A/N: The party keeps getting bigger… Hiya, new readers! This chapter picks up the same night as the last. And I realized I haven't told you to enjoy your reading experience in awhile, so enjoy!
Part 15: Chance
"…So then McGee thinks he's got a handle on it, right, with one foot on each side…" Tony stopped to swallow a premature laugh, shaking his head. "No, no, no. He went down—splat!—right into the sewer water. Total wipeout."
Ziva knew she shouldn't be amused at her past teammate's disgusting misfortune, but oh, it was wonderful to laugh again. Domiz was a tragedy, not a comedy.
Though the sandy-haired special agent regaled the dinner table, Gibbs included, she always found him watching her reaction on the punch lines, as he did then with a satisfied grin. "Let me tell you," he continued, picking up his beer, "that was not a happy probie. And boy did he stink for days."
"Yeah, and where were you when all this was happening, Senior Field Agent?"
Tony shrugged, the remark deflecting off his armor of grins and witty comebacks. "We've been over this, Boss. My suits don't take kindly to oil-based substances. Eats away at the fibers."
Gibbs gave a good-natured guffaw and roll of his eyes. "How could I forget?"
Throughout dinner, Ziva noted their attempts to maintain harmony. They'd talked about sports, the steaks, and the suspect brought into custody late that afternoon. Well, mostly Tony talked and Gibbs listened, emitting the occasional grunt of acknowledgement. Perhaps it was all for her benefit. Or perhaps history was winning out over this passing quarrel. She was just glad for the distraction, almost as much as she'd been relieved when Gibbs called them in from the porch for dinner before Tony even finished his call. Words to express her impending motherhood were illusive.
"What about you, Ziva? Ever think about coming back to the team?" Tony's question caught her in thought. Both companions angled her way—veiled optimism in the younger man's hazel eyes—as they awaited her answer. There was no reason to prolong the suspense.
"I'm afraid not."
It was simple, final, but transformed the cozy dining room into a wake, and they were the mourners, putting to rest the last hope of reinstating their lives to before. Even if they suspected that to be her decision, it was still a death. Nostalgia filled the silence as the shadows of evening poured in through the picture-pane windows.
Ziva took up the task of guiding them out of the dark. "It was not an easy choice. But Mossad, NCIS…they both required a part of me that I can no longer condone. I cannot be that person anymore."
"You didn't do anything wrong." That it was Gibbs who spoke in her defense startled her. "Those were your jobs. You acted on orders." There was a certain responsibility taken by his words; after all, many of those orders she'd received were from him.
Tony hiked a thumb at his mentor. "What he said."
"Not everything was on orders," she argued, folding her fists into her lap, out of sight. "Much of it was the result of my own choices—for good and bad. For too long, there was so little good, which is why I had to put an end to it all."
Her ex-partner was no stranger to this particular argument, spanning from Ari to Bodnar; it overwhelmed their time in Israel. Lips parted, Tony was no doubt gearing up to insert just as tired a rebuttal when Gibbs intercepted him with a low, "Enough," understanding better than most when to stop poking bruises.
"If not as an agent, how're you going to support your girl?" Surely her father-figure had intended for the query to steer the conversation onto an easier topic, not spur them into equally choppy waters.
Tony's eyes slanted towards her, intrigued. "What 'girl'?"
Gibbs's signature smirk emerged for the first time that night, falling on Ziva. "You didn't tell him."
It wasn't a question, but she confirmed it anyway. "I have not yet had the chance."
Pushing away from the table and onto his feet, Gibbs briefly set a hand on her shoulder as he passed, heading for the basement. Leaving her to it.
After the click of the door off the kitchen ensured they were alone, Tony prompted again, "Tell me what?"
Ziva drew in a breath, steadying herself. "Tony, there is something you should know about me…"
"You're a regular ol' Angelina Jolie!"
Ziva scrunched her nose at his exclamation. Considering that she'd just spent the past twenty-five minutes filling him in on how she met Sana, her plans to adopt the orphan, and NCIS' role in assisting with the paperwork, she was hoping for a reaction from him more closely associated with her situation.
"You know," he persisted at her lack of recognition, "the movie star who adopts kids from Africa like she's filling a baseball team roster? She was Lara Croft!" It should have come as no surprise that Tony DiNozzo, full-time investigator and part-time movie aficionado, could relate even international adoption to the film industry.
But tired and emotionally drained, she was in no mood for his usual antics.
"I am not familiar with either of those women," Ziva dismissed, rising from the table and sparing no glance for him as she made for the front room. "And if that is all you can think of to say, after I trust you with a very important decision in my life, then I must have—"
"Hey, hey, wait..." Tony's longer stride easily overtook hers, cutting off her path. "I was just trying to wrap my head around this. Ziva, you're going to be a mom." Awe dripped from the declaration, matching the mixture of disbelief and wonder lightening years off his grizzled federal agent façade.
"That is usually what they call women who have a child, yes," she snarked, but could feel herself softening.
"So, what happens next? You bring her back…?"
Ziva dragged a hand through her wavy locks, pulling the loose strands away from her face. "That is the goal now, though I cannot say it was part of my plan when I started at Domiz."
"Repentus interruptus?" Tony suggested with an impish eyebrow waggle.
Her eyes rolled, though he was not entirely off the mark. Once Sana came into her life, repenting for her sins became secondary to caring for the girl. Was her original journey rendered complete just because another had taken precedent? She was no expert, but something told her absolution was not so convenient.
"Perhaps it was not the perfect time, but I could not pass up NCIS' agreement to help with the adoption in return for something I have done a hundred times before."
His mouth split in a sideways smile. "This Sana is one lucky girl."
Ziva searched his gaze for anything less than total sincerity. "You are just saying that," she said, calling his bluff.
"Why would I lie to you? And about this, of all things?" He scooped her hands into his own, pulling her closer. "I've seen you with kids before. Little Amira, Mike Franks' granddaughter? She loved you instantly."
And Ziva had loved Amira. It was remarkable to her the bond one could forge with a child, even in a brief span of time, such as the day the girl and her mother, Leyla, were under NCIS protective custody. Thinking back on it, Amira was not unlike Sana: gangly, sweet, in harm's way through no fault of her own…
"I know how long you've wanted a family," Tony continued, his thumbs grazing over her knuckles. He truly did; he'd been the one, after visions of marriage and children with Ray Cruz dissolved, to reassure her that she would get everything she wanted, someday. "If this is how you see all that finally happening for you, then why not go for it?"
Content, but are you happy?
While his voice gave nothing away, traces of lament resided in the shadows cast onto his face by the restive flames in the fireplace, the lone source of light in the room. For a long time, they ran parallel in romantic dysfunction. Now, she was skipping ahead in the normal progression of settling down. Without him.
Never one to let a heavy moment linger, Tony stepped back to let his eyes roam over her. "One thing's for sure, you're totally gonna rock mom jeans."
"I have never heard of those," she told him honestly. "What is the difference between 'mom jeans' and regular jeans?"
His sigh was as weary as the shake of his head. "You're even further out of the loop than usual. How long has it been since you've seen a movie? Don't lie to me, Ziva David."
Knocking his playfully wagging finger out of her face, she stepped around him and eased herself down onto the edge of the coffee table. "The truth is, I am the lucky one when it comes to Sana. She is, um, wonderful," the proud soon-to-be-mom gushed, not bothering to contain her bright grin. "She likes to draw and color, mostly animals. Before I left, I asked her to make me something every day until I returned for her."
There would be four or five by now, depending if she'd drawn one the afternoon Ziva departed. How many drawings would there be, in the end? By the time she arranged for everything here, completed her side of the bargain…even one more day seemed too long.
"You miss her."
While lost in her own thoughts, Tony had seated himself on the couch across from her. Their knees brushed and settled against each other, sharing the space.
"Yes, very much." Her smile tilted towards the ground. "The connection I feel to her is something I cannot explain to you anymore than myself."
The special agent prompted, "Well, since you know her better than anyone else, you can give me some pointers. Does she like jokes? Can I woo her with a little 'Knock-knock, who's there?' or are we still in 'got your nose' territory?"
"You could," she chuckled, "if you can do it all in Arabic."
"Oh, I would've thought by now you'd have turned her into a polyglot after your own heart."
"Why would she need to learn a new language if everyone around her speaks her native tongue? There will be time for that later."
"Huh, didn't think of it that way." Tony scratched at the day's worth of stubble on his jaw, pausing at his chin. "What?"
Caught staring, Ziva bristled her nonchalance as restless fingers danced along the side of her neck. "It is just—and I do not want you to take this the wrong way—but I have hesitated to tell you about Sana, knowing as I do how children are your greatest fear."
A soft cringe pulled the lines of his crow's feet together, bunching in the corners of his eyes. Now he surely regretted telling her about his misadventure in the NCIS daycare three years earlier, not that there wasn't other evidence of his child-aversion, if his adamant avoidance of dating single moms was to be taken into account.
"That was awhile ago, and I like to think I've matured since then," he reasoned, puffing out his chest like a little boy trying to convince an adult he was grown up. The only thing he succeeded in was making her laugh. "Besides, I'm not the one adopting the little munchkin."
The phrase not only sobered her, it also sent up a red flag somewhere in the developing part of her gut specifically for parenting. Perhaps he could come around to the idea of a child, one he could tell jokes to and rile up but not be responsible for at the end of the day. Someone else's child. She did not blame him wanting that role in Sana's life, as it was less of a commitment or risk, but it would mean he would have a different one in hers, too.
Back straightening, Ziva inched forward to the edge of the coffee table, leaning further into the space they shared. The switch of her posture alone garnered his attention.
"Is this the part where—" Her fingertip over his lips failed to stop him. "…you try to scare me off?"
"Not exactly." It hadn't worked in the past anyway. Sana, though, was a 'deal-breaker,' as the saying went.
"Tony," she began again, reclaiming her digit and waiting for the anxious humor in his eyes to ebb before clarifying, "You must understand that once I bring Sana here, anyone who wants to be in my life must accept that she and I will be...how do you say…" Flailing hands worked as much as her mind to come up with the correct word.
He guessed, "A packaged deal?"
"Inseparable," she decided. "Sana has changed my priorities."
"You're not going to bring her on our dates, though, are you?" The combination of his solemn tone and bold assumption was difficult for her to reconcile, especially when scrutiny of his stoic expression was to no avail.
She opted for a safe bet, scoffing, "That is rather presumptuous."
"Dating you or—"
"Is not," he countered, the smirk dawning across his mouth revealing his facetious intent. As quickly as it came, the lightness departed again. "Listen, I know I haven't had the greatest track record with kids and yeah, your life is going in that direction, and I don't think it comes as any shock to you that I want to be in it…"
Ziva sensed him take her hands, but she was too transfixed by his earnest face to look away.
His eyes were dark green in the glow of fire light. "Do you remember what I said to you, in the orange grove?"
That it was nearly six months back in her memory was no deterrent. Like a file retrieved on the computer, the warm afternoon in the land of her birth opened with his single request. The balmy breeze had flavored the air with citrus and sunshine as it ruffled the dense gatherings of leaves in the rows upon rows of fruit-bearing trees. Burying her new I Will list had brought them out amidst the groves; his final plea for her return to Washington had kept them there, leaning against one another, each hoping to sway the other's understanding into their own corner. He'd wanted her, and she'd wanted peace that no one could give.
Yes, she remembered it all.
"You said," Ziva recited, hazelnut eyes peeking up through long lashes, "you would…change, if I came home with you."
I know it's hard. And I know you want to change. I can change with you…
Tony nodded slowly, his thumbs kneading almost painfully the tops of her hands. "I get that it wasn't the right time for us, then. You had things you needed to take care of. But now—correct me if I'm wrong—now could be the right time. If we wanted it to be.
"I think," he whispered, his gaze hopeful and unwavering, "there's still a chance for us to change…together."
In the silence following his second vow of the night, this one imbued with even more promise than the first, sudden warmth bloomed in her chest, spreading steadily out under her skin, dyeing the olive surface a faint scarlet. It was overwhelming, this relief. This acceptance.
One of her hands untangled from his grip and reached out, confident fingers threading the trimmed hairs at the back of his neck, tightening and drawing him in close. Unlike in the orange grove, there was no pocket of hesitation to deny desire. To his surprised mouth she pressed her own vows and promises, placing them lightly on the curve of his top lip, the stubbly skin above his jaw. Under her gentle ministrations, his skin stretched with a smile, and she knew he'd deciphered her every touch.
For them, there was always a chance.