The elevator was pitch-black when he first pried his eyes open by sheer force of will.
No, scratch that.
It actually wasn’t pitch-black; he could see the outline of Ziva’s body lying atop him. Ziva’s very stiff, very still body.
“Ziva,” he tried to say, and what made him panic wasn’t that she didn’t respond, but that his voice didn’t make it past his throat, anyway. Oh lord, he had to wake her up; he had to make sure she was alive and conscious, but he couldn’t say anything. He willed down the screams that struggled to make it past his lips and tried again. “Ziva!”
She moaned, a long, drawn-out sound that managed to both shake him to the core and restore all sanity to him at the same time. “Zi,” he whispered again, and she hummed into his shoulder.
“Tony,” she answered, and he thought he heard tears in her voice. “You’re hurting me.”
“What?” he asked, and it was utterly ridiculous that his heart could’ve dropped into the pit of his stomach when he was still lying down.
“Let go of me,” she ordered painfully, gently squeezing his hand that she held, and he suddenly noticed that his other arm had her torso in a death grip.
He relaxed his arm, trying to ease the pressure, but he couldn’t let go of her. Not yet. Not when the mere thought made his breath choke, as if her very existence was dependent on his holding onto her. As if something might happen to her if his arm ever left her body.
It was ridiculous, really, since he could probably count on one hand the number of times they’d hugged in their seven years of knowing each other.
But he couldn’t stop focusing on her body, on making sure that she was with him; so much so that he missed the fact she was lightly brushing her thumb over the back of his hand until she cleared her throat.
“Calm down,” she said, and he blinked in confusion.
“You are breathing very loudly and quickly, like you’re about to have a panic attack.”
“Well, y’know, half an elevator did just fall in on us,” he pointed out.
“That is no reason to panic.”
“No reason to panic?” he repeated with acute disbelief. “Yeah, Ziva, I’m thrilled about the situation we’re in. It’s my dream for you to be on top of me because a bomb went off and you fucking thought you could protect me.”
“Shut up,” she snarled, loudly and sharply, and he did. Because she almost just died, and so did he. “I need to think about how we can get out of here.”
“Can’t we just wait for the rescue team?” he questioned weakly. A feeble query if he’d ever made one, but at least Ziva didn’t laugh at him. Instead, she just sighed and ran her thumb across his skin again.
“No. Because a rescue team could take hours, and there are other people out there who need … help, and—I don’t know what our situation is, but I do not want us to die of shock or hypothermia or … something.”
He breathed out. “Geez, ninja, way to keep positive.”
She made a head movement against his shoulder which made him think she was shifting closer, but he still twitched when he heard her voice right beside his ear, her breath tickling him.
“You have not called me that in a while.”
“What, ‘ninja’? I know you too well to think it’d be a good idea to use it on a regular basis.”
She was quiet for a moment. And then, “I got us into this mess.”
“No, you didn’t,” he answered, his own voice warningly sharp against her self-blame. “We got us into this mess.”
She didn’t argue. And had the throbbing in his head not steadily gotten worse in the past five minutes, he would’ve been wise enough to ask why.
“We could just climb out the ceiling,” he suggested. “There’s a nice big hole in it for us, anyway.”
She laughed, a gurgling sound that had his heart rate going up in the bad way.
“That’s not blood, is it?” he asked anxiously, and he could hear her pause as she tried to figure out where he was going with this.
“No,” she answered eventually. “I am not bleeding from anywhere … I think.”
“However, you hit your hea—”
“Ziva, don’t you dare change the topic. You think?”
“I don’t know,” she snapped. “It hurts!”
He let the darkness of the elevator absorb his stunned silence. Scenarios of the worst kind ran through his brain; broken ribs, broken backbone, an unasked-for amputation of a leg … Ziva didn’t often admit to being in pain, after all. But she was shivering now, and he had to focus. That she was alive was the most important thing.
“Can you move?” he asked her, wanting an account of her injuries.
She replied after an eternity, and when she did, she sounded perilously close to tears again. “Yes.”
“See, I’m just wondering if we should maybe get you into a more comfortable posi—”
“Are you comfortable?”
“Well, I got a twinge in my neck, but other than that I’m fine.”
“I just … do not know if I should mov—I mean, I do not know what I have … if I have broken anything, and—”
“Okay, okay,” he said reassuringly, breaking into her slightly hysterical monologue. “We’re staying. We’re staying put.”
“Thank you,” she gasped out, sounding so scared that he couldn’t help the kiss he pressed to her temple.
“Well, at least we won’t die of hypothermia all wrapped up in each other this way,” he joked.
And then he wished he hadn’t, because her laughter was tainted with her tears.
“You should leave through the roof if you can. I cannot think of any other way for you to get out.”
“Why are you saying it like you’re not getting out?” he questioned numbly.
She exhaled with the patience of one who’d been injured enough times to get used to it. “I don’t know if I am,” she answered bluntly.
“I don’t know what my injuries are—”
“Forget it, David, I’m not leaving without you.”
“Don’t use that against me.”
“Who said I was using anything against you?”
“Don’t use my words and twist it into something … selfless. I got you stuck in this elevator. Don’t—”
“Ziva, what are you on about?”
“I got into an elevator, Tony. I am a trained ex-Mossad officer, skilled in disarming bombs and dealing with situations where bomb threats are a possibility, and I got into an elevator without thinking, and I brought you along with me.”
“Yeah, and I followed you.”
“I know that!”
“No, Zi.” He finally let go of her hand, if only to lift it to her cheek. He rubbed his thumb along her cheekbone. “I didn’t think when I followed you, either. I’m a trained NCIS agent—you think I don’t know what to do when there’s a bomb threat? This one’s on both of us.”
He felt her open her mouth once, twice, looking for the words which had gotten lost on their way to her lips. “It hurts, Tony,” she settled for whispering, and he didn’t know which of them was more surprised when he kissed her head for the second time in half an hour.
He didn’t even notice at first, since he was focused on not telling her that his back was killing him because of the odd position they were in. And it wasn’t like she made a big spectacle out of crying, anyway.
But then the one tear that he didn’t notice became two that he still didn’t notice, and then his dusty suit became damp in a way that suggested it wasn’t quite blood or other bodily liquids, and damnit, he still wouldn’t have noticedif she hadn’t started trembling in the slightest of ways.
But she had, and his heart dropped into the pit of his stomach again as he took in her state. Completely still apart from the trembling—he knew that because she was on top of him. Completely silent, not wanting to draw his attention to her, save for the quickened, erratic breaths from holding her sobs back. And really, if it hadn’t been for the wetness touching his skin, he wouldn’t have deduced that she was crying at all.
“Hey,” he said, wishing that a few comforting words could be enough this time. “Hey, it’s okay.” He awkwardly shifted the arm not holding her to gently cup the back of her head, running his fingers through her strands while fervently hoping she hadn’t a head injury, as well.
“I’m sorry, Tony,” she murmured hoarsely.
“Sorry for what? For crying? ‘Cause I tell you, ninj—”
“For everything. For dragging you into the elevator. For … Tony, do you realize we hadn’t checked if our own team had evacuated? Some job I did.”
“This one’s on both of us, remember?”
“You all saved me from Somalia.”
“You’re equating that to this?”
“You all saved me from Somalia,” she repeated in a surprisingly forceful manner for someone in pain and in distress, “and I could not even evacuate you. I … why didn’t I make sure Abby was safe? Or McGee? Wh—why didn’t I make sure you had left?”
“You think I would’ve gone without you?”
“You should have.”
“Why? Give me one good, logical, rational reason.”
And she fell quiet, her trembling worsening. “I don’t know,” she admitted tearfully.
“And that’s because you’re thinking like the Mossad agent trained to get innocent people out of the building, not the NCIS agent trained to delegate some things to her colleagues because after all, we’re not imbeciles. Even if the elevator says otherwise.”
“What if they’re not okay?”
“I bet they are. Gibbs is probably clawing his way through the rubble with the Jaws of Life right now, just waiting for the moment when he can headslap us into oblivion for taking the elevator in an emergency. You know he’d totally enjoy doing that—rescuing us so that he could kill us.”
“But what if he isn’t?”
Tony paused. He had no idea where in Heaven and Earth Gibbs was, really. “Then, I guess … we might have the dirt of another cemetery plot under our shoes.”
He hadn’t cried in a long, long time, but for some reason, he was very sure that his tears now joined hers.
“Y’know, you really should elope with me.”
It wasn’t until the words exited his mouth that he realized what he’d said, and he blamed his extremely banged-up head for the look he was sure she was giving him now.
“What?” she asked, her tone incredulous.
“I’m just sayin’, we could have our wedding like, in a hot air balloon or something. Something. It’d be totally cool.”
“How hard did you hit your head?”
“Very.” He breathed out in defeat. “Yeah, I honestly don’t know what the hell I’m rambling about.”
Her fingertips prodded his scalp. “Does it hurt?” she questioned, her voice worried.
“Ow. Well yes, a little bi—Ziva, stop prodding!”
Her hand shot back like it’d been burnt, even though he heard the pained intake of breath the movement caused her. “Sorry!”
“It’s okay,” he said, mingling his fingers with hers again because he hated the strange meekness she was showing right now. “Just don’t touch my head.”
She squeezed his hand, her palm warm against his. “We need to get you out of here. You need medical treatment.”
He scoffed. “Yeah, because you’re just fine and dandy.”
“I don’t know what ‘dandy’ is, but I’m fine.”
“If you say that one more—”
“I cannot move without being in a lot of pain, Tony. You need to get out of here and get help for yourself, and you could always bring help back later.”
“Why not? Have you been hiding your injuries from me?”
“No. But … what if you went down while I wasn’t here?”
She drew in a breath. “Then what happens, happens.”
“No,” he said decisively, because the very thought of it terrified him. “If you’re going down, David, I’m going down with you.”
“This is not a love story, Tony. You can’t just say things like that.”
“You heard me,” he countered sharply. “And speak for yourself.”
He didn’t know if her silence this time was born from shock, incomprehension, or something else altogether.
“I wasn’t,” she spoke up softly, almost timidly, after eons.
He blinked, his overwhelming tiredness and the heavy silence in the elevator having lulled him into a sense of semi-consciousness. “Hmm?” he managed. “Wasn’t what?”
“I wasn’t … I was not speaking for myself.”
A few more blinks. He was finding it increasingly hard to concentrate; he couldn’t remember what they’d been talking about, let alone try to interpret her cryptic remark. “Ziva?”
She shifted again, her breathing jagged as she pressed her face into the curve of his neck. His hand came up to the back of her head again of its own accord, fingers tangling through her strands and stroking her scalp gently. So maybe it wasn’t the most conventional method of comforting someone, but he could feel grief radiating off her in waves despite her reluctance to admit to it, and there wasn’t much else he could do.
“Tell me about that elopement,” she mouthed against his skin, and he relaxed. That he could do.
And that was when he realized he’d caught up with her train of thought.
“Well,” he began, his heart beginning to thump again, “I guess you’re not big on grand gestures, but I have just the thing for us.”
The Jaws of Life did come for them, in the end.
There was a loud screech as the rescue team pried open whatever they had to pry open, and the elevator shook with the vibrations.
“Do you hear Gibbs up there?” Tony asked Ziva, and she shook her head mutely, her eyes wide. He turned away and listened again.
Another screech, and the elevator vibrated again.
“You’d think they’d be a bit more careful with both of us in here,” he muttered darkly.
“I—I don’t think that’s the rescue crew.”
“What?” He turned to her just as there was yet another loud screech, and the floor jerked beneath them.
And then the lights went dark.