear, because everything I said that day was and is true: that level of unprofessional behavior, in our line of work, can easily get you or someone else killed."

"Yeah, no arguments," Tony said, and only barely managed to suppress a shudder when he remembered René Benoit calmly and quietly telling him that if circumstances had been different, he would've found out who Tony was, and would've taken out a contract on him. "Some time and distance makes that real clear. Letting myself fall for her... I was an idiot."

"Professionally, yes. Personally... No, you were only being human," Ziva said gently. "In a perfect world, you and I would have very different jobs, and your relationship with Jeanne might have progressed to an engagement by now... Did you ever think about resigning?"

"Only all the time, and that... I think about that now and I wanna bang my head against a wall, because how would that have fixed anything?" Tony said, his expression a mixture of anger and helplessness. "I lied to her, right from the start. Resigning and confessing wouldn't have fixed jack-shit."

"If I had been her, it would not have fixed anything for me," Ziva said in agreement.

"And I tried to use that," Tony muttered. "I tried to use logic to help me out, and I think I was winning, but then... Sheer fucking coincidence. Literally bumping into her... I didn't recognize her at first. She cut her hair. I guess working in tropical conditions with long hair would suck."

"Mmm," Ziva murmured, and only because Tony had paused. She added quietly, "Talking is hard, but you are on a roll, my friend."

Tony nodded and sipped the last of his wine. He reached for the bottle, but changed his mind, and toyed with his empty glass instead. The last thing he needed now was to get drunk; the last thing he'd want tomorrow would be a hangover.

"Fucking rain. Fucking slippery flagstones outside that fucking fancy hotel..."

The anger that had mixed with confusion earlier, raised its head clear. It felt a helluva lot better than the solid ache he'd had for days. The trouble was that that anger wouldn't last, Tony knew. He'd never been the kind of person who could get mad and stay mad, and even while he rolled the wineglass stem between his fingers, he felt all that anger slipping. Before long there wasn't enough of it to mask the heartache.

Ziva lit a cigarette. The clink of her Zippo's lid reminded Tony that talking was supposedly good. His thoughts were muddled now. It didn't matter.

"I didn't notice what kinda shoes she was wearing. Heels, maybe, because she was smartly dressed. Heavy coat over a pantsuit. Doubt she has much opportunity to get dressed up, not wherever she's working... So she slipped and I caught her, all awkward cos both her legs went past my right leg. Caught and lifted her, and there was no way to make it so we weren't bodily close... Goddammit."

Angry again, but it wasn't enough, even though he tried to grab more of it. That ache was winning. Tony pushed the wineglass away before he threw it against the nearest wall. He bunched his fists under the table.

"You did not want to let her go," Ziva said.

Tony shook his head. The ache won. He lifted his hands and hid his face for a while. He wasn't ashamed to cry. He just needed a little space. Eventually he knuckled away the tears that had begun to brim.

He sniffed and got up. He ripped two sheets off a roll of kitchen towel, folded them, and blew his nose. Sitting down again, he stole Ziva's cigarette, but gave it back after one drag. Cigarettes weren't his vice, but the occasional cigar was something he enjoyed. He hadn't brought any.

"Didya bring any cigars?"

"Yes. You want one now?"

"Nah, I'll keep till after dinner," Tony said. He gave a short, helpless laugh and said, "She hated it that I smoke cigars."

"If you smoke three in a week, it is a lot," Ziva said.

"She's totally anti-tobacco products. But at least she didn't preach. Can't stand that... So actually, it probably would've been better for me if she had preached."

Ziva shook her head slowly. It wouldn't have mattered, and she didn't have to say as much.

"Yeah... I woulda just given up the stogies," he said, his tone miserable. "I was so damn gone on her."

"Still," Ziva said gently. "Because love does not come with a switch. You cannot just turn it off."

"Would make things a lot easier if we could," Tony muttered and sniffed. It was a silly thing to say, he knew it, but a little part of himself had liked to hear the words. Silly or no, he added: "It would be so good right now if I had a switch like that."

"No, it would be awful... Tony, it started all wrong, and it ended badly, but before you met her you thought it was not possible to feel that way for any woman. Now you know that you can."

"I don't want to, not again," Tony rasped, and blew his nose again. "Feeling that for someone else means it's possible I'll feel like this again."

"Yes, but it is also possible that the relationship will work, and be good, for many years. You really want to deny yourself that possibility?"

"You gonna find me another Jenny?" Tony said wryly.

"I am not a matchmaker," Ziva said, and smiled at him. "One of my maternal aunts is the shadchanit in the family. I could give her a call?"

"Pass, for now. Maybe later," Tony said and managed a smile. He cleared his throat and said, "And no, I don't wanna give up that possibility. Just wish this didn't hurt so goddamn much."

"I know."

"When was the last time you had your heart busted?"

"December Twentieth, last year," Ziva muttered. "But my mother and her issues are another subject."

"I'm sorry," Tony said.

"So am I, but I am dealing with it better than I thought I would."

"You're not just saying that to brush me off?" Tony asked, genuinely concerned, and that felt good.

"Lo, matok," Ziva said, smiling. No, sweetheart. She rarely gave Tony that endearment. Whenever she did, he'd earned it. "Honestly, if it had been harder than it is, you would have heard about it before now."

"Okay, but just so we're clear, this talking thing is not a one-way street."

"We are clear."

"That's your trying-not-to-laugh expression," Tony grumbled.

"No, it is me trying not to use another phrase– 'eizeh chamud,' which means, 'Aww, he is so adorable.'"

"Eww..." Tony grumbled, his face screwed up to match the interjection.

Ziva laughed and got up. On her way to check on dinner, she stopped and smacked a kiss on Tony's forehead.

"For the record, you are adorable. Sometimes," Ziva said.

"Yay," Tony drawled, but he was grateful for this little break. He needed it. If he could he'd drag it out a little. "At least 'adorable-sometimes' rescues my dumb American masculinity."



Ziva replaced the lid on the pan and returned to her seat.

"I am sitting opposite a man who can cry, and is not ashamed of it. That is rather un-American."

"I said it was a dumb variety of masculinity," Tony pointed out. He frowned and added, "And that whole gotta-be-a-man thing is such hard work."

"I have often thought so, yes," Ziva said. "The Israeli concept of masculinity is so different to the Western concept. Even back in the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, which is saying something. I mean, for decades it seemed like Israeli men were all competing for some imaginary uber macho prize. 'Gay' was the worst insult they could imagine, but those men equated homosexuality with weakness only. Even those really macho guys were not afraid of physical contact—"

"That!" Tony said, wagging a finger. "Straight Israeli guys hold hands and hug and kiss cheeks. I read about that before you got here, and I was tempted to turn the magazine upside down, cos maybe they printed it wrong. I was a little kid, like knee-high, the last time a man kissed my cheek."

"Zeh atzuv, atzuv me'od," Ziva said seriously. When Tony looked at her blankly, she said, "I said that your experience is sad, very sad. 'Sad' is 'atzuv.'"

"Fitting new word for me right now," Tony muttered.


"Anyhow, this is America," Tony said and shrugged. "And while I agree in principle that it's sad, if Gibbs or McGee gave me a hug, that'd be okay—"

"As long as it is a quick, manly hug with back slapping?"

"Preferably, yes. But if he kissed my cheek, every bit of my American gotta-be-a-man conditioning would kick in and I'd push him away."

"Conditioning like that is not something you can give up overnight," Ziva said reasonably.

"And it's the reason why I'm talking to you and not them– they're conditioned the same way, and if I cried in front of them, they'd be just as uncomfortable as I'd be."

"Vicious circle..." Ziva muttered.

"Yeah... But be fair. There's gotta be some bad male conditioning in Israel."

"Only some? No, there is a lot. The worst of it starts with parents who feel that boys are special, so those boys get spoiled, and they grow up to be men that must always have their own way."

"That's common here, too."

"Oh no, not like the way I mean," Ziva muttered and snorted. "There is a special Israeli brand of spoiled-boy-man. He can come from the most secular family imaginable, and yet he will know all the Bible verses about the man being the master of the house, and he will quote them. The only woman he does not boss around is his mother... The rest of the irritating stuff I can live with—I have lived with it: I have a father, eight uncles and uncles-in-law, and twelve adult male cousins and cousins-in-law, which is twenty-one men in my immediate family. Being an Israeli helps with the living-with-it side of things. I would never, ever-ever-ever suggest to a non-Israeli woman that she should date an Israeli man."

"Culture clash."

"That puts it mildly," Ziva said with a laugh.

"Be honest now. How often do you and Jenny clash?"

"Why do I get the feeling that you have been itching to ask that question?"

"I try to be a smooth operator," Tony said, and some of the old mischief was back in his expression. "Just asking outa the blue isn't smooth."

"True," Ziva chuckled. "Where do we clash? The whole maid thing. And okay, it makes sense that because Jen is a full-time professional, she has a maid to clean the house, and Lucy is actually awesome—"

"Great sense of humor, and she bakes the best choc-chip cookies."

"Yeah, but now she has new rules. Jen's study has always been off-limits, always locked when she is not at home, but now our bedroom and bathroom are off-limits, too—"

"You clean and vacuum and change the linens," Tony chortled.

"Mmm. I also do all the laundry, and collect the dry cleaning, and I fold, and iron, and put things away. And Lucy calls me to complain because I nearly always put things away out of the dishwasher in the mornings... The idea of a servant is just so... foreign, and I do not think that I will ever get used to it. And y'know, maybe polishing the banister would be fun—What?"

Tony held up a hand and continued to laugh.

"As a kid I used to always polish the banister," he said eventually. "For just one reason. If it was properly polished, I got a smooth slide all the way to the bottom. But ours was a long, curved, single-piece banister. Yours has corners."

"Damn, I never thought about sliding on it..." Ziva muttered.

"Is Jenny gonna arrive at work one day and announce that she's ordered a single-piece banister?"

"Hishtagata?" Ziva squawked. Have you gone nuts? "Our banister is solid walnut."

"Point," Tony chuckled. After a pause, he added, "Good to hear you use that word 'our.' I thought you'd never quit saying 'Jen's house.'"

"We moved my piano into the living room, and that seemed to fix it... I moved in, but little changed."

"I noticed."

"And you were surprised," Ziva said.

"Yup," Tony admitted, nodding. "My experience has been that the whole being in love, and moving in, and/or marriage thing tends to involve changes. The two people concerned generally act differently around each other, but you and Jenny don't. It's just... same-old. I have to watch and listen for the occasional expression or endearment that says, 'These two have stepped up their relationship.' The way you two act around each other is the reason why people still whisper about you."

"Maybe that newspaper ad is not such a bad idea," Ziva grumbled.

"Nah, I've come to enjoy debunking the affair myth," Tony said with a broad grin.

"Typical... And we are supposed to be talking about you."

"We're talking, and spending time together," Tony said. "Most of the work I have to do to fix this Jeanne thing, is up here—" He tapped the side of his head. "So just being around someone who knows what the problem is... This is good. Thanks."

"Bevahkasha," Ziva said. You're welcome.

Ziva doubted that Tony would wake up before she got back, but she left a note anyway, saying that she was going out for her run.

Early spring, it was still cold, almost cold enough for frost. Warming up at the walk, Ziva was grateful for gloves, but she cursed herself for bringing only light leggings. She wouldn't notice in a while, when she began to run, but for now her thigh ached and her knees were feeling the cold, too. After five minutes of walking she stepped up the pace to a slow, shuffling jog, and the ache in her thigh started to ease. After another five minutes, she swung into the relaxed distance-eating pace of a marathon runner. She'd never run a full marathon, but she'd done the equivalent of half-marathons in various training exercises. Thirteen miles wasn't such a long distance, and she was fit enough now to complete that, though not in anything like a competitive time. For a while she contemplated signing up for next year's Rock'n'Roll USA half-marathon in D.C., but her thoughts eventually turned to Tony.

Fate was a bitch. He'd probably be coping right now, and easily, if not for that coincidental meeting with Jeanne. The truth was that even while she'd lectured him about his lack of professionalism, the bit of Ziva that was distinctly unprofessional had been calling Fate a bitch. And the whole truth was that Tony would be fine if circumstances hadn't thrown him and Jeanne together in the first place. Fate was a bitch.

Now remained a lot of repair work. As Tony had said yesterday, he had to work on most of it alone; Ziva couldn't help with that head-work. A shrink could, and she hoped that Tony would take her advice and make an appointment with Ingrid Heller.

Ziva was firmly biased when it came to shrinks. The NCIS department psychologist, Dr. Paulson, was not incompetent but he was a department shrink who earned a fixed salary, and the truth was that if he was any better he'd probably be out on his own, or in a partnership, earning a helluva lot more than that salary. Ziva had watched him a few times, and had listened to him talk; she knew by his body language that he wasn't an especially driven man. Competent yes, but perhaps slightly lazy: his salary paid the bills, so why go out on his own and work a lot harder? Ziva snorted, and decided that it was worth it to go so far as making an appointment with Heller for Tony, because like that department shrink, Tony could be a bit lazy. Not on Ziva's watch. Not regarding something as important as this.

She'd seen Tony go through low patches, and she'd been there for him through those as well, but without bringing direct attention to the problem. That had always been enough, because whichever low patch had been something he could handle. He was not coping with this Jeanne mess, that was plain. This weekend away was going to help, but it was just one step down a long trail. Ziva knew that without doubt. If she lost Jen, she'd need months, perhaps years, to get over it. She'd need a lot of support but, like Tony, she'd probably seek to withdraw at first, even though isolation would be the last thing she needed. In Tony's case, she'd put a stop to that withdrawal process which, although it had been self-imposed, would've led to him feeling isolated, a surefire way for depression to deepen.

And now he had a middleman in Ziva. She'd inform Gibbs and McGee of the problem, and Tony wouldn't have to do so much as hint at it. The guys would just step in. They wouldn't have to address the issue at all. Keeping Tony company, just making a point of spending time with him, was all they'd have to do. Empathize without inquiry. Listen without expectation. Support without stifling. Both Gibbs and McGee were good at all three. Actually, a lot of men were good at all three, if Ziva thought about it.

Male company was what a man in Tony's position needed, because sometimes women just didn't get the point that what men in crisis need, is not what women in the same position tend to want. In his place Ziva would want a shoulder to cry on and more often than just once; all Tony had needed was room to cry. It was possible that he'd become tearful again at some point, and he might arrive on her doorstep, but what he'd want then would be company only. He probably wouldn't appreciate, as many women would, to be told to let go and cry it out. Ziva knew very well that men had to be driven to extremes before they cried, and unlike most women, once the waterworks had stopped, many men couldn't just 'let go' and allow them to start up again. Ziva wouldn't have to explain as much to Gibbs and McGee, but she'd probably have to say something about it to Jen and Abby, and she would. She'd also have to tell them that they should listen without expecting to hear Tony talk about Jeanne.

It was time, already, for Ziva to let Tony talk about whatever. She wouldn't prompt him today. If he talked about Jeanne, she'd help to keep the conversation going for as long as he wanted to talk. And if he chose not to talk about it at all, she'd respect that.

When Ziva got back to the house, Tony was still snoring, which was a good thing. Ziva fetched her phone and a glass of water and went outside again. She called her home phone, and Jen picked up quite soon.


"Ani ohevet otach."

"And I love you," Jen said with a smile in her voice. "So?"

Ziva briefly described Tony's accidental meeting with Jeanne.

"Goddammit..." Jen muttered.

"Yeah, he is really torn up... And we have to let him deal with it. By 'we' I mean you and Abby and me. We cannot be mother hens, and we cannot expect him to react to all that hurt as a woman would."

"I think you're the expert here," Jen admitted. "I've never had to deal with a heartbroken man. I suspect that two men were heartbroken after my relationships with them ended, but then we parted ways. I have no idea how they dealt with it. All I can do is compare my own feelings under those circumstances."

"Which is not a good comparison, because guys deal in very, very different ways," Ziva said. "I would be crying every ten minutes. He has cried twice since yesterday morning. You see?"

"I do. Okay... You're going to do all the filling in with the others?"

"Yes. Tony is still asleep, so I might as well use the time to make calls."



"You realize that it's not yet seven a.m?" Jen drawled.

"Lo ichpat li, zeh chashuv," Ziva said firmly. I don't give a damn, this is important.

"No arguments there," Jen muttered.

Ziva spent the next half-hour making brief calls, and oddly enough, no-one complained about the early hour.

"Ziva, there's a deer," Tony said, pointing out the kitchen window.

"Only one?" Ziva said. Broad daylight, just after nine, but the lone deer gave the two humans a long, fearless look before lowering its head to graze. "That grass out there does not get cut by a mower... And here come some more."

Several does and yearling deer of both genders stepped out of the woods into the yard. They immediately put their heads down to graze on new grass. Ziva took a plate Tony had washed, and dried it. She put it away and returned to the sink. Tony's hands were fumbling around in the water, while his eyes were glued to the view beyond the window.

"I think that sink is empty," Ziva noted.

"Huh? Oh... I've never seen wild deer this close before," Tony mumbled.

"All hunting was stopped in this area. Archie—the owner of this place. Archie told me that just four years ago if you saw more than one deer, they wrote about it in the town newspaper. If the herds keep recovering at this rate, hunting will be allowed again, but restrictions will be heavy."

"I'm no bunny-hugger, but that sounds good to me," Tony said while rinsing the sink.

"I think it also sounds good to people who do not like to mow their grass, but people with flowers and vegetable gardens have had to build fences."

"I wouldn't wanna lock 'em out."

"Maybe you are a bunny-hugger," Ziva ribbed him.

"Am not. But those deer are pretty," Tony said. He gestured at the coffee pot, and when Ziva nodded he refilled her mug, too. "Maybe I should make a habit of this out-in-the-country thing..."

"I have to get away from the city often. Now that I am fit again, I will be climbing more."

"I never asked," Tony said, frowning at the realization. "Is there any outdoor place to climb near D.C.?"

"Yes. Carderock in C&O Canal Park, and Buzzard Rocks in the George Washington National Forest. Some reasonably tough climbs are available even closer, in Great Falls Park, but I have to start with the easier ones. You want to try it sometime?"

"No-no-no," Tony said and laughed. "I tried a climbing wall once already... Huh. That was with Jeanne. I think I deliberately deleted it from memory, cos the next day it felt like every muscle in my body had been beaten with a poker."

"So that is not a happy Jeanne memory."

Tony shook his head. It was time to talk again. He wished he could shut up the childish little voice inside him that was whining about not wanting to.

"There's that one, and when we split, and the most recent one... All the rest are pretty good."

"That is not a bad thing," Ziva pointed out.

"True enough..." Tony muttered.

His throat was tight again, but he knew the difference between plain choked up and the kind of lump that seemed to break when tears arrived. This was the former, not the latter. There were times when he wanted to cry, and just couldn't. Then there were times like this—even more frustrating—when he knew that he needed to cry, and yet could not. He sighed, annoyed, and rubbed at his forehead.

"Reckon those good memories will be easier to think about some time?"

"Some time, but probably not soon," Ziva said.

"Y'know what the worst part is? It feels like I've never been here before, even though it hurt as much the first time round."

"But the first time you had been expecting it," Ziva said. "You knew that you would have to break up with Jeanne; you were expecting that to be fucking awful. Expectation makes for more stress, yes, but at the same time it is preparation, and in that way it is something of an emotional buffer. That is the first thing you are taught in SERE training– expect pain, keep your adrenalin high, and you deal with pain better in every way: physically, mentally, and emotionally."

"Only you would bring up Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training in a conversation like this," Tony said, but he was amused.

"It is always best to speak from what you know. That is what I know," Ziva said, shrugging. "I would have liked to prepare for two of my three breakups. I was prepared for one of them, and it did not hurt less, but I got over it faster than the other two."

"That makes sense," Tony said. He looked down at his hands, and said, "My split with Jeanne was still healing, I guess. Wasn't expecting to walk into her and have the scab ripped off."

"And so this is hurting even more, and in different ways, because you were completely unprepared."

"So was she. Gotta wonder how she's taking it," Tony mumbled. "At least she's got that guy. I just... I can't bring myself to be jealous."

"Do not be surprised if that happens later," Ziva said.

Tony shook his head and folded his arms. He didn't see how that was possible. He really felt nothing at all regarding that man, except a sincere hope that he'd be good to Jeanne. Tony startled slightly when he felt Ziva's fingertips on his jawline, but he let her turn his face, so she could look him in the eye.

"Right now you do not have the emotional energy for jealousy," Ziva said. "But it might happen. You could not prepare for that accidental meeting. You can prepare for jealousy, and deal with it a little better."

"Do you always have to make so much sense?" Tony grumbled.

"Not always, you can ask Jen. Depending on the circumstances, I attempt to speak five languages at once and make no sense at all."

"If I asked her about that, I got an idea that she'd blush five kinds of red and then go give you a piece of her mind."

"Which would probably lead, eventually, to me trying to speak five languages at once," Ziva said with a wicked grin.

"Hey, I haven't allowed my mind to go there in months," Tony said quite seriously. "I'm trying real hard to be a good boy."

"You want to make it so your mind never-ever goes there again?" Ziva asked.

"Frankly, yes," Tony said.


"Because I respect you two. I care about you."

"Mmm. So here is one last fantasy, Tony. By some magic, you are invisible, there in our bedroom, and then... No more magic. You are visible. And even worse, you are naked, too, and you cannot hide that hard-on. Now. What do you say? What can you say to make it okay?"

"Ugh," Tony groaned, his face scarlet, his eyes screwed shut. He felt about two inches short. "Man, I am never going there again. Never. Oh my God..."

"Yeah, you will not, because every time your discipline slips a bit, you will remember this."

"Exactly... Thanks. I think," Tony said sheepishly. "You're supposed to be making me feel better, and here you are making me cringe."

"I asked permission first," Ziva giggled.

"Women. Always gotta have the last word."

"Sometimes, and that can be... complicated when there are two of us."

"How do you stop that kinda back'n'forth?" Tony asked, amused.

"I kiss her, or she kisses me. It is the only way," Ziva said and laughed.

"That's my preferred tactic, too," Tony chortled.

"Yeah, I learned it from a guy who used to shut me up that way. Funny thing? Jen also learned it from a guy. Guess which one?"

Tony had just taken a sip of coffee, and choked on it. He managed to put the mug down before laughing hard. Ziva just grinned at him. Laughter was good medicine.

Almost time to go. They worked together to strip their beds. The linens and towels went into a large laundry bag; duvets and blankets were folded and left on the bare mattresses.

"You want to spend the night at our place?" Ziva asked.

"Would Jenny mind?"

"Never," Ziva said firmly. She added with a grin: "Tomorrow, she will probably bring you breakfast in bed."

"That would be weird," Tony said.


"She's my friend, but she's still my boss."


"She's an American, too," Tony pointed out and shouldered his bag.

"Hmph... You are sure you have everything?" Ziva asked.



Tony followed Ziva into the kitchen where she wrote a thank you note and slipped a corner of it under a fruit basket on the kitchen table. She left the laundry bag near the table and took a knee to re-tie a sneaker lace.

"I said that Jenny's American, too, and you clearly disagree," Tony said. "You didn't qualify that."

"Jen's passport is American, and her accent is American, but her personality and her way of thinking are... not American. She is fifty and for fourteen years of her life—more than half of her career—she has lived outside of this country, and it shows. When I first met her, I was... astonished at how easily she accepted her surroundings and the culture that went with it. That was in Egypt, and I was even more shocked to find out it was her first assignment there. The other two Americans on the team were fish out of water. I got to compare her with other Americans, and to consider who she really is. American? No. She is just... Jen."

"So that friendship started how long ago exactly?"

"Eleven years," Ziva said softly.

"You're all shy now," Tony noted fondly.

"We have a three-hour drive home. It suddenly seems like a very long time."

"Maybe I shouldn't spend the night."

"No, you must. You will just have to put up with... mush."

"Jenny might not be comfortable—"

"Sh'tuyot. Nu kvar," Ziva chortled. Nonsense. Come on already.

"Ani ba," Tony muttered. I'm coming. But halfway to the door he stopped. "I didn't even think before saying that. You're a terrible influence."

"That is Jen's line... Yallah," Ziva said and tugged on Tony's sleeve. "I am not a bad influence. You are just good with languages. McGee complains all the time that what takes him hours to learn, you pick up in a few minutes only."

"He's not that bad. He's got this idea that we can speak Hebrew when we don't want suspects to know what we're saying."

"And that appeals to the bit of you that wants to be James Bond?"

"Nope. It just makes sense. And y'know that if we eventually list Hebrew as a language asset, we'll earn a little extra each month?"

"Yes. I speak five languages fluently, and that was and is reflected on my paycheck."

"Where do I put the key?"

"Under the doormat," Ziva threw over her shoulder.

She was already halfway to her car.

"I got an idea we're gonna get a speeding ticket," Tony said while jogging over.

"That would constitute a delay, so no, I will not exceed the speed limit."

Tony snorted a laugh and dropped the hatch door to close the trunk. Ziva had started the car before he got in but as usual, like a good Israeli, she waited for him to buckle up before reversing, turning, and heading down the driveway.

After all that banter, Ziva had expected more of the same but Tony was mostly quiet, and she left that alone.

She was glad that she was used to men, glad she was able to put away feminine fussing (albeit with effort, sometimes) and was able to be enough of a guy that men like Tony could relax around her. It would be a little different later, with Jen, but Ziva had an idea that Tony was expecting that, possibly even looking forward to being fussed over a little. Just a little; not too much, Ziva thought, and reminded herself to remind Jen that too much of a fuss would probably make Tony uncomfortable.

Jen opened the door before Tony and Ziva had reached the front porch. She laughed when Ziva handed her bag off to Tony, and jogged the last few steps to the doorway.

"The expected mush," Tony teased.

Ziva ignored him and hugged Jen tight. She wasn't expecting a kiss, because Jen was usually rather reserved in that area, but she got one, and it wasn't hurried. It also wasn't as long as Ziva would've liked, but their guest was by now standing just a couple of feet away.

"I suppose I have to behave," Ziva said.

"If you don't, he's going to run away," Jen chuckled.

"Nah," Tony said, stepping inside. "Dinner smells way too good. What is it?"

"Carbonade Flamande?" Ziva guessed.

"Mmm-Hmm," Jen said and shut the door.

"Fancy name for..?" Tony asked.

"Belgian beef and beer stew."

"I'm suddenly really hungry," Tony said.

"Good. Go put your bags down," Jen said.

"Bossy, bossy, bossy..." Ziva ragged. "Tony, you see what I come home to every day?"

"I'm not saying anything," he chortled.

"Wise," Jen said, smirking. Then: "Ziva, I prepped the guestroom at the end of the hall."


Jen wasn't alone in the kitchen for long. When Ziva and Tony got there she promptly handed over the job of peeling and mashing potatoes to them. Carbonade Flamande is a winter dish. This would probably be the last time it would be prepared in this kitchen, until the weather became chill again. When Jen said as much, Tony grumbled under his breath.

"What was that?" Jen asked.

"I usually steer way clear of heavy meals in summer, but I'll have to find a way to enjoy this one. I can't remember anything else that smelled that good."

"Certain foods smell much better," Ziva insisted. "Like falafel."

"Well, I've never had falafel," Tony said, deadpan.

"We will have to fix that," Ziva said.

"Oh goody," Tony said with a grin.

"I think you just got snookered," Jen chortled.

"I got what?" Ziva said.

"Duped," Jen giggled. "Bamboozled. Tricked."

"I do not mind being 'tricked' into falafel. Thank you, Tony."

"Do you ever win?" Tony asked Jen.

"That's classified."

"In case you think that that means 'no,'" Ziva said. "She is being nice to me."

"You two..." Tony said. He worked silently with the potato masher for a while, thinking, and eventually sighed quietly. It was better just to say it. "I'd really like to be able to try to have a relationship like yours."

"Heal up first," Jen said gently.

"Hi tzodeket," Ziva agreed. She's right. "Focus on feeling better. Afterwards, remember that just as no two people are alike, no two relationships are the same. To want something like our relationship—"

"That target is too small," Jen said.

"Right. So what you should want is something as good as our relationship," Ziva said.

"That target is huge," Jen said, and rubbed Tony's shoulder briefly. "And you're already one half of it."

"I'm a busted half right now," Tony admitted.

"Focus on healing up," Jen repeated. She thought first before saying, "I'll just be frank. For the next few months, stay away from the girls, and when the girls approach you, turn them down. The rebound bus offers free rides—"

"Free rides to a worse kind of hell," Ziva said. "Worse than the one you are in now."

"Good way to make your point," Tony said, and swallowed a lump in his throat. His voice cracked anyway when he said, "There's a worse kinda hell than this one? No way do I wanna go there."

"And we don't want you to end up there," Jen said.

Tony nodded and didn't care that he'd become a little tearful. At least the damn tears had actually arrived this time. He mumbled thanks when Jen took the masher out of his hand and replaced it with several tissues plucked from a box. She let him wipe his eyes before tugging him into a hug.

"Two things. One, I'm sorry I didn't notice that you were down-in-the-dumps."

"I hid it pretty well," Tony said.

"Uh-huh. And two, I am not your boss when you're in this house," Jen said quietly and let him go. She looked Tony in the eye, and said, "Got me?"

He nodded and blew his nose. He was about to blow it again when he frowned and turned to Ziva.

"You notice how she said 'Got me'?"

"In her I-am-the-Boss tone, yeah," Ziva chortled.

"I don't need to actually be the boss to issue orders," Jen drawled.

"Yes, ma'am," Tony said, smiling wryly.

Tony had gone to bed more than hour ago, and Ziva was unwinding alone in the study. Todd had dropped off some paperwork and a thumb drive earlier. Ziva plowed through the work methodically and after that she got on with clearing her email inbox. She was just about done when Jen walked in.

"Am I taking nightcaps up to bed?" Jen asked.

"Please. Scotch for me," Ziva said over the skitter of laptop keys. "Eser dakot?" Ten minutes?

"Be'seder." Okay.

Jen left the room, and Ziva finished typing and sent her second-last email reply. She paused when reading the last email, from a Mossad analyst with whom she had a rather strained friendship.

Meir was one of those 'spoiled-boy-men' that Ziva had described to Tony, and to make matters worse, he was the Sabra son of American immigrants. That, according to Ziva, had made Meir even worse than the regular kind of Israeli 'spoiled-boy-man.' He was twice as arrogant, with easily ten times the amount of privilege thrown in, and he had a misplaced sense of entitlement about as wide as the Strait of Hormuz. Still, he'd turned out to be a brilliant analyst, and during work hours no-one could fault his professionalism. Ziva thought wryly that Meir would've actually made a good director general one day, but this email was a thank-you note in response to a letter of recommendation that she'd written for him. By the end of the month, Meir would be on his way to the UK to work for a major international insurance company, as a conflict potential assessor. He'd be damn good at that, knowledgeable as he was of political and conflict climates the world over.

Ziva reread the sentence that had made her frown earlier, and zapped out a polite response to the email.

After a shower, she got into bed and sipped at her nightcap. Jen set aside her book and reading glasses and moved over to sit right beside Ziva, also with a glass. She'd had only a tiny sip from her nightcap before Ziva had come to bed.

"What's that frown about?" Jen asked.

"Something Meir said—"

"Your sweetheart cousin Meir, or annoying Mossad Meir?"

"The annoying one who I might never have to speak to again," Ziva said. "Anyway, he said in email that he was grateful for my recommendation, and he would hug me for it if he saw me again, even though I do not hug male colleagues."

"You hug Gibbs and McGee," Jen pointed out.

"But not Tony," Ziva said. "I have hugged him exactly once, when I came back from Afghanistan... Now that I am thinking about it, I am glad you gave him a hug tonight. I may yet relax more around him, but I am not relaxed enough to hug him, especially not while he is feeling like this."

"Aah. He was attracted to you," Jen said.

"Not 'was'; he still is," Ziva said pointedly.

"Tony's as human as I am, and you're very attractive," Jen drawled. Ziva made no response. Jen said, "But you didn't think about the no-hug aspect until you read Meir's email."

"Mmm," Ziva said, frowning again. "I doubt I would have thought about it at all, if not for that. My instincts regarding certain things tend to be strong enough that I do not think about the actions they govern. That is not always good... Perhaps this time I should not have blindly followed that instinct."

"But if you hadn't obeyed the instinct outright, you would've still obeyed it to a degree. That would probably be the case even now that you're aware. So you hug him, but stiffly, and he might feel that you don't really want to do it. In the place he's in, overreaction to small things is a given."

"The slightest things feel like a disaster, or an affront, or even an attack. I have been there... Well, kind of. I did not feel for those other three lovers what I feel for you, and I am inclined to think that what Tony felt—No. What he still feels for Jeanne, is similar."

"Fate's such a bitch sometimes," Jen muttered.

"I have thought so several times in the last two days."

Ziva sipped the last of her scotch. She put the glass on her bedside table and turned out the lamp.

"I'm glad I didn't have to ask for that," Jen chuckled, and she blushed badly.

"I was going to just dim it, but I am not in the mood," Ziva said while flattening her pillows. "But if Tony was here and he was not feeling bad, I probably would be in the mood."

"And in that case, would you be grouchy if I said no?"

"No, because no-is-no."

Ziva wriggled down in bed and hugged Jen's thighs, and nuzzled at the soft skin above her hip. Jen smiled and combed her fingers through Ziva's hair.

"Are you not finished with that brandy?" Ziva said.

"Nearly... You suddenly sound really tired."

"Did not sleep well last night, a combination of missing you and worrying about him."

"Love's a burden sometimes," Jen said.

"One I am glad to bear," Ziva mumbled, half-asleep.

Jen drained her glass and asked Ziva to give her a little room; she shifted aside. Jen settled down quickly, and as expected, Ziva tucked into her side, hugging her waist and draping a thigh over her hips. Jen kissed Ziva's forehead, thinking that that was all she would want right now, but Ziva tipped her head back and came looking for more. They shared a long kiss, one that Jen mentally termed sleepy, and after, Ziva settled down again. It wasn't long before she began to snore softly. Jen smiled wryly in the dark. She doubted that she'd ever stop thinking that Ziva's snores were cute.

When Tony woke up and heard cooking noises coming from the kitchen, he got up and headed into a shower. No matter what Ziva had said, having Jen bring him breakfast in bed would be weird as hell.

He was halfway finished in the shower when he thought about Jeanne for the first time today. That was better than yesterday, when he'd woken up in the middle of a dream about her, and he'd been assailed by that damn ache from minute one. It was just as bad now, but he felt a little more able to deal with it.

Tony turned off the water and grabbed a towel. He rubbed his face dry and held the towel there a while, breathing in the pleasant scent of Jen and Ziva's preferred laundry detergent. They were both getting roses—lots of roses from him on their birthdays. Or he could get them roses tomorrow... Tony thought about that for a while and decided that his first idea was better. If he presented them with roses tomorrow, he'd get 'But you already said thank you,' from Jen, and from Ziva he'd get, 'But it is not my birthday.'

Women, Tony thought, and rolled his eyes. He paused while dressing, and mentally corrected that: Professional women in law enforcement. He had to admit that women like Jen and Ziva were easier to get along with than women outside of law enforcement. Next time it might be smart to date someone who knew what his job entailed, because it was her job, too. However, that thought was as maybe. He was in no rush to get involved again.

When he arrived in the kitchen, all the little hint-scents of breakfast that he'd been smelling since he woke up, became a wall of mouthwatering aromas. Tony's stomach growled loudly.

"Geez. Feels like I haven't eaten in a year... G'morning."

"Boker," Ziva answered, and opened the oven.

"What's that?"

"My version of pashtida. Ordinarily it is like a quiche, but my pashtida is crossed with a potato bake."

"It's the reason why I need StairMaster," Jen hollered from the basement.

"As if," Ziva whispered to Tony. "She slaves on the StairMaster because she is vain of her ass."

Tony snorted a laugh and decided it was best not to comment. He topped Ziva's coffee mug and filled a mug for himself. Jen eventually appeared in the kitchen, red-faced and sweating, and marched right out without a word to anyone. Shower, Tony guessed.

"How often does Jenny work out?" Tony asked.

"Upper body, with weights, twice per week. StairMaster three days per week. And she really was joking about the pashtida– she does not put on weight just by eating which, when stress has caused her to lose weight, is something that annoys her. She works out just to keep fit. Naturally skinny people are not naturally fit; they must exercise, like everyone else... Ma shlomcha ha'yom?" How are you today?

"Still hurts like hell, but I'm not as down as I was yesterday," Tony said.

"Good. Now you are starting to cope," Ziva said.

"Feels like it," Tony said, nodding.

"I called Ingrid last night," Ziva said, referring to her shrink. "She knows the basics. You have a four p.m appointment on Wednesday."

"Thanks. Just hope a case doesn't make it so I'm elsewhere."

"I called Gibbs, too. No matter what, you will be able to keep that appointment... Tony, if you do not take care of yourself, you will not be able to do your job."

"That's exactly what I was thinking," Tony said.

Tony had expected to be on his way home soon after breakfast, but he'd ended up staying to lunch. It was late afternoon when he firmly told his hostesses that he had to go. He was a bachelor, and laundry and housework were weekend chores that he hadn't yet taken care of.

When he came downstairs with his bag, Ziva took it from him, and headed to the front door. That left Tony alone with Jen.

"I'll talk to Doc Paulson tomorrow. He'll mark Friday off as psych leave," she said. "If you need more time off, just tell me, and I'll talk to him again."

"Thanks, but working, being in company, that'll be better, I think."

"If that changes..."

"I'll speak up," Tony said, nodding. After a pause, he said, "You'd offer that time to other agents, right?"

"Of course," Jen said seriously. "You won't be the first. I've already suggested that several people on my staff take a few mental or emotional health days... But I didn't hug them."

"I got a hug cos I'm special," Tony said with a grin.

"More like especially trying," Jen chortled.

Tony got another hug, but this one was different. Last night he'd clung to Jen and she'd felt like a rock. Today he was more aware of his head-and-shoulders height advantage, and the fact that she felt as petite as she looked. He was definitely feeling better.

"Thanks for the loan of your Mossad officer."

"I'd say 'anytime,' but no. Emergency 'loans' only," Jen said and laughed. While walking Tony to the front door she said, "But feel free to drop by. That's an 'anytime' invite... See you tomorrow."

"Yeah, bright'n'early," Tony said.

He gave Jen a wave and strode along the walk to the garage. In the car he buckled his seatbelt, and as Ziva started the Mini, he reached out and knuckled her jaw gently.


"Always welcome," Ziva said. She kept an eye on the rear-view mirror and backed her car of the garage. "If the guys are not available, you must just call and come to our place, whenever you need some company. Or at least call me, and I will go to your place. Okay?"

"Yeah. I can see one of those two things happening over the next... however-long," Tony said. "But you might get sick of me."

"If that was ever going to happen, it would have happened already," Ziva stated. "Although, there have been a few times when I have wondered why I put up with you."

"Back atcha," Tony chortled.

"So then we are square."

"Speak for yourself," Tony said, donning a pair of fashionable shades. "Nothing square about me."

"You are going to be just fine," Ziva drawled.

"Seems that way," Tony said with a small smile.

The End

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