Author: Mechabeira PM
"You can still swim, can't you? You're going to have to tow her in, DiNozzo. We aren't going to let her just tread water."Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Drama - Tony D. & Ziva D. - Chapters: 36 - Words: 191,744 - Reviews: 989 - Favs: 243 - Follows: 401 - Updated: 03-29-13 - Published: 03-15-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7928553
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Ah! Forgot my AN. Thank you, everyone and I apologize for the time it took. As usual. Very sorry and lots of love. Thanks girleffect, Amilyn, Chemmie. xoxoxo.
. . . .
Doing everything by halves—
you've got a real flair with excuses.
-Imogen Heap, "Loose Ends."
Suburbia. Wide, tree-lined avenues, rolling lawns, basketball hoops hung over garage doors. Everything clean and well-maintained. Inviting. Rivka had dreamed of a place like this—a place where their two girls could grow up worrying about piano lessons and science tests rather than suicide bombers and air strikes—but moving meant abandoning his career and he'd not hear of it. He scoffed at himself. Ridiculous. Tali and Ari were dead because of his intractability, and Ziva was...he did not know. She'd sounded terrible on the phone and professed to being ill with pneumonia, but hadn't denied him when he'd asked to come visit. He wondered, now, watching the hoary city drift by, if it wasn't a good decision to come.
The driver pulled up in front of the only house with a wheelchair ramp. A mature oak tree presided over the snowy yard. Gibbs was out front, spreading rock salt on the walkway. He lifted his head when Eli got out of the car, but made no motion to greet him.
"I am here to see Ziva," Eli said quietly.
"Yeah," Gibbs replied. It was all but a growl. Eli pictured a guard dog at the end of its chain, ears flattened, teeth bared.
He mounted the steps. "May I go in?"
He got a curt nod in return. The coffee can of rock salt went into a bin at the end of the porch. "She's in the office, working," Gibbs called over his shoulder. "Better knock." He slammed the lid. "And take your shoes off."
Eli stepped out of his chukka boots and shed his overcoat, skin prickling. The house was spacious and warm—hot, really. Was that for her—was Ziva perpetually cold and sick? He breathed out noisily, rolled his shirtsleeves and wandered, touching photos and tchotchkes, peering through the window in the pool door. The frame had been widened to accommodate her wheelchair. An odd embarrassment crept upon him; he'd convinced himself that she was still whole and capable. He'd deliberately forgotten how pale and sick she'd been when he'd seen her in the hospital. How weak. How scared.
He turned sharply, feeling like an intruder. He tiptoed down the hallways and pushed open the first door on his right. Ziva was parked at a desk with her back to him, curled over a sketchpad, right hand scratching away with a charcoal pencil.
Eli bit back tears; she was so fragile. Her spine was visible through a heavy cotton sweater. Her hair was up in a messy knot at the crown of her head. He swallowed; he could easily span her throat with one hand. Her elbows were knobby, and her hands—what he could see of them—were loose and sloppy. A nylon strap held the pencil to her palm. She was humming a tune under her breath. He didn't recognize it.
"Ziva?" he asked. She jumped and yelped, startled. He put his hands out. "Ziva I am sorry, but we were scheduled for two o'clock. Have you forgotten?"
She whirled around with a jerk on each wheel and pinned him with a look of surprise that shifted into something else—rage. "I told you rule. Visitors are to call before they arrive."
"I am sorry," he said again. Her stilted speech was unnerving and she was ghastly pale.
"Sorry?" She paused to cough harshly into her crooked elbow. "For putting your needs first? You were never sorry before."
Her right hand tightened around the drawing pencil. Her tiny, white knuckles looked like little bird bones. Eli wanted to hold them. "Ziva, I am responsible for the safety of a nation—"
She stiffened with rage, threw down the pencil, and scooped something off the desktop. It soared toward his head, glanced off his temple, and shattered against the wall. He put his hand up, shocked.
"You are responsible to me!" she shouted. "Not Israel!"
Something else flew and broke. He didn't protect himself from the shrapnel. "Ziva—"
A ceramic bowl narrowly missed his face. "To me!" she shrieked, face red with rage. She launched another bowl and an empty picture frame, growling deep in her throat. "You left! You came and you left!" She swept a box of pencils onto the floor. They clattered like rain. "I needed you!" she railed, throwing a coffee mug at him. "I needed you and I wanted you! How you could not see that?" More projectiles rained down on him and then she stopped and panted, out of steam.
Her rage left Eli breathless, too. "Please stop," he begged, rooted to the spot. He would not get closer without her permission. "I am worried you will hurt yourself."
"The only person who will hurt is you!" Her eyes narrowed. She nailed him once more with something ceramic. It bounced off his ample gut, hit the floor and broke. Ziva, out of weapons, backed up. The rigid backrest of her wheelchair bumped against the edge of the desk and she snarled in frustration. "I hate you," she spat. "I hate you!"
"I am sorry. May I sit down?" he asked meekly.
The rage didn't disappear, but she pointed coolly at a chair. "Yes," she granted formally.
Her fury was terrifying; her calm was worse. He turned the office chair to face her and sat. Their knees nearly touched. Would she feel it if they did? "I am sorry," he repeated, itching to touch her. "I made what I thought was the best decision, but now I see it wasn't." Ziva sucked in a breath, prepared to launch into another tirade, but he held up his hands. "I know you are so furious, but can you listen?"
"No," she argued petulantly. "I cannot. You are a horrible man. You are selfish. You are self-centered and weak and childish." Her voice rose again to a fever pitch. "You abandoned me to strangers and colleagues because you could not cope with my disability. That is cruel. I hate you!"
He stared at the floor, saddened; she was right. If Eli had to look at his daughter every day as she was now—frail, weak, wheelchair-bound, unable to speak or work—he'd go crazy. What did she do all day—sit in her fancy home office and draw pictures?
Her shoulders came down slightly. "I suppose."
He nodded and swallowed. "You have been hurt before," he said lowly. "You have been hurt, and always because of me and my loyalties. My patriotism. I knew when Director Vance called that it, again, was my fault. I could not allow it to happen again. Do you understand?"
She nodded impassively.
"I knew Agent Gibbs and Tony would take care of you. I knew they would do the right thing for you."
He put his hands on his knees. Ziva pulled away, angled herself sideways and set the brakes with a flip of a knob on each side. Her weak little hands twisted together in her lap.
He wanted to cry for both of them. "I knew they would love you the way you deserved."
Ziva's expression didn't change. He shook her head. "I wanted you," she said, voice tiny.
Eli staggered under the weight of his guilt. "I did the wrong thing."
"I wanted you. There is no one else, Papa, only you and me. And you were gone."
He reached out one finger and brushed hers. She jerked away. He had to swallow tears. "I am a hated man, Ziva," he said delicately. "And you are so vulnerable. I could not stay and allow one of my enemies to hurt you again."
"It was too late," she replied, brow furrowed. "It was too late. You...you could not..."
"You have men to protect you," he said heavily. "Gibbs, Tony, everyone at NCIS." Ziva scoffed, shook her head, and pinched the skin between her brows. He puzzled, apologetic. "Are you having pain?"
"Yes, you," she snapped.
Eli recoiled. "I am sorry, Ziva."
"Stop that. Every time you say I get mad again."
He ducked his head, chastened. "Is there something I can get for you?"
She dropped her hands with a sound of disgust. "Kitchen," she ordered, pointing. "I need a drink of water." He rose and stood aside so she could go ahead of him, but she shook her head. "Go in the pantry. There is a broom and pan—please bring it to me. I need to clean this or I will puncture a tire."
"I can do it for you—"
"Go get me the broom and pan," she said slowly. She regarded him as if he were a disobedient child rather than the Deputy Director of Mossad, but he nodded compliantly, stepped over the mess and out the door.
Gibbs and Tony stood in the hallway. They were propped casually against the wall, arms crossed, having obviously been eavesdropping. As much as they could eavesdrop on screaming and shattering.
Tony was grinning, wide-eyed. His straight, white teeth gleamed. "Zi?" he called, not taking his gaze from Eli. "Ya alright?"
"I am fine," she called back wearily. "I broke the um...stuff I made with Cora."
"Can you make more?" He was still smiling proudly.
Ziva huffed. "Maybe. I am out of clay. I will need to see Arvin at the art store. Can you take me tomorrow?"
Eli raised his eyebrows. "She does art?"
"She draws and sculpts," he replied. "And paints occasionally, but has trouble with the texture of paint on canvas. She's still working out which medium she likes best." He poked his head in the door. "Should we go after—? Whoa, shit. You went berserker on his deadbeat ass, didn't you?"
He turned away, embarrassed. Gibbs was still leaning against the wall. A small smile was playing across his face. Eli stood up straight. "You think I deserved that, don't you?"
"Yep," Gibbs said glibly.
"You think I am a coward."
The smirk didn't fade. "Among other things. But if she's willing to have you here then I'll deal with it. Broom's in the pantry."
Eli retrieved it and pushed it into Ziva's small hands. Their palms brushed. Hers were callused. She swept the floor adroitly, even bending to reach beneath the desk. Everything was pushed into a long-handled dustpan and dumped in the trash. She jabbed them back at Eli. "Put these back, please."
She was staring at him when he closed the pantry door. "Are you staying?"
"I have a few things I'd like to discuss with you."
"Yes or no?"
She softened, but only a tiny bit. "Please sit down. I will make some coffee."
"I can help you," he offered, but she shook her head.
"No, I do not need your help. I am neither a child nor an invalid. Please. Sit. Down."
Eli sat at the table, next to the empty spot that was obviously hers, and watched her measure the grounds, fill the tank, and arrange mugs on the counter. She was careful—meticulous, really—but purposeful and adept. He marveled; maybe she was doing well.
"You are so capable," he mused once she'd joined him. "I am—"
"Surprised?" she injected snidely. "Did you think I would be some dithering, helpless imbecile, Papa?"
He folded his hands on the tabletop. "Ziva, you were so terribly ill when I saw you. I watched them turn you and suction you the way the doctors did when you were just born. I was terrified for you. And where we come from, people who sustain spinal cord injuries are often institutionalized because there isn't support in the community."
She scowled at him. "We are not in Israel and I am no longer Israeli. I have had a lot of rehab and I get a lot of support." She looked pointedly at Tony and Gibbs.
Her gaze meant but not from you and Eli felt low. He pulled an envelope from his back pocket. "Gibbs, Tony," he asked. "Would you mind joining us, please?"
"I do not need handlers!" Ziva snapped.
He gave her a sharp look, exasperated; he was tired of being picked on. "I know the funds I gave you before are in a shared account. I need all the accountholders present."
She rolled her eyes peevishly. "If this is more of your empty money..."
Eli ignored her childish foot-stomping. Metaphorical foot-stomping. He looked at her feet on the footplate. She wore soft, warm, grey boots. "I am about to retire," he said seriously.
Ziva snorted. "Is it nice to make that decision for yourself? I was not allowed." Gibbs nudged her. She gave him a look and pressed on. "Why I am supposed to care you are retiring? I am no longer Mossad. I am not even Israeli. Stop with the...the...you know, and tell us why you want to come. Want-ed."
He frowned and looked down at his papers. Ziva seemed to be declining. Her speech was even more stilted. A dark half-moon was blooming under each eye. He cleared his throat. "You are entitled to certain funds now. I am here to ensure you get them."
"I do not want it," she snapped.
"It's not mine; it's yours. It's money set aside for family and you are family."
She ducked and rubbed her eyes with her fists. There was something sweet in the gesture, childlike, though her words were sharp as knives. "Was I family when you abandoned me, Papa?"
"I was protecting you, Ziva."
"Is that what you've told yourself?"
Eli grew angry. "Would you rather I'd taken you back to Israel? Allowed you to spend the rest of your life in an assisted living facility, hidden away from the world because I do not know whom to trust with your safety? Would you rather that, Ziva? Would you rather spend your days alone instead of here, in your home, with your fiancé and your..." Father, he'd almost said. He blew out a breath and looked down at the envelope in his hands. His anger cooled. "I did the best I could, Ziva. I know you are angry. I know why you are angry, but I hope someday you can understand why I made the choices I made."
She snorted and opened her mouth but Gibbs stopped her with a raised hand. He was clearly enjoying Eli's groveling. "Move on."
He opened the envelope and laid out four forms. "This is access to two different bank accounts in Ziva's name—one in the US and one in Switzerland. They each contain liquid assets now that can either be reinvested or turned into cash. It's her choice. Or we can consolidate and have all the funds wired here."
"Wired here," Ziva said firmly. "If it is mine then I want it here."
"It's yours," he said mildly. "And I understand. I can have it done by tomorrow morning if you can sign here."
Ziva spun the form toward her but her eyes flickered and she swallowed convulsively. Her head lolled forward. Her fingers twitched. Eli brushed his hand over her arm. "Ziva?"
Her lashes fluttered. Tony put his hand on her shoulder. "She's alright. It just takes a minute." He cupped her cheek with his hand. "Well, most of the time, anyway."
Eli was aghast. "What?"
"Seizure," Gibbs said calmly. "Petit mal. She has epilepsy."
"Epilepsy?" he sputtered. "Shouldn't we take her to the hospital?"
And she was. Ziva was coming around, blinking, brows knit in confusion. Eli reached out and tentatively smoothed some flyaway curls back from her face. She let him.
Tony put his arm around her shoulder. "Alright, sweet cheeks?"
She nodded mutely and coughed again. "Where I should...sign?"
Eli slid the form closer and pointed to the X at the bottom of the page. "Here." There's a copy for each of us. Are you sure you're ok?"
"I am getting tired. You will have to go soon." She fell silent as she made her signature. Slow. Deliberate. There was nothing of the speed and recklessness he'd known before.
"Do you have these events often?"
"Seizures." The word was foreign on his tongue. He almost stuttered.
"Yes," she said with resignation. "I have brain damage. They happen. I take medication but it does not stop all of them."
She shoved the papers back at him. "No more than being abandoned by my father."
He took the blow as gracefully as he could and passed the forms to Tony. Ziva had another seizure—one more violent than the last. Her hands clenched on the tabletop and she grunted softly. Eli couldn't bear to watch but couldn't tear his eyes away. "Are they painful?" he asked softly.
Gibbs shrugged and took Ziva's hand. "Can't imagine they feel good."
It took her longer to regain consciousness the second time around. Tony rubbed her back in circles and smiled when she blinked at him. "Need a rest?" he asked, face close to hers.
Ziva nodded and looked disparagingly at Eli. "I normally rest in the afternoon, but I could not today."
He bit back an apology, fearing he'd invoke her ire again. "I understand. Are days hard for you?"
"Some," she admitted. She backed up and her chin lifted. "I am going to lie down for an hour and then I will prepare dinner. You may stay if you like, or not. It is your choice. I am making chicken." With that she whirled away from him, Tony in tow.
"She sleeps," Eli mused. "She sleeps in the day like a child."
Gibbs crossed his arms. "Yeah."
"Epilepsy. Paralysis. So many needs. Is it difficult to care for her?"
"She does most of it herself."
"But she needs help."
"And you help her."
"Me, Tony, Abby, McGee."
"You are here with her every day, caring for her, ensuring her safety."
Gibbs' eyes were ice. He lowered his voice. "It's a father's job to protect his daughter."
Eli's breath left him and he gaped, wounded. "Why do you think I trained her to be what she was?"
"A killer? Because you were willing to sacrifice her for your cause."
"Israel's neighbors hate her, Gibbs. I could not let my children..."
"Couldn't let your children go off on suicide missions? Couldn't let them be taken captive by Jihadi terrorists in Somalia?" He leaned forward and propped his elbows on the table. "You gave her to me like an unwanted puppy. Don't you dare try to convince me that you love her."
Eli rose. "Perhaps I should go."
"Can't finish a mission once you sabotage it."
"I can tell where I am not wanted."
"Quit feeling sorry for yourself. She asked you to stay for dinner." He stood up and pushed in his chair. "I got work to do. Clicker's on the table, newspaper's on the ottoman. Ziver will be up in a while."
He disappeared down the basement stairs. Eli paced the rooms, beginning in the beautiful, spacious kitchen and working outward in concentric circles. He ran his hands over the island, over the coffee table, over the television remote and Washington Post. Over dozens of framed photos, the curtains, the media stand, the painting hung over the sofa. Everything was well-made. Expensive. Ziva was spending her money well.
A trunk was positioned under the bay window. He lifted the lid. Inside were spare blankets and some old photo albums with Tony's name and the year in faded black ink. There was another book, too. Spiral bound, flimsy, obviously handmade. He teased it out of the mire, careful not to snag a handmade afghan, and held it before him. He squinted, needing his glasses.
The cover was a clear plastic report cover. Beneath was a photo of Ziva at a table, surrounded by some people he recognized and others he didn't. It was obviously a holiday or Shabbat; two small boys wore Bukharan kippot. One smiled at the camera from Ziva's lap. Everyone looked happy and well-fed.
He turned the page and found pictures as he'd seen her in the days after her accident—strapped down, unconscious, ghostly pale—and pictures that chronicled all the minute improvements she made. Pictures of Ziva sitting up, eating, sifting colorful cards with a woman who was obviously a therapist, standing with the help of a complicated contraption. She smiled bravely in most of them.
But others dragged at his conscience. He turned the page and found Ziva glowering at the photographer from her hospital bed. Her dark eyes were liquid and she had puffy, tear-stained cheeks. Her hands were splinted and stiff on the quilt. In another she was crying and clutching Tony's hand while a nurse tended a sore on her back. A bedsore. Eli couldn't bring himself to count the hours she must've laid there, in pain, while nurses poked and prodded. Or perhaps she was alone, languishing, while they chatted and played cards.
The photo on the facing page was even more disquieting. Gibbs sat on the edge of the bed, cradling Ziva like a child. She had her face buried in his shirt. The picture was a little blurry but the subject was clear: a fatigued father. A gravely ill child.
"A friend of ours put that together," Tony said, startling him. "We need to keep track of her progress in case she ever wants to apply to one of those boot-camp rehab programs in California or Georgia. We have a highlight video, too, like a football draft pick. Wanna see?"
"No, thank you," Eli said softly.
Tony flopped down on the sofa and kicked his boots up on the coffee table. "Suit yourself. Put that back when you're done. Ziva hates that thing. Refuses to have it lying around. And nice snooping, by the way. Glad to know you haven't lost your touch. It's our fault, though—we shouldn't have left you alone. You like football?"
"Real football," he answered, a bit confused. "Soccer, you call it."
Tony flipped on a match. Feijenoord was about to lose to PSV. "I don't hate you," he said calmly. He turned and pinned Eli was a wide, green stare. "I think you're corrupt. I'm wondering why the hell you're here and what you want and what kind of tricks are up your raw silk sleeves. I think you are a seriously shitty father. I think you are pathetic. I can't trust you, but I don't hate you." He turned back to the television in time to see a defender get pummeled by a cherry-picking striker. "And I kinda pity you, too, because Ziva and I have this great life and you can't be a part of it."
"She hates me," he mourned.
"She's pissed," Tony scoffed. "Would she invite you for dinner if she hated you?"
"To poison me."
He paused, mouth open. "Yeah, but she probably won't. She's a civilian and your lunk-ass corpse would be hard to explain."
"Gibbs would help her hide my body."
Tony took a swig of cold coffee. "Now he might hate you, but I doubt he'd let her get away with that. And did you see the muscle he's been building up since he's been home with her?" He whistled. "I won't be picking a fistfight with him any time soon."
"He has to lift her?"
"Sometimes. She can't get out of her chair if she's tired. Thing's got a bucket seat like a racecar."
"Did you have to put her in bed just now?"
"Yeah. Not a big deal. She's light."
"Rivka was petite. I did not notice before today that Ziva inherited her size rather than mine."
"Zi can't keep weight on. Pituitary problems."
Eli felt sick. "One blow to the head caused so many conditions?"
Tony turned, slowly, and glared at him. "Two blows, actually—one to her neck, which broke two vertebrae, and one to the back of her head, which caused a traumatic brain injury. But there were other injuries before that and they did all kinds of damage, Eli. All kinds. But thanks to some stupid, petty grudge—your stupid, petty grudge—she's a C7 quadriplegic and has Broca's aphasia, post-traumatic epilepsy, hypopituitarism, sensory processing disorder, and now pneumonia but she's getting over it. She has ten days left on the antibiotics."
"All of these problems, Tony, and you will marry her?"
The glare intensified. "Ziva is Ziva, not a diagnosis."
Eli nodded, thinking. "Will you have children?"
"Been talking about it."
"Not your business."
He sat back. "Would she let me see the children?"
"You are full of inappropriate questions. Ask her."
"Ask me what?" Ziva questioned. She was pink-cheeked from sleep but her eyes were clearer than before.
"Tony said the two of you are discussing marriage and children. Would you let me see them—my grandchildren?"
She cocked her head. One eyebrow rose. It was an expression he remembered from her childhood—one she wore when she was gauging her own stubbornness. "Maybe. And only if you play by my rules."
Tony dumped his cold coffee down the drain and put their cups in the dishwasher. "Chicken?" he asked her.
"In the refrigerator. Will you get the LeCreuset so I can start the Persian rice?"
The cast iron French oven clanked on the stove. She smiled softly at him. "Thank you, Tony."
He kissed her cheek and pointed at the cut-up bird. "Welcome. What do I do with this?"
"Rub with olive oil, garlic, and lemon."
Eli approached the other side of the granite island and put his hands down. "Are you making your mother's recipe?"
"No," she replied tartly. "I do not like lamb. I use chicken."
"You ate it before."
"I did not have a choice. Now either help Tony or leave the room. We are working." She returned to measuring rice—measuring without spilling a single grain—and added salt and sprigs of saffron to the pot. "Lid please, Tony."
He looked up from handfuls of fat and skin. "Messy hands, Zi."
She rolled her eyes. "Papa, can you put the lid on the pan, please? The cast iron is heavy. I am afraid I will drop it."
He was elated she asked and lowered the lid with pomp and circumstance. Ziva did not crack a smile. "Thank you. Please set the table. Dishes are kept in the end cabinet under the counter. Silverware above."
Eli set the table slowly, lining up the flatware and napkins the way he'd been taught by his mother's housekeeper. She loved him, called him ELL-ee rather than EE-lie, as was her custom, and lavished him with treats and affection. He'd wanted her approval the way he wanted Ziva's now.
"Is this playing by your rules?" he asked, stepping back.
She eyed the table over her pot of rice. "Yes," she said simply.
He stepped close to her and put his hand gingerly on her back. She let him but did not look up. "Ziva?"
"I love you. I promise, my daughter, I love you."
She looked up with big, wet, brown eyes. "I know," she replied. "But you have a terrible way of showing it."
. . . .
Eli's visit was not without fallout; Ziva's sobs woke Tony that night. Or maybe it was morning—he was too tired and worried to look at the clock. He dragged her against his chest and held her tightly, both arms around her in a bear hug. She tucked her hands under her chin and wet his t-shirt with tears.
Tony shushed her, stroked her back, her hair, her arms. Her skin was warm where it touched his and he wished a wet cloth would appear so he could cool her down. "Hey," he whispered, propping his cheek on her head. "I'm sorry."
Ziva cried harder. Her trembling increased. He tightened his grip. "I know you wanted to see him. It sucks that it hurts like this. Can I do anything to help?"
She shook her head and choked on a sob. A deep breath ended in coughing. Tony winced; her chest and throat sounded rough, but she closed her eyes and concentrated. It worked a little—her breathing slowed.
"Promise me," she begged, voice raw. She blinked and her wet lashes tickled him through his shirt. "Promise me, Tony."
"I promise," he repeated automatically. Whatever you need, baby."
"Promise me you will not abandon our children."
"I will not abandon anyone. Not our kids and not you." He stroked her cheek. It was hot beneath his thumb. "You ok?"
"I am tired. I need to sleep."
Tony brushed his thumb over her eyelids. "Then sleep. Why didn't you wake me sooner?"
"I did not want to," Ziva mumbled. She sniffled. Her breath hitched. "I thought he would only make me angry, but he made me very sad. And I feel guilty because I still love him and I do not want to."
"It's ok to love him. Or hate him. Or resent him, or wish him bad Pan-Asian cuisine. I like how you stood up for yourself today. I was proud."
"I was so angry," she admitted softly. "I wanted to hurt him."
"You nailed him in the head with a...what was that thing?"
"I do not know. It was my first project. Perhaps it is better as a missile."
He chuckled. She snorted and sniffled. "You feel crappy again?"
"Yes," she confessed. "I could not sleep because of my headache."
Tony sat up and brought her with him. "Then let's get you something for it.
"No," Ziva insisted. "No meds. I think I should go back to the doctor. Abba can take me in the morning."
"I'll take you," he said quickly.
He scraped his phone off the nightstand and sent a quick text to McGee despite the clock flashing 3:54am. He'd get it when he woke up. Or it would wake him up. Didn't matter. "I'll take you," he said again. "I want to go with you. Let Gibbs stay home and build his boat." He lay back down and she curled against him again. He held her, dimly aware of how warm her skin was on his. "Fever," he announced.
"Yes," she sighed, frustrated. "I want this gone. I do not care if they keep me in the hospital. I only want to feel better and come home."
"Me, too. I don't like when you're sick."
She hummed, drifting, and Tony joined her in the slow slide toward sleep. He kissed her brow and whispered laila tov just to make her hum again.
. . . .
Dr. Monroe wrote a scrip for a home nebulizer—Ziva would need daily treatments for a while—and told them to be patient. More fluids, more rest, less stress. Tony smiled when she didn't even recommend a set of chest x-rays and sent them on their way.
"Go home. Quickly home," she urged. "The cold air is bad for her. No coffee, no breakfast, just home and into bed. I can see you're tired, Ziva—take the time you need. I'll see you in a month for our regularly scheduled programming." She gave her a quick hug and left.
Ziva pouted. "I wanted a tea from our coffee shop. The one with the nice barista."
"No whining," Tony commanded. "You just cashed in your last 'get-out-of-jail-free card'."
She scowled at him and boosted herself into the passenger seat, pausing to cough before spinning her chair to dismantle it. "Jail for throwing bad pottery at my father?"
"It means she let you go, Zi."
She seemed to ponder that as he drove, but jumped when the pulled into the drive. "You think she wanted to keep me?"
He gave her his most charming smile. "I want to keep you," he said lowly.
He expected a smirk and rolled eyes, but her brows knit further and she looked away. "You promised."
"And I meant it. C'mon, let's go inside. This cold air is bad for my girl."
"Abba?" she called, swinging the door open. "We are back. I need a nebulizer. I will need it for a while but—oh. What is? Abba?" She was paused at the end of the hallway, where Gibbs had finally put up the custom frames he'd been laboring over. Twenty-five photos had been matted, framed, and artfully arranged on the wall. They spanned Ziva's life from birth to their holiday party.
The more recent photos included a particularly sweet one of Ziva with Abby, and another of Ziva sandwiched on the sofa between Tony and Gibbs. They were laughing in the photo, laughing at a sly joke she'd cracked, and each one had a protective arm around her.
Ziva brushed her fingers over it. "I like this one."
Gibbs stood at the top of the basement steps. Neither of them heard him come up. "Me, too," he said quietly. "You like 'em?"
She scanned all the photos, pausing at one of her with her mother on the beach in Eilat. "Yes," she sighed, blinking. "Ima."
Tony said lightly. "You're beautiful like her."
She blushed and wiped her eyes. "Thank you." She lingered over the last frames; they were blank behind the glass. "Um, why are some empty?"
Gibbs gave her a smirk. "Because the story ain't told yet." He kissed her temple and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Yesterday was rough."
"Yes," she agreed heavily.
"Heard you get upset last night."
She nodded. "Tony called you?"
"Heard you crying through the ducts."
She ducked her head and blushed deeper. "I did not know you stayed."
He crouched before her. "You think I'm going to walk out on my kid when she's that low?"
"No," she said, voice small. "But Tony was here."
"I know. I was running backup. After the way you trashed that office I was worried he'd need it."
She smiled and coughed. "I was so angry."
Tony got closer, protective. Ziva leaned into him. "I was awake for a lot of the night," she said quietly. "I did a lot of thinking. Can we talk?"
Gibbs started the coffeepot. Tony and Ziva went to the table, where she pulled a piece of paper from her under-seat storage net and smoothed the wrinkles out of it. "I made a list," she said. "I did not want to forget anything."
"A list of movies we're supposed to watch while you rest up?" Gibbs' palm was a comfort on the back of Tony's head. "Guess not," he wheedled, rubbing.
"Things I want to do," she informed them seriously. "Starting with this—I want to quit rehab."
They were both on their feet in a flash, shocked. "You can't!" Tony carped. He wrung his hands, anxious. "You can't quit! You're doing so well!"
Gibbs joined him in cajoling. "You're not ready, Ziver."
"Yes, I am," she maintained. "I can do more work later, but for now I can do what I can do. Even Devorah said I have plateaued. Petra, too. I will only go once a week now."
Tony sat, puzzled. "You've already planned this out?"
"With Devorah and Cora and Petra and Dr. Hess. Why do you think Dr. Monroe wants to see me in a month?"
"You scheduled your own appointments?" Gibbs asked, frowning.
"Yes, I do. I have also decided to start volunteering a little bit." She cleared her throat. "There is an organization for disabled IDF veterans here in the US. They're headquartered in New York City, but Adi works at their local office in Silver Spring. She thinks I might be a good fit. It will only be a few hours per week, but I think it will be good for me. Dr. Hess says it is time to reintegrate because..." she trailed off and blinked at both of them. Her eyes were enormous in her pale face. "Because I want to get married and start a family and that is a giant shove back into the Real World. Or so she said, anyway."
Tony went perfectly still, torn between bursting into tears of happiness and jumping out of his chair. His limbed warmed and went numb. His face grew hot. "You want to get married soon?" he begged. "Like soon-soon?"
"In May," she said quietly. "I found a few venues with free weekends. They are small—I do not want a crowd—but they are all accessible and..." she blushed. "And beautiful."
"Ok. We can take scouting trips whenever you're ready."
"And," she continued, looking pointedly at Gibbs, "I want to start a family. I want to be a mother. I will need help, Abba. I can hire a nanny with some of the money Papa gave me—there is plenty of it—but I may need you more. Is that ok?"
"We'll work it out," he said, putting his hand over hers. "It's not an easy job."
She gave him a tiny smile. "Are you lecturing me?"
He touched their foreheads together. "What kind of dad would I be if I didn't?"
Tony puffed his chest. "I'm gonna be a dad." Ziva smiled at him. His heart fluttered. "I'm gonna be a dad."
"And a husband," she prodded softly.
He laughed. "Hell yeah I am." He jumped up from his chair and caught it before it could tip. "I am going to be a husband and a father. We are going to take weekend trips to Great Falls and Rocky Gap, we'll go to Philly and do the whole Dead White Guy thing, we'll go to New York for shows, maybe see my dad for a dinner that's two hours late and totally overpriced, and we'll take the kids to FAO Schwartz and the Central Park Zoo." He came around behind Gibbs and Ziva and put his arms around them. "And we'll go sledding at Rock Creek Park and come home to hot cocoas and roast beef dinners and movie nights. Right?" He said giddily. "Right?!"
"Right, Tony," Ziva agreed. "You know how I want to do this?"
He kissed her temple. Her flyaway curls ticked his nose. "Want to start once we're married?"
She kissed him on the mouth. "Yes."
Gibbs slid out of Tony's grasp. "You two can keep the baby-making in the bedroom."
"We are going to adopt," she informed him quietly. "I cannot get pregnant and most infertility treatments do not seem like a good idea for me." She turned back to Tony. "But we can see a doctor if you really want a biological child."
He scoffed. "Greatness like mine isn't about biology. Any child I raise will be brilliant, beautiful, film-savvy, and socially adept. The Most Interesting Child in the World. The Indiana Jones of playgroup. Cool Hand Luke of the fourth grade." He mugged for her, propping his cheek on his fist.
"Enough, Casanova," Gibbs groused, but he was smiling.
Ziva unlocked the brakes and pushed away from the table. "I am getting tired. Dr. Monroe said I was to rest, so I am going to lie in bed and read."
"I'll help you get comfortable," Tony said urgently and added lowly, "make sure you don't need mouth-to-mouth."
She giggled deliciously. "You might need to rest, too."
Gibbs didn't turn from perusing he fridge. "You know I can hear a lot through those ducts."
Tony sucked in a breath. Ziva blushed. They looked at each other quizzically and made a beeline for the bedroom, where Tony slammed the door and they bust into embarrassed laughter.
Ziva slid into bed and pulled off her boots. Tony snuggled up next to her, still chuckling. "Good thing he doesn't stay that often."
She pinched him. "You need to say when he is here. I do not always know."
"I will, I will," he complained, but happily. His heart was full but light. He was going to be a husband and father. He would be good at it, he thought proudly. He would do it right.
She traced the stripes on his shirt. "You still promise, right?"
Tony laced his right hand with her left. "'Bout time I had that ring resized."
She smiled and cuddled in tight. "Next week?"
He kissed her. "Promise."