A happy (*early*) birthday to Delayna, one of the most beautiful and kindest souls I've ever had the chance to know. It's incredible that a show and the internet can bring someone as wonderful as you into my life, but here we are, and I'm so very fortunate and grateful. So much love for you, lady. You're as irreplaceable as our Ziva David.
And a huge thank you to the ladies who read and edited this monster, particularly FrannyLuvsAll. A bottle of wine will be sent to you post-haste; along with a trashbag for all the discarded commas and grammatical mistakes you meticulously filtered out of every paragraph.
Shouting, whirling blades, and gunfire.
Those are the only sounds she can wrap her mind around in the hours after she watches Saleem crash with finality to the floor.
This reminds her of one of Tony's movies.
He always said she'd regret falling asleep before the endings, and she wonders just how this one will end.
A week after she returns to D.C, there's a message from her father on the landline's answering machine in her temporary quarters at the naval base.
It blinks red, flashing brightly in the dark as she returns home from another lengthy checkup.
The memory of a similar flashing light blinking in the confines of a hot, desert campsite comes back to her.
She's still shaking the memory and hardly pays attention to the number recited in the familiar, gravelly voice.
She deletes the message anyway.
He doesn't call back.
Ziva spends a week curled up in her bed, eating nothing but the groceries Abby forced her to take until they slowly dwindle down to nothing.
She avoids all mirrors because she knows the bruises haven't faded, and the shadows under her eyes are so dark that she gets lost in them.
She sleeps all day because it seems easier than getting up and going out and trying to face the world, and she makes her final box of cereal last until only a thin layer of dust is left at the bottom of the bag.
Ziva's afraid of everything that lies outside her small, cramped apartment.
And she hates herself for that.
Gibbs won't let her have a gun.
Ziva pockets the small, worn blade he does allow her to have, ignoring her angry look and staring back at her with equal intensity until something softens in her eyes, eyes all too self-aware, and her shoulders sag in defeat.
It's this very reaction that worries him. She deflates and folds in on herself immediately, and this passiveness is foreign on her.
She fiddles with it in her pocket whenever she gets tense, and he watches her hand disappear often.
Later, before he leaves her, he sees her stash it under the lone, single pillow that rests upon her bed.
Her cell was so small, she never could properly lie down even as she slept.
Now, her bed feels too big and far too vast.
They keep dropping by unannounced, as if they believe this will equate to healing.
In actuality, it only makes her feel worse.
Because although they visit with pleasantries on their lips, arms full of second-hand necessities, fill the small rooms with laughter and light conversation, it makes her acutely aware of the one man who has yet to step foot in her door.
She's never known her partner to ever back off when it comes to her privacy.
It's a sharp, stabbing pain that flares when she realizes they're no longer partners, and a hollow emptiness left in its place when she wonders where exactly that leaves them.
She's almost made it a week free of them, her longest record yet, when a panic attack springs out of nowhere.
Gibbs can hardly make out the strangled plea for help she hisses through the speaker of his cell phone.
He's halfway to the crime scene when he commands Tony to take a sharp left, McGee clinging to their headrests from the backseat. It's the three of them who find her huddled on the floor of her bathroom, shattered fragments of what used to be her mirror scattered all around her.
There's a pain she knows well haunting Tony's eyes when they accidentally make eye contact.
She wonders if it is merely a reflection of what he sees when he looks at her, or if it was she who put those dark shadows there.
They're still not talking; but as they file one by one out of her little base accommodation, he's the last one standing inside the kitchen.
He slips past her, the closest they've been since he half-carried her out of Saleem's cell and out of the desert.
She tenses, almost balks when his hand makes contact with hers. But in the next second, the warmth of his palm is gone, and in its place, a cold, familiar weight.
She looks down at her old, favored knife and back up to his face.
"Kept it safe for you." He turns away with a slight nod, disappearing behind the front door, and in the blink of an eye, he's gone.
She stares at it for a long time, even as her vision blurs and tears fill her eyes.
Ziva forces herself to walk to the convenience store a mile down the road, under blinding sun and beside the smell of heavy city traffic.
By the time she makes it to the building's doors, her teeth are clenched and she is on edge as she desperately tries to tune out blaring horns and the rush of engines.
Later, a little boy in line stares fearfully at her from behind his mother's legs, and she knows he doesn't see her, but the healing marks, purple bruises, and her gaunt, desperate look.
She doesn't let herself wonder about the children she used to picture in her future or why that feels so achingly out of reach now.
She knows better than to think the demons wouldn't follow her out of Africa, even if Saleem's men cannot.
Fear attacks her at moments when she isn't even afraid.
It happens leaving the tarmac, in the car-ride home, walking to the store, traveling to and from the doctor's office where she keeps weekly mandatory appointments for the better part of two months and bi-weekly after that.
They take turns driving her to these appointments.
It rotates with the days of the week.
Gibbs and his non-committal grunts on Mondays. McGee and a king-sized bar of her favorite chocolate on Tuesdays. Ducky arrives on Wednesdays, bearing a new book week by week. Abby comes for her on Thursdays and with a new place for lunch. Gibbs reappears again on Fridays.
On a Monday morning in late October, she steps into the Charger.
Looking up from her seatbelt, she finds Tony staring back at her.
The car ride and afternoon go by agonizingly slow. She doesn't ever remember a moment in all the years she has known him where conversation had been this difficult.
She wonders when things got so badly broken between them.
She thinks it may be between the time his bullet found itself in Michael, or when her bullet almost found itself in his chest on the blistering rooftop in Tel Aviv.
He makes the mistake of stopping by his place before dropping her off at home.
She should feel guilty about swiping his backup as he paces in the other room, searching for a case file.
But amusement clouds and masks the feeling when she finds the Sig still strapped to the underside of his piano chair.
He hasn't moved it in all the years she's known him.
The world outside seems so big.
But she still feels so small.
He drops her off at her door, leaving the Charger idle in the parking lot as they walk up the metal stairs; the only sound between them is the clang, clang, clang of their feet meeting metal and the echo it gives off.
He gives her a pinched smile as they part ways and she disappears behind the door, leaning back against it and replaying the loudest, silent conversation they've ever had over in her head.
She didn't say goodbye.
She still doesn't know how to say hello.
Ziva wakes up one morning and blinks against the glaring sunlight while fighting a yawn.
She lies there for several seconds until she realizes she didn't wake once during the night.
She allows herself a smile, pulling her sheets around her while watching the sun come up.
Sometimes, she wastes away the hours between afternoon and evening staring at the blank television screen as the room grows dark.
It comforts her, and she tries to ignore why that is.
But she knows if she allowed her mind to wander, she would realize the television reminds her of countless nights spent on a sofa in a lifetime so long ago, watching movies Tony chose; and it's Tony himself, really, or the memory of him, that comforts her and reaches her even now.
She's spending the day in Gibbs' front lawn, planting flowers and digging up weeds, when he tells her that once she's cleared her final weekly appointment, Vance would like to see her.
If that is what she wants.
For the first time in what seems like months, the feeling of hope spreads through her body, tingles along her aching muscles and healing bones.
A smile spreads across her face. The earth beneath her fingers as she digs out a weed feels a little like salvation.
She continues pulling the weeds out.
Cleansing the earth. Healing the soil.
Making room for growth.
She's making progress in therapy and progress with Tony.
When she comes out of her appointment, her spirits are buoyed enough that she manages to give him a free smile when he looks up from the magazine he's looking at without really reading.
It's only a smile, but it feels like an olive branch.
One he'll gladly accept.
To relax, she takes apart Tony's sig: clean, wipe, brush, repeat.
It is a ritual that's calmed her in the past, and it calms her now.
He shows up in his mustang now; the radio on low, a non-threatening mix of light music and soft tempo. She's not cleared to drive yet; and even if she were, he wouldn't let her drive anyway.
Tony always drove; he's terrified of her behind the wheel.
He turns up the radio when he hears her humming along to the song playing, familiar but one he doesn't quite place. He's smiling, and she turns away from the window to look at him when she notices the volume increase, giving him a shy smile in return.
He swallows thickly at the gesture and turns his eyes back to the road. His mouth is suddenly very dry.
"So, today was a good day?"
He licks his lips roughly, and she gazes over at him, almost pensively.
"Since being back..." she begins, but pauses. He keeps his eyes on the road, holding his breath, as if any movement will make her fall silent.
"I have realized... that while I was in... that camp," her fingers worry the edge of the passenger seat, and without looking he knows her knuckles are growing white, "I thought that I was ready to die."
Tony can't help it then; he turns sharply to look at her as he presses down on the brake.
She gives him a self-aware smile that holds a lot of things, but none of them humor.
"I have realized that perhaps I had mistaken my readiness for wanting."
He reaches for her hand then, her fingers stilling under the ones he curls around her own.
She breathes out heavily and looks toward him with glistening eyes.
"I guess it is a good thing you came for me. I do not know if I would have let you had I known."
The light turns green then, but he hangs on to her hand.
"It wouldn't have mattered." His voice tight and so very sincere.
"The minute I knew you needed help, there wouldn't have been a choice."
Her breathing hitches, but he continues.
"With you, there's never been a choice."
He holds her hand for the rest of the car ride.
Neither of them let go.
She needs a light on to sleep.
But, she thinks,
at least she's finally sleeping.
It's a listless, restless sleep. She's slept far better on airplanes; on hard, safe house floors; in car seats; and on couches (particularly Tony's).
But her sleep isn't interrupted by nightmares.
Ziva's seen too much for nightmares.
She does, however, often lay awake; and if she sits too long in the dark, it feels as though that darkness is closing in.
The last time that happened was in a rotting, dirt cell.
It was the closest to oblivion she's ever been or ever wants to be again.
She visits the office on a Thursday. And though she hasn't yet spoken to Vance, nor is she officially on the road to being reinstated quite yet, her desk is there waiting, decorated with banners that scream Abby and handwriting that suggests the assistance of a slightly less than enthusiastic McGee.
She takes a seat behind her desk, tracing the top, gliding a hand over her keyboard. Maneuvering to sit in down in her chair, she frowns as she comes up shorter than the height she's used to.
Tony sees her puzzled look staring back at him across from his own desk. He gives her an impish grin.
"Just keeping it warm for you, Sweetcheeks."
She throws a pen half-heartedly in his direction that falls short and clatters against the desk's corner.
But her lips pull up at the old nickname.
McGee stops by one night on his way home from work. He brings her chinese and beer – even gets her to laugh when he recalls different scenarios from the week that involve humiliation at Tony's expense.
Even though the doctors tell her she needs to gain weight, in addition to the weight that she had lost, back, she barely eats half of the carton of lo mein. McGee watches her pick at the noodles long after he finishes, and she thinks she may love McGee even more when he doesn't lecture her; instead, taking the carton and adding it to his own plate.
She shivers constantly even though it is still warm out for Autumn's standards and is wrapped in a huge, thick sweatshirt that looks suspiciously like one of Tony's. She claims it's just the base housing when he pulls off his suit jacket and drapes it around her shoulders.
The next day when he takes her to her appointment, and a short lunch afterwards, he pulls out apartment listings and they spend the rest of his lunch hour circling apartments with bold, red pens.
He frowns at a few she circles, but she smiles anyway.
Nothing looks better than the D.C zip code that follows each and every listing.
It rains, storms, for the second time since she's been home.
It makes her healing bones ache as much as they did on the day she was checked in to the 6th floor of Walter Reed Medical Center.
Her muscles tighten and loosen and her shoulder throbs unforgivingly.
With each flare she's reminded of how far she still has to go.
But it's not without realizing just how far she's come.
On Gibbs' Saturday off, he helps Ziva replace the broken mirror in her bathroom.
(What the Navy doesn't know won't hurt them, anyway.)
She smiles back at him over her shoulder in the mirror's reflection.
Abby offers to drive her home the day her final weekly checkup is finished; she surprises her with a homemade dinner in her small, still bare, and still empty, temporary accommodations.
But Abby sets the timer on the oven an hour over, with its cheap, flimsy dials and due to ignorance in a foreign kitchen. While they catch the meal in time before it burns when the enticing aroma causes Ziva to take a peek, they forget the timer ticks on, and when it goes off later, long after Abby departs, it startles Ziva from the bedroom with its very shrill and too loud, ominous sound.
She silences it with three bullets from Tony's backup before she realizes what she's doing.
Shaking fingers dial Tony's number.
Even though it spent many years programmed in her speed-dial, the number's still ingrained in her memory.
He wordlessly looks at the shot up oven then to her, and she swears he ages five years before her very eyes.
She wonders how many years she has taken off his life in total.
He exhales and pulls a beer out of her fridge from the six-pack McGee left the other night.
"Did the oven look at you funny?"
He takes a sip.
She sighs in relief.
He seems to realize that the feeling of the cold metal under her pillow soothes her. He empties what is left of the mags and wordlessly places the gun back under her pillow.
They migrate to the couch where she watches him surf the internet on the loaned laptop Abby had given her a few weeks after settling in, and he makes plans to have an identical model of the oven delivered in three days' time.
Ziva thinks she might prefer it if he had spent the better part of the night raging at her.
He sticks around for a while and she pretends for her sanity that he's not doing so just to keep an eye on her. He turns on the television, and they watch a couple re-runs of I Love Lucy because cable is basic here, and it's either Ricky and Lucy or the local weather boys.
"What if I am unfit to be an Agent?"
Her hushed utterance comes from her end of the couch. He takes his last swig of beer, and as recorded laughter filters from the television, he turns to glance at her, reaching over and poking at her leg with his toe.
"You aren't." He murmurs, and it's the sincerity in his voice that makes her look over at him.
He gives her a meaningful look.
"It's just gonna take time."
The silence that follows is both loud and heard. His eyes soften when he sees understanding wash over her face. He tucks his sock covered feet under her thigh as she seems to visibly relax. It's the first, welcomed touch she's accepted from him for weeks, and it feels like a significant victory for him. For the rest of the night, she fires off questions about why, exactly, does everyone love Lucy, and ever so slowly they migrate closer to one another along her couch.
The talk with Vance doesn't go as smooth as she had hoped for.
But it goes as well as she expected.
Gibbs is already waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs when she exits Vance's office.
She doesn't have to open her mouth; it's clear he already knows in his impossible, often irritating way.
He slaps a file into her hands, and she meets his eyes when she recalls the Director's words still ringing in her ears.
"I am damaged goods."
Gibbs sips silently at his coffee; a look of distaste briefly crosses his features at the choice of words.
"Nah." He shakes his head, then turns away and motions for her to follow with a flick of his index finger.
"A little damaged, maybe. Doesn't mean you're broken."
She slides the file open as she walks.
It's an NCIS Application.
David, Ziva is written in permanent ink at the top.
Tony is her ride home that day.
But instead of heading toward the main level, he jams the button for the second floor when the elevator doors close before them.
He doesn't offer an explanation.
She doesn't ask for one.
When they reach the door of the empty gym, she watches Tony warily while he takes several clothes out of a gym bag and then hands her the strap to take.
He points toward the women's locker room and then to the open floor by the boxing mats.
"You've got five minutes, Lucy. Go change."
She frowns, tilts her head sideways at him.
"Tony..." she echoes again. Her voice sounds so very tired to her all of a sudden.
He doesn't look back at her as he walks away.
"What are we doing here, exactly?"
He's winding tape around the glove on her hand, and it's reassuring that she no longer tenses for long under his touch.
"You gotta pass your physical eval, and the psych," he says around a mouthful of tape and tugs tight on the glove. "You can't do either of those if you don't get your endurance back." She's silent as he finishes her right hand, looking up at her before moving on to the left. Tony softens his look when she looks ready to fight with him.
"You gotta get the demons out too, Ziva."
She gapes at him as the fight leaves her tongue, and he claps her gloves together when he finishes.
He shoots her a playful look and starts strapping his own gloves on.
"Let me be your punching bag."
She knows he's only trying to make her smile, but her heart drops at his words.
For so long she has done just that. She no longer wants to use him as her emotional punching bag.
"C'mon, David." Tony flashes her a grin.
He advances on her.
With a loud exhale, she raises her arms.
Her shoulder starts to ache again in the days that follow their one on one sessions.
It's a good kind of pain though.
The kind that means she's healing.
She finds an apartment about fifteen minutes out from the Navy Yard.
It's on the bottom floor, and it is the patch of earth with a small but still mighty tree that wins her over.
She smiles at the green blades of grass and the leaves scattered across the lawn.
She doesn't see a single grain of sand.
The team helps her move into her new apartment, filling it with her few possessions and a little of theirs, too.
At the end of the day, she sees them sprinkled throughout her space, and it feels settling.
She realizes it's because they've become so very permanent in her life. And the reminder is there, in the bookshelf Gibbs built himself with his own hands, the hand woven rug that's absolutely her taste and somehow McGee knew too, and bought and unrolled it for in her very living room. She sees it in the pictures Abby had framed for her walls, in the books Ducky stacked on Gibbs' shelf.
But most of all, she sees it in the man lying passed out on her couch, long after everyone else leaves; with hair sticking out at all ends and shoes on the floor by his feet.
She walks over to his sleeping form, pulling a blanket from the back of the couch and draping it over him softly.
Leaning over him, Ziva whispers against his ear while extinguishing the light of the small lamp.
"Laila Tov, Tony."
Abby shows up at her door on the first day of Hanukah.
"You're going to be late for the service if you don't hurry." She smiles brightly at Ziva's perplexed look.
Later, Abby reaches for her hand halfway through the service. A silent tear slips down Ziva's cheek, and her friend doesn't let go.
She is reinstated in November.
And though she woke up late, took the wrong bus to work, and the coffee cart on the yard had suspiciously moved in her absence, the world seems to right itself the minute she enters the empty bullpen.
There's a steaming cup of tea already waiting by her keyboard, an empty drink holder in the trash by Tony's desk. Her chair is righted, keyboard dusted; and when she jams her bag underneath her desk and opens the bottom drawer, she finds a bag of the same mini Twix bars she always used to steal from her partner's desk and a yellow Post-It on the bag that says: Welcome back, Lucy, - Ricky, with a heart over the i, a new USB chip taped to a Nutter-Butter, and a brand-new badge.
Gibbs whisks silently by her desk, and his voice startles her as he passes.
"Grab your badge. Probie."
She smiles widely, touching the laminated plastic.
Then the elevator dings, Gibbs patient sigh mingling with the sound, and she jumps wildly to her feet and for the closing doors.
The first thing Ziva adorns her desk with is not one of her many mementos of past missions, weapons from her collection, or personal effects (she doesn't have much left, anyway.)
Instead, a plant not quite in bloom. She keeps it on the shelf beside her, ensuring its presence in her field of vision.
He understands why.
After spending months in the desert, he would want to surround himself with vibrant, living plants too.
They remind her of life.
They also remind her of salvation.
She still has to fit weekly therapy sessions around her newly reinstated work schedule.
It makes her grumpy and short in the bullpen, and more intense during their gym sessions.
But it is Tony's constant joking one morning while they gather before the plasma that leads to an irate Gibbs tossing Ziva the keys in an effort to cheer her up.
Tony's face drains of color, and Ziva grins wickedly.
Her therapist waits until half-way through their session before bringing him up.
"So, how are things going with your partner? Agent DiNozzo?"
Ziva blinks in surprise, narrowing her eyes while becoming immediately defensive.
"What about Tony?" The use of his first name doesn't go undetected, but Ziva's too wary to notice. "I have never mentioned Tony."
The therapist smiles, and Ziva knows she's been had.
"Exactly." She clasps her hands over her lap and peers over her glasses knowingly.
"In all the months we've been seeing each other, you've mentioned everyone but your partner in this room."
When she leaves the session, Ziva realizes that she still doesn't have an answer.
The first Saturday after moving in, Gibbs stopped by with groceries, beer, and fresh yellow tulips that she sets out proudly on display. Side by side, they cook dinner.
He continues to show up every Saturday after that, bearing yellow tulips and an armful of bags. Ziva leaves the menu up to him, but she always has a six-pack waiting for him in her fridge.
"I like the yellow," Ziva murmurs shyly while chopping vegetables beside him one night.
Gibbs' hands still over the cutting board, and a rare smile flutters across his face for the briefest of moments.
His eyes look far away.
"Kelly did, too."
Ziva gets stuck in the elevator on her way down to Abby's lab one morning.
She's only alone and in silence for five minutes until her cell phone buzzes in her bag.
Tony and McGee spend the next two hours on a three-way line with her, debating movies and their sequels and why Ziva won't be able to redeem herself until she's watched American Pie and Tommy Boy each respectively.
She knows what they're doing while she waits for the elevator to come back to life.
And she's grateful for it.
Gibbs keeps her back on a case one day and makes the call she doesn't want to hear. He's still being careful with her when it comes to the field, and though she understands his reasons, it's difficult for her to be left behind.
The boys send her silent looks of solidarity as they file out of the bullpen after their leader, leaving Ziva to fume at her desk in quiet frustration. She is the only one in the bullpen when she gets up to leave for the evening and stack her paperwork into a neat, organized pile on top of Gibbs' desk. She slams it down with more force than necessary, but by the time she's made her way to the parking lot and half-way home, the anger slowly fades into something more morose.
She's changed into her casual clothes and is thinking about what to do for dinner when a soft knock echoes down the hall. When she pulls open the door, she's greeted by Tony and McGee; bearing identical grins and bags of take-out food. When they push by her and through her door, she sees Tony holding something that looks suspiciously like a movie.
McGee exercises more courtesy than Tony; as her partner kicks off his shoes and makes himself at home, the younger agent greets her with a hand on her shoulder and a polite smile.
"We figured tonight would be the perfect night to watch one of those movies we talked about." He holds up some of her favorite lo mein as a peace offering.
Ziva takes the bag with a sardonic smile, peering inside to confirm the food comes from her favorite place around the corner. "Oh did you?"
"You can't get out of it, Ziva." Tony calls from the living room, and the faint sound of a bottle opening follows. "Hurry up, the movie's starting."
She looks at McGee, whom merely shrugs and rolls his eyes playfully at their friend's antics. Ziva sighs in resignation and shakes her head, reaching around Tim to bolt and lock the door.
"You did not have to come by," she murmurs as they make their way down the hall. McGee toes off his shoes to carry them, and reaches down to pick up Tony's strewn across the floor to move them out of her way.
"We wanted to," he smiles genuinely, then lowers his voice as his features soften. "It was Tony's idea."
Ziva's cheeks warm as they split up to walk around either side of her couch, settling beside Tony. He grins at both of them in greeting, lying back comfortably against the couch with his feet propped up on her coffee table; as if he's done this in her home a million times before.
"Settle in, folks." He reaches for the remote, and Ziva settles closer to press against his side.
"What are watching?" She pulls at a blanket from behind the couch, wrapping it around her and taking a carton of food Tony shoves at her.
"A classic, Miss American Pie."
Tim groans at the pun, but Ziva hides her smile.
When American Pie finally fades to black, Tony turns to her as McGee sleeps on beside him.
"You made it till the end," he whispers, and they laugh as a loud snore from McGee punctuates the silence.
Sobering, Ziva rolls her head along the couch to look at him. Her shy smile warms his chest.
"I am starting to appreciate the endings."
Gibbs arrives for dinner that weekend with a silent apology on his lips, and she greets him warmly with just as silent understanding.
As they travel through the house and towards the kitchen, his eyes scan the still stark-white walls.
"Thinkin' about getting some paint up on these walls?" He takes a bag from her grasp, lifting it on the counter and pulling out groceries.
Ziva smiles as she takes a bag of produce from his hands. She hums in reply.
"I was thinking yellow."
Gibbs eyes warm kindly.
"I like yellow."
Reaching for a cutting board, she spreads out several vegetables. He hands her his good blade, and she flashes him a grin.
"I do, too."
When she accidentally gives Tony a black eye in their latest gym session, she offers to make him dinner as an apology and as a peace offering.
"I could have countered that move if you hadn't tripped my feet."
She snorts derisively as she pushes her chair in and waves him off when he reaches for their dishes.
"I did not trip you," she says, walking by him and toward the living room. "It is not my fault you have two left feet."
Tony lets out a loud laugh the fills her home pleasantly, and she turns around, pausing when she sees him bring his hands up out of the corner of her eye.
"I'll prove it to you." He grins, and beckons her with his hand. Ziva shakes her head dismissively at him.
"I would not want to hurt you again, Tony."
He swats playfully at her side, causing her to laugh when he hits her dead center in the one place he knows she's ticklish.
"What? Afraid to get physical, David?"
Ziva's lunge for him stops short, as the laughter dies from her face. Hearing his words over in his head and the way something in Ziva's eyes just darkens with the same haunted look from the desert causes him to trip over his words in a rush to get them out.
"Ziva, I didn't mean, that's not what I -"
She shrugs him off, casting her eyes away and looking toward the table.
"I am going to clear these up," she manages in a voice that barely shakes, fleeing from his too-knowing gaze and leaving him to pick up the pieces of his slightly blown mind.
She never confirms it out loud.
But he doesn't need her to.
He thinks in this case like so often with her, silence speaks volumes.
Gibbs gives her the gift around Christmas, just before they part for a few days until their holiday dinner at Ducky's.
It looks completely different from her old necklace, and she likes it this way. The weight around her neck is both welcoming and familiar.
She wears it to dinner, and of course, he notices.
Tony smiles every time her fingers tangle in the chain, touching it as if to check to make sure it's real and there. Almost as if she's reminding herself she's really here.
He understands the gesture; for sometimes he still has trouble believing she's here and with them, too.
Abby comes over to keep her company on New Years Eve.
As they move around the kitchen preparing glasses of champagne and the holy grail of junk food, her friend pauses mid-conversation while searching through her fridge.
Ziva turns around while pouring chips into a bowl, and Abby holds up a a faded, yellow Post-It note stuck on the door of her fridge. She scrutinizes the writing.
A faint blush stains her cheeks. She turns back around to her task at hand, avoiding Abby's knowing gaze and the smile that's pulling at her lips.
"A reminder." Ziva says at last, and tries to curve her own smile that threatens her features.
The Probie sentiment gets old. And quickly.
Ziva never once loses a game of rock, paper, scissors, but in the end she is still the one who runs for their coffees, lunch, and snacks; files their paperwork; and gases the truck.
But for every fleeting, murderous moment that passes through her, McGee does something kind in the way only he can or Tony crushes a hard and furious blow to a suspect that dares to try and run down Ziva. She realizes just how close she came to losing all of this, and the anger evaporates as quickly as it came.
Sometimes, she still sees his face in the dark.
But it's always followed by the memory of him ripping a burlap sack off her head, Tony's face appearing suddenly, and an echo of the loud shot that rings with unflinching finality.
Sometimes, she can still hear it.
At their next boxing session, Ziva throws a punch so ferocious with her weak arm that Tony blinks in shock and stumbles roughly backward.
Ziva's look mirrors his and hesitantly she rolls her shoulder, but feels no answering pain from the action.
Tony flashes her a brilliant grin, one that Ziva can't help but return.
Ducky asks her one afternoon as they settle in his lab for their weekly tea.
"How are things with Tony?"
Her eyes fall to the left, and she quickly changes the subject to the case they're working.
But her blush is quite telling.
A rape victim marks their fifth case since being reunited as a team.
Ziva's hardly present in anything she does that day in the bullpen.
But it's Tony who breaks his keyboard after slamming the keys with enough force to wake the dead.
The case leaves a bad taste in their mouths, and lingers heavily in the bullpen for the days that follow.
The night of sleep after the closing of this case, Ziva sees Saleem in the dark shadows of her room for the final time.
Gibbs sends them to check out their suspect's realty office, and it feels like nothing had ever changed.
When they realize the only way past the secretary at his place of work is to feign purchasing a property, they fall into sync with long practiced ease.
Tony takes on his best New York accent and slides an easy arm around Ziva's waist.
" 'Name's Ricky," He grins, and Ziva has to stop herself from rolling her eyes. Instead, she squeezes herself into his side as he begins talking real estate prices and deflecting the suspect's secretary from Ziva's searching eyes.
It takes him five minutes to get the woman to show him to another room.
It takes two for Ziva to break into their suspects' office and get out without detection.
The only thing standing between her and full Agent status is citizenship.
Ziva buys an armful of books that cost nearly both her legs.
She spreads them out around her on the couch she chose, for the home she bought, in the city she loved – almost as much as the family she'd found.
With a shaking hand, she opens the first book, flips to the first page.
Chapter One: A Revolution
A witness gets a little too comfortable and a little too handsy with Ziva one afternoon. He runs his mouth with vulgar comments that drawl snarls from her partner, reaching for her ass and laughing when she freezes under his touch. Though her face remains stoic and she restrains the engrained urge to release her inner ninja, the boys are much less forgiving.
McGee; soft, genial McGee, shoves him against the wall with a sickening crunch that's almost drowned out by his cry of pain. Tony's suddenly there in the whimpering man's face, and his voice rings deadly in the alleyway.
He punctuates each of the next following words by slamming him against the wall. "Don't. Touch. Her."
In that moment, she doesn't recognize either of her teammates.
Ziva spends nearly an entire afternoon one weekend looking at paint samples.
After hours of staring at the spectrum of yellow that exists, she decides on a shade that reminds her of sunny days, infectious laughter and sawdust. She leaves the store chuckling silently to herself.
It feels oddly freeing to have such mundane worries as paint choices.
He comes over the next weekend to help her paint the living room. The first couple of hours don't see much progress though, and they end up with more paint on themselves then on the walls after she initiates an all out war that starts with a brush of paint across his cheek.
He warns her not to start something she isn't prepared to finish; showing no mercy as he coats her nose, arms, and bits of exposed thigh below her gym shorts.
Ziva buys him take-out for his service and they share a bottle of wine on the floor of the darkening room. They talk, really talk; easy, back and forth conversation about anything and everything, and as the wine loosens her up, more of her laughter tumbles out and Tony's jokes become more absurd.
When he notices her yawn for the third time in the span of several minutes, he makes to get up and fumble for his phone to call a taxi.
Ziva's heart pangs at the action. She bites her lip; looking around her living room and the couch pushed out of the way on its side, she comes to quick decision.
Tugging his phone out of his hands, she pulls at his arm and walks over to lock her deadbolt, hitting the light switch and extinguishing the room.
"You can stay, Tony." She says softly, and his expression softens in the dark.
Following her lead, he trails behind her down the hall and toward her bedroom.
When he emerges from the bathroom, he finds her already dressed and laying on the far side of the bed. The sheets are thrown back on the side closest to him.
Pointing at the space, she tells him calmly and firmly, "Your side."
Tony does a quick assessment of her demeanor as he slowly pads over to the bed. But when he settles atop the mattress and the bed dips with his weight, he doesn't see fear or hesitation from her. Still, he gently settles under the sheets and is careful to keep on his side of the imaginary line she's drawn. She goes back to her book settled in her lap, and his eyes fall shut to the image of her in the glowing light.
Later, he's awoken when the inevitable happens. He opens his eyes to find Ziva staring back at him. The sheets are twisted and tangled around them in the middle of her bed, and it's clear they're no longer on their respective sides.
"Hi," he murmurs softly. She blinks back at him in response, but he's relieved to see her eyes clear and calm and not panicked nor fearful.
The last time they'd shared a bed together, he remembers how very surrounded he was by Ziva; His partner was known for habitually monopolizing the entire bed, a mass of curls with wild limbs laying claim to every inch of the mattress and him in kind.
It's a bit of a shock to see how she sleeps now; curled into a ball with the sheets in a vice grip around her, a cocoon of warmth that blocks out the world. It makes his heart pang.
Between their undercover-misson and now she's become like a lost child; seeking shelter, hiding from invisible monsters under the sheets.
She tries to shuffle herself from within the blankets, but it causes her to roll closer and Tony's face is now inches from her neck.
His eyes never leave hers as he waits for her to rebuff him, but when she doesn't, he leans forward close enough where his warm breath fans across her neck.
"I thought this was my side." He whispers.
Ziva's thigh brushes against his, and it's the same time Tony becomes aware of where his hand is place above the blankets. Her hip shifts just closer under his palm, and his touch tightens in response.
Ziva knows that if she inched just a bit closer, leaned in just a breath more, she could make a move and Tony would follow through. The first move would be effortless, but she knows what will follow after wouldn't. And while she hasn't been tempted in this way for so long, she's also aware that she isn't ready.
Tony seems to be a step ahead of her, just like he always is. The warmth of his touch leaves her hip, but he does draw his hand up to brush away the curls sticking to her cheek. His eyes smile back at her, and she takes his cue gratefully.
He laughs when she tugs the sheets from his grasp, and although he pulls back to give her some space, she still settles her head on his pillow.
"I bet Lucy never had to fight for sheets."
Tony's chuckle rustles a few of her curls, causing her to swipe adorably at her cheek.
Ricky and Lucy didn't share a bed.
But he won't tell her that.
It takes them a few more weekends, a few more sleepovers.
But he stays until her entire home is painted.
While searching for old clothes to paint in, she realizes how very scarce her wardrobe still is.
Abby's made aware of this one morning as Ziva visits her in the lab, bearing a caf-pow and making small talk as she runs a plate number through her system. They talk about making plans to go out when Ziva admits she still doesn't own a nice dress to go out on the town with, and the goth is appalled at this revelation. When Ziva heads back upstairs, Abby takes it upon herself to take the other woman out for an evening of shopping.
Abby arrives at the entrance of the bullpen just after five. Gibbs seems to be in on her plans because he merely smiles at the hesitant, pleading expression on Ziva's face and waves her and Abby off without putting up a fight.
It's with trepidation that Ziva follows the woman out of the bullpen and to the parking lot.
But three hours later and a margarita in hand, Ziva's fighting laughter as they dine at a little mexican restaurant, surrounded by an abundance of shopping bags.
She stops by Gibbs' home one Sunday morning to return a box of necessities he lent her for the first few weeks back in the States.
Before leaving, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out the same knife he'd given her all those months ago.
"I do not need this anymore."
Her genuine smile draws one out of him. Reaching for her hand, he presses his thumb into her palm.
"You never did." He murmurs. "You had us."
They spend the afternoon eating lunch on paper plates in their laps; sitting in the Spring breeze on his back porch and watching as yellow tulip buds poke through the earth.
"Have you talked to your father, Ziver?"
Ziva turns to look at him in the fading sun. She pats his hand and looks out at the sunset.
"Yes." She murmurs peacefully. "I am right now."
Tony's flicking fortune cookie pieces at an irate McGee while she skims through her mailbox.
She vaguely hears McGee jump up in anger and mutter something explicit to Tony, but her attention becomes absorbed in the e-mail she has opened.
"Ziva, did you hear me?"
She blinks back tears, looking up as Tony moves toward her desk, frowning.
"What're you looking at, Probie?"
Ziva's wistful smile makes his chest ache, and she moves her monitor, which he crouches down beside her to see.
"An old friend," She elaborates, and scrolls down until a pink bundle appears, surrounded by every teddy bear imaginable.
Ziva's expression does that wistful thing again, and she clicks to enlarge the picture.
"She just had a baby girl."
Tony's thoughts go in all sorts of directions then as he watches her face; and not for the first time, he thinks about the children that may or may not be, the life he may or may not still have, and olive-skinned kids with curly hair and molten brown eyes fill his head along with birthdays, firsts, and school plays, and everything that comes in between.
He wonders when exactly Ziva became the focal point that all of this revolved around.
Because he can't quite remember a time where she wasn't at the very center of his universe.
Near May, McGee has formatted a rigorous study schedule that keeps Ziva busy for weeks at a time.
It's not until after a handful of times it happens that McGee speaks up, when Ziva once again turns away Tony at her front door.
"Jeez," he mutters, as Ziva settles back down amidst him and all the books and flashcards on her living room floor. "It's like DiNozzo practically lives here."
His comment is merely grumbled off-hand, forgotten as soon as it leaves his mouth.
But it distracts her for the remainder of the evening.
She has gained almost everything back in the past several months.
But there is a part of her that still feels void and missing.
She knows it was there well before Somalia.
But what she doesn't know, has never known, is how to even begin filling it.
It's the night before her ceremony that a soft knock startles her awake.
For a fleeting moment of panic that hasn't reared in months, she thinks she is back in that desert cell.
But the soft knocking continues, and she steadies her sharp breathing, pulling off the covers and pulling on a sweatshirt over the tank-top she wore to bed.
She pads in bare feet down the hall and to the door, and she only blinks a bleary eye through the peephole for a second before sighing in relief and opening the door.
"Tony," she yawns, frowning. "What are you -"
It's then she notices the bag in his hand, and the day clothes on his back. He fiddles with the passport in his hand nervously.
"Ziva," his voice breaks on the first syllable. She steps aside hurriedly to let him in, and though he closes the door behind him, he makes no move to shed his jacket or shoes.
"I can't stay long," he begins, though he does drop his bag by his feet.
Ziva folds her arms against her chest, her head falling gently to the side.
"You are leaving."
Tony doesn't make any movement, but his eyes fall down and to the left.
Ziva nods knowingly, and tilts her head up to stare at the ceiling directly above them, as if she's searching for patience and understanding.
Or maybe she's thinking of a way to kill him.
"Vance." She finally sighs, and Tony shuffles closer, his hand coming to rest tentatively against her arm.
"Orders," he confirms grimly. "And I can't tell you that I'm going to Mexico," her eyes flash to his face, and mercifully softens at what she finds there. "And I can't tell you that I'm going to look for Franks." He reaches down to open his bag then, fumbling through his belongings. "But I want you to know that if there was any way for me to be there tomorrow," he frees an expertly wrapped box, and she takes it with shaking fingers. He looks directly into her eyes as they flit between him and the package. "I would choose to be there with you."
Her eyes burn as she tries her best to smile reassuringly at him.
With you, there's never been a choice.
She backs away from him, turning quickly into the kitchen and reappearing moments later without the package, but holding something in her hand.
She still has no idea where to begin filling the void, but she knows who could potentially be what fills it.
Taking his hand, she uncurls her fist and presses something cold and hard into his, curling his fingers around it.
"Be safe." It's an order. She purses her lips together tightly and that's how he knows she is leaving no room for argument.
He waits until she sees what he is about to do in his eyes, and when her own stay clear and she doesn't back away, he leans forward and presses a kiss that lasts a beat too long against her cheek.
"I will." He swallows roughly, inches from her face, and then his hand against her cheek is gone; and his back is disappearing behind her door.
When he uncurls his hand leaning outside her apartment door and the sound of the tumbling lock echoes though his head, he looks down to find the very key that will let him, once more, back in.
She opens the gift hours later following the ceremony; after she crawls into bed in a sweatshirt that smells of Tony, his scent washing over her in waves, and it's warmer than any blanket on her bed as she settles against her pillows.
The card falls out before she even finishes unwrapping the gift, and under a long, written message that makes her toes curl and chest warm, she notices he's addressed it To Lucy, and signed Love, Ricky.
It's four a.m when the deadbolt tumbles.
This time, panic doesn't greet her upon waking.
She knows it's him by the weight of his steps, the shuffle of his coat, and the sound of his deep, careful breathing.
The door doesn't make a sound as he slips into her bedroom.
He waits until she turns around in bed and beckons him to her. He slips off his shoes, his belt, and is ridding his shirt when he finally steps just before where she's sitting up in bed. His hands pause as they reach for his jeans, looking at her apprehensively, but she merely shakes her head to the side, a soft smile on her lips. She reaches for the hem of the denim, working them over his hips and pulling them off, too. He steps over them as they pool at his feet, and wastes no time crawling over her and then curling himself around her body.
His shaking hands graze over her stomach, and she covers them, curling her fingers around his own tightly.
As he listens to her steady breathing, he realizes there's no light permeating the room.
"You're sleeping in the dark?"
Ziva turns in his grasp, her leg slipping between his. Her warm breath fans across his neck.
"I do not need it anymore," she breathes, as his hands tighten around her back, drawing her closer.
"I have you."
His lips leave bruising kisses that she welcomes against her body.
But it's not before they travel over every line, every scar.
Each touch draws all the pain inflicted from the marks, casting it out of her mind and from her memory.
In the early hours under the moonlight, she feels his warm breath on her shoulder; his breathing rhythmic and the ghost of his touch tracing over the long, jagged scar at the top of her spine.
She prays he doesn't ask.
He hopes that one day, just maybe she will find the courage to tell him.
The day she becomes a full-fledged Agent, they're chasing down a suspect, and in a burst of sudden momentum that's been absent since returning, Ziva rushes past him and falls into step parallel with their suspect.
Tony's reaching for his gun when they make it to the corner of an alleyway, but he's not quick enough. The guy reaches for Ziva, causing them to tangle and fall roughly to the ground.
He needs to see only a brief flash of the blade before firing three bullets that find their home in their suspect's leg with deadly precision.
The cold, unadulterated fear is so intense in his eyes as he stares down at her, winded and heaving, that it steals her breath away; and this time, it's not her, but him that's back in that Godforsaken cell.
Later, he gets written up for excessive force, and Ziva stays long after the others leave to help him finish his paperwork.
It's Ziva's turn to hold him together that night as they crawl into bed.
Tony takes his time kissing her desperately and with escalating intensity for hours that night. His hold so possessive, she feels the echoing weight of his hands on her long after he falls asleep and the sun comes up.
She doesn't think she'll ever tire of him introducing her this way.
"I'm Agent DiNozzo, and this is my partner: Very Special Agent Ziva David."
More often they find themselves being split up in the field.
But Gibbs continues to hold his tongue.
It's both a staggering relief and an entirely unexpected mercy.
Still, they keep a breath of space between them, professional in every sense of the word, save for a brush of their hands as they swap files or lingering looks when the older man's back is turned.
They never really discuss it; but at one point, after waking up tangled with him morning after morning, suddenly he's just there at all hours and times of the day. Before she knows it, he's moved in and she never has to ask for him to stay.
She likes it that way.
Not long after this realization, Ziva wakes up one morning and finds a ring on her finger.
She never takes it off.
In three years' time, the desert becomes nothing more than a vacant memory, a forgotten road her mind never follows nor travels down.
She brushes a sweaty curl away from her cheek, looking up from the flower bed they're digging in Gibbs' yard. From the doorway, she sees him flash a tender smile in their direction before disappearing behind his door.
Placing another bunch of flowers into the newly dug hole, she flashes a brilliant smile down at her companion.
The little girl pulls at the weed, tugging with all her might, until it at last comes free. The force propels her backwards, though, and she almost tumbles over, but a strong hand reaches out just before gravity betrays her and holds her up.
"Woah, munchkin. I know you've got your mom's strength, but take it easy." Tony ruffles her tangled curls and pulls away gently when she flashes him his own killer smile.
Ziva frowns up at him, as he heaves a bag of mulch more securely over his shoulder, to which he merely returns with a grin.
"Momma, you think grandpa will like the yellows?"
Her L's come out soft. She give the color just one too many w's, and it causes Ziva's grin to return.
"I think that he will like them very much," she praises and leans over to tug another weed free. The little girl frowns at the action, and wipes dirt across her cheek and brow.
Tony walks away chuckling, murmuring something about bath time under his breath.
"How come you pullin' out the plants?"
Ziva clears the earth before her of stray weeds, and lifts a flower to place in a cleared hole.
"We are healing the earth, tatehleh." Leaning over her, she takes the smaller hands in hers, showing her how to fill and pat the flower in the dirt. She giggles as Ziva's curls tickle and brush against her cheeks.
The sound fills Ziva's ears and she looks down at her daughter's hands clasped in hers, feels her warmth radiate against her palms.
This is her salvation.