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we need space (you should stay at your place)

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She wonders why he bothers trying to sneak around anymore.

From the second he hesitates as he stands up from his desk, exiting the bullpen slowly, Ziva already knows that he’s going to do a loop of the partition walls and try to move in behind her shoulder. It’s a move Tony has tried to perfect over the years, as though he hopes she’ll one day lose her innate understanding of her surroundings or he’ll suddenly become unpredictable in his constant patterns.

This particular time, his loop of the bullpen doesn’t take long and he is soon hovering behind her. She lifts a hand to quieten him before he has a chance to talk. His mouth opens against her finger. She pulls it away with a smirk.

“How do you do that?”

“I have told you before. I am a genius.”

“Ha, ha. Yeah.” Tony moves from behind her and perches on the edge of her desk. He moves a pile of paperwork carefully out of the way before it falls to the ground. Maybe he has changed. “You done yet?"

"I told you that if you asked that again I would not be held responsible for my actions. Place your palms on the table."

"I'm just-"

"Palms."

"Ziva.." The voice comes from over Tony’s shoulder, at the desk at the far end of the area. She forgets, sometimes, that they more often than not have an audience to their interactions. She supposes it’s lucky neither of them is embarrassed easily.

"He agreed."

"I just wanted to know if you needed any help. I know the new system can be tricky; it's taking you a while..." 

Ziva can hear a smugness in Tony’s voice even as she focuses her attention on her computer screen. She elects not to tell him that she'd had to start again because she accidentally deleted her first attempt.

“The day I ask for computer help from you, Tony, is the day I require medical assistance.”

“Oh yeah? That’s nice. Real nice. I’ll remember that the next time I find you crawling around on the floor mumbling about the evil internet cables.”

"What is your problem?"

"My problem? I don't have a problem. The closest I have to a problem is you, Mon Ziva. The perennial pain in my ass."

"Perennial? What is your problem?" McGee pipes up again from his desk, though he doesn't look away from his computer.

"What; I can't know big words?"

"Not perennial, no."

"Well excuse me for expanding my horizons, Special Agent."

"I get it. You've been spending too much time together."

“What are you talking about?”

"Co-dependency. Ever heard of it?"

"Doesn't ring a bell."

"Co-dependency implies you are choosing to be around each other. We are not."

Ziva has always had a little fascination with the idea of knowing someone 'too' well. An abstract concept, of course: something other people describe that sounds so far removed from her own life Ziva has always viewed it with scepticism. Perhaps she understands now, though.

She’s reminded of the witness this morning (or was it late last night?) who asked them what it was like working with your spouse.

She lifts her head to look at her partner properly. He’s perched on the edge of her desk, over the corner, and his legs are crossed at the ankle. He’s got his hands resting against the surface and Ziva can see the muscles in his forearms straining though she doesn’t let her gaze dwell, drawing her eyes upwards to his face. He’s watching her, and she tries not to linger on the fact she is in no way surprised.

The air is threatening to become heavy between them. Proximity can do that even now, with years of water and who knows what else under the bridge.

There’s a fleck of stubble on the side of his face that he missed while shaving. She stifles a smile.

"You know, Tony, I have to agree. Lately it feels as though I never get five minutes to wash you off myself."

"Oh yeah?" Tony raises an eyebrow and Ziva hits him on the arm.

“That’s disgusting.”

“Me?!” Tony turns his head towards McGee with indignation and Ziva settles back into her chair with a smirk.

“Seriously. When was the last time you spent more than six hours apart?”

“Impossible question - I haven’t got six hours sleep in years, McGoo.”

“That’s really the only time you get away from each other?”

Ziva thinks it best to avoid mentioning the handful of times lately they’ve fallen asleep at their desks, or in the car, or on the sofa, side by side. Tony’s eyes flick to her and she sees him thinking the same thing.

“It’s called being partners. You’re telling me Gibbs doesn’t drive you crazy?”

“We manage to get through a single day without arguing with each other.”

“We don’t argue.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Professional disagreements.”

Ziva remembers their last big blow-up, a petty squabble over which one of them a witness had been hitting on. They'd had similar arguments once or twice before, and maybe when they first met one or both of them would've made a half-joking suggestion of a three-way but there are 10 layers of reasons now that stopped them, no matter how much their form of flirtatious banter lived on.

“Professional is not the word I would use,” Ziva begins to object, but senses she’s not exactly disputing the point. “But.. generally speaking, we do not have any problems.”

“Disagreement is healthy. Stuck in a car with Ziva all day, you’d understand.”

“Oh, that is..” Ziva begins with a huff but the challenge in Tony’s expression makes her stop. She doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction just yet.

"I'd rather that than what I get trapped in a car with Gibbs not making a sound for 8 hours."

"Oh yeah? You think?” Tony's tone is sarcastic and a little deranged and Ziva can feel her eyes rolling on pure instinct. "I'm not so sure. Sometimes I think I'd take a little radio silence over Israeli rap and showtunes."

"When have you ever let me choose the music?" 

"There's a reason, Ziva, and that's because I would be very sad if I had to murder you."

"Like you would stand a chance."

Hypothetical conversations detailing how they could murder each other are a semi-common occurrence on days like these. Generally, it's also the moment Gibbs chooses to enter.

It’s only by way of miracle he doesn’t now.

“Wanna bet?”

“Try me.”

Ziva holds his gaze for a moment, revelling in the sharp challenge in the shine in Tony’s eyes. She always feels a little thrill when she has that effect on him, even now – seeing the way she can cause them to flicker in excitement.

She allows it to linger for another moment, challenging him to look away first. When he doesn’t, she turns back to her computer, and she feels the weight of his hesitation before he stands up from the edge of her desk and returns to his own.

"I can see why that witness thought you were a married couple."

"You don't think I could do better?" Tony’s voice is further away now, presumably sat back down, but she still doesn’t look. “I’m wounded.”

"Hah." Ziva guffaws, and looks up to find Tony regarding her. She looks away again, keeping her cool as she raises her eyebrows at her screen. "I am the one she was looking at with sympathy, Tony."

"You're right. Women love humility."

"Then it is a wonder you are not still a virgin."

McGee breaks the silence with a delighted laugh but Tony's own lack of response makes Ziva wonder if she's taken it too far until she looks back at him and sees the wheels turning. Smirk on his face.

“What is all this, anyway? Is this your way of talking us into covering while you get an early night?”

The change in subject seems to startle McGee as much as it does Ziva.

“Is – what? You think that’s what’s happening here? That's the exact opposite of what I was saying. I just think.. maybe it'd be good to spend some time apart."

"We are perfectly capable of spending time alone, McGee. We are not seeing each other tonight, for example."

Tony catches Ziva's eye. It's true they don't have plans. But then again, nor did they last night, and she'd woken up at 4:30am sunk into his couch with his arm over her stomach.

“Are you sure you do not want our help?”

“Honestly, I think I’d rather do it all myself and you guys leave me alone.”

"It's part of our charm, McGee. It's the reparté. The.."

"Pah." Ziva wishes the ground would swallow her whole the second the word leaves her mouth.

“See that? That’s what I’m talking about.”

“Shut your prap, DiNozzo.”

“In the spirit of partnership, I’m not even gonna comment on that. That’s the compromise we’ve got.”


Ziva heads to the gym on the way home from work, and refuses to acknowledge to herself that she's trying to think of ways to fill her time. She'd promised herself since she aligned herself with NCIS over Mossad that she wasn't going to allow work to consume her life, but as it turned out reality doesn't quite follow that vow.

She knows it isn't just work that usually fills her time. Of course she does. But having their relationship questioned by a witness, hearing it from McGee's mouth - the silently accepted bought to the fore by a third party, has made her feel self-conscious and defensive at the idea she's reliant on someone other than herself. Reliant on Tony, which is a dangerous prospect no matter how much she tries to ignore that fact.

She knows that, on the surface, there’s nothing untoward about the time they spend together. They’ve got very good at toeing the line over the years, always stopping before things go a little too far. But familiarity is not something she’s had much of an opportunity for in her life, and she supposes this is why. She’s never seen much of a point in getting close to people knowing there’ll be a day when it’s not possible anymore. The aimless wandering around her apartment now, stubbornly refusing to contact him, is proof enough of that.

Ziva’s in bed by 10pm for the first time in years. When her phone beeps, she manages a good 30 seconds of stoicism before turning over to check it.

You awake?

She doesn’t smile. She doesn’t.

No.

Liar.

What is it, Tony?

I'm bored. Don't tell McGee.

I find it hard to believe you cannot last one evening without work anymore.

Maybe I’d be embarrassed if you weren’t replying within 5 seconds.

I am in bed.

Going to sleep. She adds before he can comment. 

Really? Already? Party animal.

Some of us prefer not to nap at our desks during the day if we can help it.

You do that more than I do!

It has been a long couple of days and I was looking forward to some relaxation.

Maybe you just miss me.

Do you really think that after days without escape from your company I would be sat here pining after you?

Yeah, kinda.

Think again.

Ouch…

Don’t tell me that your ego is so weak that that is enough to damage it.

You think I have an ego?

I can see that you are missing me, Tony, and I am sorry to disappoint.

Don’t flatter yourself.

Very well :-) Goodnight, Tony.

Yeah yeah. Alright.

Maybe a little.

Don’t tell McGee.

Night x