A/N: Here's the final chapter. I've had a lot of fun writing this, and I hope you enjoyed reading it.
Saturday, 6 July 2013
Tony's birthday evening started at a small and dim little jazz bar beneath a bookstore that Tony never even knew existed. Ziva led him with clacking heels down a stone staircase beneath the city streets, and Tony followed her with what he had to admit was trepidation. There was no sign above ground to give him an idea of what she was leading him into, and there were a couple of older guys who looked way down on their luck milling about on the street above. But he trusted her. Or, at least, he trusted that she was probably unlikely to take him to meet an underground arms dealer for gin and tonics before they went off to watch a Disney movie. Well, not for his birthday, anyway. For Ziva, that was probably more of a Valentine's Day activity.
At the bottom of the steps was a red door with a small brass plate affixed to it that read Holmby Hills. Tony frowned at the Rat Pack reference, and then Ziva pulled the door open and they stepped into something that reminded him of Lady Sings the Blues. Polished wood floors, a bar with brass fixtures and a mirrored back, brass sconces glowing with dim golden light and a clutch of tables and chairs in front of a stage that was just big enough for an upright piano, a drum kit, a double bass and a mic stand. It was early in the evening so the band wasn't playing. But Billie Holiday was singing through the speakers and the atmosphere was just right.
"Wow," he said to himself, but he drew Ziva's attention.
"Is this all right?" she asked. "We can go somewhere else if—"
"No," he said quickly. "This is great. Perfect."
Ziva nodded. "Do you want to get a seat and I will buy some drinks?"
She'd paid for his drinks a hundred times in the past, and he'd paid for hers. But tonight, Tony automatically and unconsciously went into date mode. "I'll get them."
Ziva touched his arm for no apparent reason and smiled at him. "It is your birthday," she stated. "Tonight is on me." Before he could argue, she turned and headed to the bar.
Instead of taking a table on the floor with the handful of other patrons, Tony selected a more private booth with soft leather seats. His gaze flicked over the framed photos and posters on the wall of Rat Packers from the 50s and 60s—Sinatra, Bogart, Bacall, Grant—and jazz greats before seeking out Ziva again. The bar was slightly too tall for her even in her heels, and she had to raise herself on her tip toes and wedge the elbow of her good arm on the counter so she could lean over and place her order with the barman. Tony smiled to himself. Ziva wasn't short, but he knew he often thought of her as being quite a bit taller than she really was. It was strange to see her have to reach. But the sight was also welcome. He'd been standing at the foot of the stairs at her house earlier in the evening and talking to McGee and Delilah when she'd appeared, ready to go out. His mouth had momentarily fallen open when he'd seen her in that pretty black dress that stopped at mid-thigh to show off miles of tanned and toned leg. Delilah had been the one to wolf whistle, but she'd taken it right out of Tony's mouth. Now, as Ziva stretched to lean over the bar, he was whistling again in his head. Those legs were a thing of divine beauty. And so was her butt. And her back that was semi exposed in that dress. And…
He averted his gaze before he was tempted to go too far down the lusty thought path. Not that he hadn't gone down that path a million times since meeting her, but he was still a bit confused about whether that was where he was supposed to be heading tonight. Although he'd been thinking of it as one, he still wasn't sure whether Ziva thought of tonight as a date. He was acutely conscious of the fact that he'd told her he loved her, and even more aware that Ziva hadn't returned the sentiment. He knew she did, and that she had issues to work out in her head before she made any declarations or promises. He respected that, and he would wait for her to give the word that she was ready to move things along. So with that in mind, he supposed he couldn't call this a date.
On the other hand, plenty of people dated without making their feelings explicit, or without knowing exactly where they were in the relationship timeline. And if you looked at tonight on the surface, it definitely had a date feel to it. She'd taken him out, she was paying for everything (which admittedly was kind of weird for him), she was all dressed up, she'd chosen activities and locations with his tastes in mind, she kept touching him for absolutely no reason, and they were here by themselves, instead of in a group with McGee and Abby. This was a date.
He smiled at her as she turned away from the bar with their drinks in her hands. As she picked her way between tables, Tony wondered if, since this was a date, she would let him kiss her at the end of the night.
Ziva made it to the table and put their drinks down, and then sat down across from him. "Whisky, straight up," she said, nodding to the tumbler he drew towards him.
"Thank you," he said, and clinked his glass against her gin and tonic.
"This is great," he said, and shot her a smile. "What are you going to do for my actual birthday?"
"Probably give you 42 birthday punches," she replied smoothly. "It is tradition, yes?"
Tony winced, both at the number and the idea of Ziva landing even a single punch on him, even playfully. "This is fine." He took a sip of whisky and indulged in the burn at the back of his throat. "I never knew this place existed. How did you find it?"
"Schmiel told me about it," she replied, surprising Tony for a moment before he remembered that Schmiel knew everything. "I mentioned to him a while ago that I wanted to take you somewhere different. He has been visiting for decades, and thought you might like it."
"How did he guess that?"
Ziva smirked as she pushed her hair back behind her ear. "He has spent time in your apartment, Tony," she said obviously, referring to his music collection and some jazz-themed artwork. "And he has listened to me talk about you."
He lifted an interested eyebrow and leaned over the table a little way. Ziva mirrored his move, cocking her ear to hear his comment. "You know, the first time you introduced us, he said you'd told him a lot about me."
"What did you say?"
Ziva sat back a bit and looked thoughtful. "I cannot remember," she finally said. "Eight years' worth of comments and stories, I suppose."
Tony nodded, not expecting a word-for-word retelling of the conversations she had with Schmiel over the years. But he was interested in how Ziva might talk about him to other people. What bits of him did she think were important or obvious enough to mention, and what did she keep to herself? "Generally, though."
She fingered her glass. "My stories have changed over the years," she said, and then smirked with a touch of affection. "I suppose I used to tell him of my frustration with this man who would make jokes while I was trying to defuse a bomb, or who would insist on taking the lead and telling me what to do when I was clearly better than him."
"Ouch," Tony said, but he didn't actually take offense. It was hardly a revelation that she hadn't trusted his skill or instinct in the early days. In fact, he was pretty sure she had told him so once or twice. But that was water under the bridge.
"But then I started telling him about this man whose heart was broken, and who I didn't know how to help through it."
Tony's eyebrows rose and fell sharply. He hadn't expected that. He supposed she was talking about his relationship with Jeanne. A relationship he hadn't thought about much at all for a few years now. He wondered if Ziva did. And why.
"I told him about the man I disobeyed direct orders for when I thought he was going to be beaten." She paused and made a face that spoke of self-awareness. "That was a big deal for me, and Schmiel understood that. I was trained to follow orders, no matter what." She paused and chuckled. "He was proud of me for that."
Tony smiled faintly. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate that Schmiel would be proud of Ziva for turning against her training and following her emotion. He was just slowly realizing that she really had gone against everything she'd been taught on that night a million years ago when they'd played war games. He'd been angry with her at the time, because her actions could have gotten them both killed. But he didn't think he'd ever let himself think too hard about why she'd disobeyed direct orders. He thought she was just watching his back. But now that he did think about it, as he watched her sweep non-existent hair off her face and watch the table nervously, he wondered if she'd acted out of sheer panic that he had been hurt.
"I told Schmiel about the man who went all the way to Africa to kill a man for me," Ziva went on, and that comment snapped Tony out of a place of curiosity and thrust him into a place of darkness that made his chest ache and stomach roll even to this day, and especially after her admission following Eddie's attack. He didn't think he could dwell on that too much without having some kind of emotional break, though, and he was relieved when Ziva moved on quickly. "I told him about the man who listened to me vent all my frustration when Ray let me down, and who cared enough to give good advice." She smiled. "And I still complained to him about that man making terrible jokes at the worst times."
Tony smiled, despite the sudden and overwhelming urge to hug her tightly and cry into her shoulder. "My jokes are not terrible," he said thickly.
"Then they must get lost in translation."
"On your end," he insisted.
She rolled her eyes, and they both took a moment to drink and get a firmer grip on themselves.
"Schmiel was very keen to meet you," she told him, and she scooted around the booth so that they were sitting adjacent to each other instead of across from each other. Her knee bumped against his. "He has great affection for you."
"Yeah, I've got a lot of time for him, too," Tony said, and shifted just a little closer to her. "Even if he likes my dad."
"I like your dad," she offered.
Tony shook his head as a sip of whisky burned down his throat. "Why?" he asked, sincerely interested in the answer.
But Ziva assumed he was being a smartass, and tsked at him. "Tony."
"No, really," he tried again. "Why?"
"Because to me, as an outsider—I admit that—he appears to genuinely want to try to make amends for the sins he has committed against you," she said. "He loves you very much, Tony. He fell back into your life, and he seems to have used it as an opportunity to try to be closer to you."
Tony pursed his lips. He knew where she was coming from. But Senior just had this knack for annoying the hell out of him. "You know he leers at you every time he sees you," he pointed out, trying to pry her away from his father's graces just a little bit.
But Ziva was dismissive. "It is harmless."
Tony made a face and looked away. He didn't know why Ziva let Senior get away with things that she would kill other people for, but he supposed it wasn't his battle to fight. He changed the subject. "Thank Schmiel for the recommendation."
"You like it here?"
"Yeah." He gestured at the stage. "We'll have to come back when they've got a band."
"Yes." She winked at him and then looked away to survey the room as she took another sip of her drink. He watched her quietly for a moment, and he got a little tingle in his belly. He'd gotten that tingle countless times over the years, but he'd always been aware that he shouldn't pay it any attention. But things were different now. He'd told her he loved her.
"I didn't tell you how beautiful you look tonight," he said.
Ziva turned back to look at him, and for a split second she smiled almost bashfully before her face went straight again. "Under dim lights?" she asked.
Tony almost rolled his eyes. "You said something about me making bad jokes?"
"Thank you," she amended, before looking down and running her good hand over her right arm. "I think the sling completes the look."
"No, that'd be the hemline," he countered.
She gave him her Mona Lisa smile. "You look very handsome yourself," she said, and reached up to briefly brush her fingertips through the hair at his temple. It was yet another unnecessary touch in a night full of them.
"Don't make me blush," he said.
Ziva gave him that bone-melting look of open affection again (first for the night, third for the week—not that he was counting or anything, but he was hoping to break half a dozen by the end of the night). She dropped her hand, but shifted in her seat so that she didn't have to turn her head so far to look at him. Her knee bumped his again, and as she crossed her legs the toe of her shoe brushed against his shin. He had another sip of whisky.
"Before the night moves along any further," she said, and held up her glass for a toast, "I want to wish you happy birthday. You are my best friend. My anchor. And the person most likely to provide me with a moment of happiness on an otherwise terrible day. Thank you for your Tony-ness."
Tony didn't know what to say. They'd had their moments of bare honesty in the past that had left him feeling both hopeful and reassured. But this, and her words after their fight a few days ago, was something else. Something more. He took a chance and put his hand over hers on the table. She curled her fingers around his.
"Are you just going to shower me with compliments all night?" he asked. "Because I'd be okay with that."
"Depends on how many of these I have," she replied, gesturing at her drink with her chin.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, and clinked his glass against hers before leaning over to kiss her cheek. Before he got there, though, Ziva turned her face towards him and his lips landed on hers. She was warm and soft and tasted like gin, and a strong stab of desire went through him as Ziva leaned into the kiss. It went further than their brief kiss in the kitchen, and although it was still a long way away from the long, passionate embrace he was waiting for, it still gave him an incredible buzz.
When they parted, Ziva gave him her special look again (four of six—he was tracking well) and squeezed his hand before letting go. "If you would like to come back here after the concert instead of going to dinner, it is up to you."
"You don't have reservations?"
"Yes, but they can be cancelled."
They could. And he really liked the atmosphere in this hidden little bar. But he also liked the idea of sitting across the table from her and getting to look at her and talk a bit. "Let's just play it by ear."
Thursday, December 24, 2015
It was late on Christmas Eve, and the Christmas tree in Ziva's living room was still bare. She sat on the floor beneath it with a cup of tea in her hands and a box of decorations by her knee, trying to find the motivation to get started on dressing it tonight to save her from having to do it in a whirl in the morning before everyone arrived for Christmas lunch. But she was distracted by thoughts of Bonnie Stewart lying cold and bruised beneath her mother's tree. Ziva was still saddened by the events of the last week, even if she knew she had to get past them. The fear she had felt creeping into her chest had largely disappeared since she had taken the fight to Eddie Hertzog and found him pathetic and caged. He took up little space in her thoughts, and in a few weeks' time she knew she would only think of him as she and Tony began seeing Man Hands again. But Bonnie would linger in her mind for years. Linger, but not weigh down. She had to stop her mourning. She had other things that she needed to focus on.
On top of that list was supporting Tony. He'd had her back every second during this case—longer, ever since they'd met and through her lowest lows—and now that he was having a hard time she needed to be there for him. She wanted to make Christmas a good time for him. He hadn't liked it that much in the past decade or more, but Ziva knew that he used to love it when he was a child before his mother died. She had seen the photos of Christmas morning in the DiNozzo house, with Tony still in his pajamas as he unwrapped presents beneath the Christmas tree with a giddy smile on his face. He was never going to have that childlike joy again. No one did after they passed their 15th birthday. But Ziva just wanted him to have something cheery to look forward to, particularly now that he had admitted he wasn't in the best frame of mind. No single thing Ziva did would be able to fix that. But she could give him something to smile about, and something to hold onto. One good holiday for just the two of them. Because by the holiday season next year, they might be preparing to welcome a third into the house.
The thought of expanding their family, and of her plans for tonight, made Ziva's stomach knot. She was almost certain that things would turn out the way she expected them to, so she knew she should just relax. But she couldn't help being nervous. And excited. The excitement was what she had to focus on, and welcome it in instead of being afraid of it and pushing it away. Fear had kept her and Tony apart for too long, and she was adamant that it would not creep into their relationship in the future.
She glanced at her watch and sighed with a hint of worry. It was past 2300 and Tony still hadn't come home. She had gone past his desk on her way out of the office at 1800, and he'd been in an animated hurry to get down to the interview rooms. Ziva knew that meant that he could smell blood in the water and was about to close his case, so she wasn't surprised that he was still at work now, even at this late hour on Christmas Eve. But she hoped he would be home by midnight. They would have the next two days off, although tomorrow would be busier than a day at work with everyone coming around for lunch. They had a lot of food to prepare, a lot of drinks to serve, a lot of cleaning to do, and still the damn Christmas tree had to be dressed. She sighed again, this time with disappointment that the tree had not magically decorated itself while Ziva had been sitting there and staring at it, and then took a final sip of tea. She supposed she should get to work.
She pushed herself to her feet and selected the length of silver tinsel that was sitting on top of the rest of the decorations. She wrapped the length of it around her neck while she made sure that there weren't any knots in it, and then stood with her hands on her hips as she regarded the tree hesitantly. This would mark the first occasion that Ziva had ever tried to decorate a Christmas tree. Of course she had seen plenty of them, mostly the perfectly dressed kind that popped up in stores and malls every year, so she knew vaguely what they required. Tinsel, lights, baubles of some sort and a star on top. Or an angel. Ziva had seen both, but she wasn't sure whether there was a way you were supposed to know which tree got a star and which got an angel. She thought she might have to Google that later.
She spun the end of the tinsel around like a pinwheel as she planned her attack, and then decided to start at the back so that the untidy ends would be hidden from view. Carefully, she slotted herself in between the tree and the wall and stretched to tie off the end on a smaller branch near the top of the tree. The awkward position almost caused her to lose her balance, but she managed to get it tied off without knocking the tree out of its stand, and without taking more than one poke to the eye from a finger of fir. With that done, she stepped out from behind the tree and started wrapping the strand of tinsel around the body of the tree. It took a couple of turns, and she ended up stuck behind the tree again once or twice, but she finally got the tinsel wrapped in a spiral around the tree and tied off neatly behind it. Then, she stepped back and looked at her work.
The tree already looked more festive, but there was still a definite air of depression clinging to it. Her neat work didn't end up looking all that neat, and the spirals were tighter at the top than they were at the bottom. Ziva frowned. It just looked wrong and not happy or cheery like she wanted it to, and nothing like the trees in stores. Most of those trees had lights on them, so Ziva checked the box of decorations and saw a clump of electrical cord with lights attached to it beneath a few more layers of tinsel and some delicate-looking balls. She pulled the clump out, careful not to break any of the DiNozzo family heirlooms that might be in there, and then held it up in front of her.
"Oy," she sighed to herself. The tangle would take some patience to undo, if she bothered at all. She wondered how long it had been since the lights had last been used, and whether it would be safe to try them now.
Ziva dropped the lights back into the box and went back to the tree to take down the tinsel she had already put up. Perhaps she was doing this wrong. Perhaps there was some method to follow when decorating Christmas trees. Start with lights, add tinsel, dust with baubles and finish with a star. Or angel. She pulled off all the tinsel, but as she was backing out from behind the tree she lost her balance, grabbed the tree instinctively for support, and ended up pulling it with her as she stumbled. She let out a squeak as the tree tipped and landed against her arm, but Ziva caught it before it hit the ground. She got a face full of fragrant tree, but she pushed it upright again. For a few seconds she stood still, holding on to the branches until she was sure that it was probably going to stay up on its own, and then slowly released her grip and stepped backwards. The tree stayed put, and she released a heavy breath. This was not how she had expected her decorating attempt to go. She dropped he tinsel on the floor and then turned and headed for the kitchen. This called for a glass of wine. And perhaps a lapsed Catholic's touch.
The Christmas tree was still undressed but Ziva was feeling a lot more relaxed by the time Tony came through the door at a quarter to midnight. She looked over her shoulder into the hallway as he dropped his backpack by the stairs and then dragged himself into the living room. Ziva gave him a warm smile as the nervous knot in her stomach tightened, and he returned one that was tired but utterly affectionate.
"You're still up," he stated.
"It is still early."
Tony scoffed and stopped by the end of the couch. He looked at the bottle of wine on the coffee table and her half empty glass beside it. "Ooh," he said, as if the evidence provided the context he needed for why she was still awake.
"I got that out for you," she lied. "But I had a sip while I was waiting."
He looked dubious. "How much is left in the bottle?"
"At least half," she replied indignantly.
Tony took off his winter coat and suit jacket, and tossed them over the armchair. "That'll do," he said. "But I'm going to need a funnel or something for what's left."
"Pace yourself, Tony," she admonished gently. "You have all of tomorrow and many, many glasses of mulled wine to get through."
Tony nodded, and then cocked his head to the side and looked at her strangely. "Why do you have little bits of Christmas tree in your hair?"
Ziva lifted both her hands and smoothed them through the ends of her hair. She pulled out a couple of needles along the way that she hadn't realized were there. "Oh. I attempted to make things a little more festive, but the tree fought back. Religious persecution, I suppose."
Tony looked over at the tree with a sudden wince. "I forgot we still have to do that. Abby'll mope and look disapprovingly at me if it's not done by the time she turns up tomorrow."
"That is Abby's problem," Ziva said. "But we will get it done."
"What time is everyone coming?" he asked tiredly.
"Not until 11. Don't worry about it."
"We should do it now." He made a move towards the tree, but Ziva held her arm out to him. She was keen for his help, but he clearly needed some downtime before they got started.
"Leave it for a while," she told him. "Come here."
It didn't take more than that to convince him to dump the tree-trimming task for the moment. He changed direction for the couch, and Ziva lifted her feet up to the seat and pushed herself as far back as she could go to make room for him between her legs. He picked up her wine glass, leaned down to kiss her hello, and then turned his back to her and settled down with his back to her chest. He hooked one arm out the outside of her tented knee, took a healthy sip of wine, and then let his head drop back against her left shoulder. Ziva kissed his neck.
"We should have done this weeks ago," he said on a yawn.
Ziva looked over his shoulder at her fingers working to loosen the knot in his tie. "Eventually we will become more organized," she said, and then threw out a little bait. "Probably once we have a child old enough to know what Christmas is."
She watched a faint smile cross his face as he closed his eyes. "Dad made up this rule when I was a kid that the tree didn't go up until December 15. My best friend's parents always put theirs up after Thanksgiving, and I used to get really jealous."
Ziva pulled his tie off and undid the top three buttons of his shirt as Tony toed off his shoes. "Our children may be bored by Christmas after the wonderful time they have during Hanukkah."
His smile grew before falling a touch. "You just switched to plurals. You know that?"
She pressed her lips against his neck and hummed, and moved her hands to his shoulders. "We will see how it works out, yes? How we handle one child. How tired we get."
Tony groaned in acknowledgement and rubbed her shin. "Agreed."
Ziva smiled at how smoothly that had gone, and started kneading her fingers into the rocks in his shoulders. "So, you are late tonight. And exhausted. Does this mean you solved your case of the disembodied foot?"
"Stolen from the body farm in Knoxville," he said, and then moaned when she worked her thumb into a tight knot in his shoulder blade. "They've had body parts go missing for the last few months but didn't want to tell anyone. Kid who stole them was trying to sell them off to underground oddities dealers."
Ziva crinkled her nose in distaste. "People are idiots," she stated.
"Yes, they are." He paused and moaned again. "Don't stop doing that."
She smiled and pressed a few soft kisses to his neck. "So I assume the FBI is taking over?"
Tony nodded as he swallowed another sip of wine. "Yeah. We'll work jointly to prosecute the kid."
"Good work, Tony."
"Hmm." His head lolled further to the side as she worked on his muscles.
"Did you have a chance to call Man Hands today?"
"No, I'll call her next week." He opened his eyes and tried to angle his head so her could look at her. "Telling you helped. Took a weight off my mind."
"You can always tell me."
"I know." He closed his eyes again. "By the way, Celia has finally decided she is going to bring her boyfriend to lunch tomorrow, so we need to cram in another place."
Ziva made a face to herself—Celia Blake, Tony's SFA, was proving herself to be a drama queen—but didn't say anything. She didn't need to. Tony read her thoughts.
"Don't make that face," he said. "I need to her start feeling like a part of this team or she's probably going to look for another assignment. And I need her to hang around right now."
"She is welcome," Ziva assured him. "And I did not make a face."
"Yes, you did," he argued, but not with any real sting. He paused to yawn again.
"I didn't," she lied. "And I have told you before that I am happy to welcome her into the team if it means that she has a more vested interest in watching your back."
"You have said that before," he nodded. "But I'm pretty sure the last time you said you wanted her to watch my butt."
Ziva rolled her eyes as he grinned to himself. "Yes," she replied, deadpan. "That sounds more like me."
Tony didn't bother with another comeback. He just leaned like a dead weight against her and moaned every time her fingers hit a sweet spot. Ziva kept going, enjoying that he was enjoying it so much, and for a while she closed her eyes too and let her cheek rest against the side of his head. It was nice to have a quiet and snuggly moment (as Tony would call it) with him. Sometimes she felt like too much time passed between them.
"Ziva?" he almost slurred after a few quiet minutes.
"If you do the rest of my back, I swear this can be my Christmas present," he said. "Seriously. I don't need anything else."
She smiled as she thought of her plans for taking him to Italy. "You are just saying that because you do not know what I got you yet."
Tony thought that over. "Probably," he decided. "But this is also pretty amazing."
She rubbed her cheek against him and then pulled her head back. Her stomach knotted again, and she thought about letting the evening pass without telling him what was on her mind. But she had vowed to be done with that behavior when they got together two years ago.
"I will finish your back later," she told him, keeping her voice low and smooth. "But there is something I want to talk to you about now."
Immediately, Tony's shoulders tensed up and he pulled a little away from her. Ziva blinked in surprise at the rapid change, and then burst out laughing.
"You were so relaxed—"
"I'm still relaxed," he argued. "Very relaxed. What do you want to talk about?"
She pressed the heels of her hands into his shoulder blades. "Nothing that should make you this tense."
Tony got up and shifted around until he sat beside her instead of in front of her. "If you want to talk again about whether Delilah is pregnant, I really have to put my foot down."
"No, it is not that," Ziva said, shaking her head. "Although I am almost certain I am right. You watch her tomorrow. I bet you she will not have any alcohol."
Tony rubbed his face. "Wouldn't they have told us?" he asked tiredly.
"Maybe not if it is still early," she debated. "But that is not what I want to talk about."
"I want to talk about us."
Tony looked more interested, but cautious. "Okay."
She shifted around to face him and put her hand on his knee. "Do you remember when we got together?"
"Yes," he replied immediately, then just as quickly changed his answer. "No." He paused. "Maybe."
Ziva's mouth fell open with surprise. Between the two of them, Tony was the romantic. How could he not know when they got together?
Tony saw her look of horror and put his hand down on hers quickly in case she was about to run away. "Well, there are three events that stick in my head as the possible beginning of this relationship, sweetcheeks," he explained, and put down the wine glass. "But because you're so anti-anniversary, I don't know which event you think is the event where we officially got together."
She supposed he had a point. Her heart returned to its usual rhythm. "What are the events?" she asked. She wasn't testing him. She was curious about what he thought.
"I'm pretty sure it's not the first event," he hedged.
"That time we went to see Fantasia for my birthday."
Ziva shook her head. "That was not when we got together." She had great affection for that night, and it had a significant place in their relationship history, but things did not change significantly between them then.
Tony nodded. "I didn't think so. But that night was full of moments, you know? Like when you kept gazing at me, and touching me for no reason. And you kissed me, too."
"You kissed me," she argued, but Tony was shaking his head.
"No," he said firmly. "I went to kiss your cheek, but you were the one to turn your head and kiss me properly."
It wasn't quite how she remembered it, but she didn't want to argue the point in case she recalled he was right and had to backtrack. "Well, who can remember?" she said dismissively.
"I can," Tony said obviously. "It was you. Definitely you."
Maybe he was right. "Okay, but that is not when we got together," she said, moving along.
"Well the second event is when I think we got together, but I don't think you'll agree." He seemed to be relaxing again now, and Ziva had always enjoyed their banter. She smiled as she challenged him.
A slow burn smile stretched his lips as he recalled the evening. "November, 2013. We were right here on the couch, and you were watching The Daily Show. I fell asleep for about five minutes, and when I woke up, I looked at you. And you smiled at me, and I just couldn't bear it any longer. I don't know why, but I loved you so much in that moment. So I kissed you."
Warm tingles flooded her as she remembered the moment. "Yes."
"And we made out on the couch for ages," he continued, and lifted her hand to his mouth to kiss her palm. "Then we finally went up to your room and ended up having sex I think three times that night."
"I remember that night," she purred.
"That's a relief."
"It is one of my favorite nights."
He kissed her wrist. "Mine too."
"But that is not when we got together."
He lifted an eyebrow at her. "So, you tell me."
"It was two or three days after that," she told him. "On my birthday."
"That was going to be my next guess."
"We had dinner with McGee and Delilah at that restaurant that you got very sick at just a few months ago."
Tony made a disgusted face. "Yeah. We're not going back there."
"Gibbs was still gone," Ziva went on. "We had not heard from him in months, and I was so worried about him. But at the same time, I was so happy. And I had been for weeks." She swallowed her shame at that. "I felt terrible about that, but on that night when we went to dinner, I worked out that I was happy because even though Gibbs was gone and we did not have our jobs, you were still there. I still had you. My life had fallen apart that year, but I still had you. Just like you'd promised me."
Tony smiled with warmth that made her chest hurt. "I'm hard to get rid of. Like bamboo."
Ziva rolled her eyes at the comment. "That night I asked you if you thought you and I would make it. You said you didn't have a clue, but you promised that you would give our relationship everything you had."
He nodded. "I did."
"And I believed you," she told him. "So I promised you the same. I have meant it every day since."
She shifted a little closer to him on the couch and took one of his hands between both of hers. "I owe you thanks, Tony," she said. "Since then, and well before then, you saved my life."
"I've got your back," he assured her.
"I know, but I am not just referring to times in the field," she said. She looked down at her fingers as they ran along the lengths of his. "When I came here to the US and I met you, and I loved you from…I am not sure when," she admitted. "But my feelings for you developed early. When I loved you, you gave me a reason to change the way I was leading my life. You made me want to stay here and live my life instead of undertaking missions I knew would eventually send me to my death."
She looked up at him again and found his eyes softening, and she realized that any hope she had of getting through this without crying was gone. Tears came to the back of her eyes, but she held them at bay. For now.
"When you loved me back," she went on, pushing the words through her tightening throat, "when you trusted me to rise to the challenge you lay down and were patient while I tried to give you what you needed, you saved my life again. Because if I had ever lost you along the way, either to another woman or to just your dwindling interest, I am not sure what I would have done."
Tony stared back at her, clearly touched but utterly confused. "Where did all that come from?"
"Me," she replied with a shrug. "It is how I feel."
Tony shook his head. "Ziva—"
"I am not finished."
"I am not finished!" she repeated.
Tony held his hand up in surrender and gave up his attempt to interject. "Okay, sorry, you talk more."
She nodded and tried to work out where she needed to go next. She wished she had spent some time planning this. God knew she had the time. And maybe that would have prevented her from going off on what seemed like a strange tangent, even if there was a point to it. But she hadn't planned it, so she ended up going right back to the beginning in order to get to the present.
"I got to know you on paper before I ever met you in person," she said, and Tony took a moment to nod and follow her train of thought. Before she had arrived at NCIS, she had prepared background files on each member of Team Gibbs for Mossad. "I remember sitting at my desk the first time I looked up Anthony David DiNozzo, and I remember looking at your NCIS ID photo. I remember thinking how American you looked." Tony made a face like he didn't know what the hell she meant by that, but it didn't matter. "I remember wondering to myself if, when I arrived in Washington, I would be able to interest you in a one-night stand." She smiled as Tony played at looking surprised and scandalized. "I remember thinking that you looked very sure of yourself."
"I was probably about 30 when that photo was taken," Tony pointed out. "Of course I looked sure of myself."
She looked down at her hands again as they ran over and around his fingers. "Not once did I think of the possibility that ten years after that moment, you would have stopped being a photo of a stranger and become the most important person in my life, and the best friend I ever had. My most trusted ally." She looked up at him, and her throat immediately closed with impending tears at the sight of the man she loved so much staring back at her with open emotion. She swallowed hard to get the rest of her words out. "I did not imagine that there would be a time when I would look at you and just…melt. Or that I would feel happy just from the sight of you. Or understood just because you touched me or looked at me in a certain way. I did not look at that photograph of that stranger and know that I would love him so much that he would make me want to change my whole life for the better."
Tony gripped her hand, and then pulled her closer so that he could put his arms around her. "You're killing me here, sweetcheeks," he said tightly.
"I am almost finished," she promised.
He kissed her cheek, her lips, her forehead. "Is this my Christmas present?" he asked, only slightly seriously. "A back rub is nice, but this is probably better."
Ziva chuckled and ran her thumb over his cheekbone. "Neither is your Christmas present. You can have that tomorrow night."
"I'll try to be patient."
Ziva gripped his hands again and returned to telling him all the thoughts in her head and sharing what was in her heart. "Tony, there was a time—a few times, really—before this, before we were truly us, when I thought that the best thing I would ever do would be to leave you, and let you find someone who could be who you needed. Someone who wouldn't tear you up like I did." She didn't expect it, but that admission was what finally made her lose control of her tears. Tony's followed in the next second, and she could see him about to start arguing with her (good man that he was). She jumped back in before he could. "I was always too scared to go through with it. Maybe out of all my sins, that will always be the greatest. But I think that I can make up for it. If I spend every day being grateful for you and supporting you. Loving you. Helping you succeed and be happy. If I spend every day committed to you and to us, then maybe it will be okay that I am selfish."
"It's okay!" Tony broke in, unable to keep quiet any longer. He held her hands so tightly, and even shook them a little to try to get his point across. "Ziva…God! I want to be with you every day as well. You know I do. You don't have to say all this."
She nodded. She knew that. But there was a reason she was telling him this, and it was time to get to it. "But I want you to know now," she said, and then slid off the couch and got to her knees in front of him.
"I already know," Tony assured her, and then frowned at her position. "What are you doing down there? Did you drop something?"
Ziva bit the inside of her lip and shook her head, and then summoned her courage to push through. "No. I want you to know before I ask you to marry me, Tony."
On autopilot, Tony just nodded. "Yeah, I know," he said, and then stared at her quietly as his brain caught up. Then he cocked his head sharply to the left and frowned deeply. "Wait…what?"
Her heart was hammering so hard that Ziva could feel her body rocking slightly back and forth. She knew the memory of this moment would stay with her forever, either to torture her or comfort her. She couldn't blame Tony for being surprised, so she didn't take offence that she had to repeat herself. "Will you marry me?"
He stared at her, stone-still, for a full five seconds. "What?" he finally asked, sharply.
Ziva's chest constricted painfully. Surely he'd heard her. God, had she read their entire relationship wrong? Surely she couldn't have. Not this wrong. Right? She tried again, but this time she couldn't help how uncertain she sounded. "Will you marry me?" How many times could she ask before it became pathetic?
Tony continued to stare at her dumbly. She didn't think he'd blinked for an entire minute, and she wondered if he was having a stroke at an inopportune moment, or if he was desperately scrambling for a way to say 'no' without embarrassing her.
She cleared tears from her throat. "You can say no," she said thickly. "Or think about it for a while."
Finally, Tony snapped out of his shock and abruptly got to his feet. Ziva's hands fell out of his and landed heavily on her thighs, and she watched him as he reached behind him and wrestled his wallet out of his back pocket. He sat down again and flipped it open, and he jammed his fingers into a hidden pocket. "Please be here," he said.
"What are you doing?" she had to ask. She'd asked him to marry her and he was searching for…what? His Subway Club card?
His expression turned to relief as he pulled something out, and then he tossed his wallet onto the coffee table. It collided with the glass they'd been drinking wine out of, and Ziva reached out quickly to grab the glass before it tipped and smashed.
"Sorry," he said quickly, and then pushed himself off the couch and got to his knees on the floor in front of her. He took one of her hands in his again and flashed her a huge, Tony smile that made her heart slam as he laced his fingers with hers. "Okay, everything I say now is going to pale in comparison to what you said," he said in a rush. "Maybe one day once my head stops spinning I'll be able to come up with something that's worthy. But right now all I can think to say is that I can't imagine my life without you. I don't want to have a life without you, because you're my best friend and greatest champion, and I love you to my bones." He smiled as fresh tears formed in his eyes. "I love you so much, Ziva."
Her anxiety from moments ago faded away, and she began to think that everything would be okay again. "I love you, too."
Tony held up the thing he'd pulled out of his wallet; a simple, beautiful ring. Size 5. "I have been waiting for the right time to ask you to marry me for months."
It was Ziva's turn to stare in disbelief. "You got me a ring?"
Tony shrugged. "It's traditional. I don't have a box for it because…well, a box is an empty promise, right? And I really mean it. Will you marry me?"
Ziva simultaneously dissolved into a smile and tears. "I asked you first," she pointed out.
"But I'm supposed to ask you."
"Because it is tradition?"
He gave her another shrug. "Yes."
Her smile grew. "When have we ever been traditional?"
Tony chuckled, and wiped his cheek as he sniffled. "I'm pretty sure there was a day back in '06 when I opened a door for you."
God, she loved the man. "Will you marry me?" she asked again.
Tony caved, accepting that this was the way she wanted it. "Yes," he answered. But he had to get his way as well. "Will you marry me?"
"Yes," she answered straight away.
They grinned at each other, and Tony slid the ring onto her finger.
"Perfect," she said, and leaned in to kiss him. It turned intense almost immediately, and she felt his hands running all over her back and through her hair as she kissed him like he was her air. She got his shirt half open and one of his hands was under her sweater when he broke the kiss to look at her, and pressed his hand against her cheek.
"Hey, Ziva?" he said, slightly breathless.
He flashed her a mischievous grin. "For what it's worth? I totally would have been up for a one-night stand when we met."
It took her a moment to remember what he was talking about, and then she let out a deep, throaty laugh.
"But I think it worked out better this way," he added.
Ziva held his face in her hands—the face she saw so much of her own life in—and thought of everything that had come before now. All the pain, all the love, the longing and hoping. The chances taken and lost. The best and the worst moments of her life. And while there were times when she wished for a smooth run like everyone else in the world seemed to have, she knew she wouldn't change what they had. Because for them, what they had was perfect.
"Yes," she said. "This way is the best."
Long author note ahead. No need to read on if you're just here for the story. Thanks for reading, and I'll maybe see you again some time.
Just in case you didn't get enough sugar over Easter this weekend…
So that's it. I don't think I've ever written the word 'marry' more than twice before in my entire life (and probably only for a spelling test) before now, but about half way through writing the story I realized that was what I was heading towards in the 2015 timeline. I hope I didn't make you sick.
I know many of you were really, really looking forward to reading the scene where they got together in 2013, and I'm sorry that I didn't deliver it. The scene never made an appearance in any of my story plans because I guess I didn't feel like 2013 Ziva was ready. I hope that by being shown the beginning of it, and reading Tony and Ziva's recollection of it, you were part way satisfied.
A final round of thanks to everyone who read every chapter, to anyone who took the time to leave reviews that are never expected but always appreciated, and to those who would send me a tweet on Wednesdays to remind me that I was supposed to post a new chapter. You saved my butt more than once.