The decision to get a dog is not premeditated.
If asked, Tony would never identify as a dog person and – excepting the occasional stray thought – had never imagined he would someday be the owner of one. His work schedule at NCIS just doesn't afford it and, besides which, the potential for companionship is nowhere near enough to compensate for the housetraining, the shedding, and the awful, permeating smell of dog food that's made him gag ever since he was dared to eat a handful of kibble as a kid. And so, it is with some surprise that on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday he finds himself entering a pet store to buy goldfish flakes, and leaving with a furry bundle of joy.
It's difficult to say what makes him pause over the makeshift pen, what prompts him to ask the storeowner about its tiny resident as he bends to scratch behind a floppy black ear. It might be the puppy's liquid brown eyes, or the way her tail begins to wag the second she notices Tony's attention on her. It's difficult to say, but his heart melts regardless.
"She's a bernese mountain dog - older couple bought her from a breeder a week ago, then realized they couldn't look after her," the kindly Mr. Schmidt explains while Tony lingers, jar of fish food forgotten on the check-out counter. "Too much work at their age, you know? Plus the wife's not been well, either."
In a near out-of-body experience, Tony hears himself ask, "Is there an adoption cost?"
Upon receiving a firm "no," he makes a decision he'll still be wondering at in several months' time: "I'd like to take her."
Mr. Schmidt doesn't register surprise - simply says, "Well, you look after her as well as you do of those goldfish and she'll be a lucky dog" before beginning to help gather the necessary puppy paraphernalia. Not twenty minutes later, Tony's attaching a black leather leash to the berner's collar ("I'm sorry it's not pink," he tells her, "but I have a reputation to uphold") and preparing to exit the pet store with his unexpected acquisition in tow.
There is, of course, a moment where he stops on the threshold with one motionless hand pressed to the half-open glass door and demands, DiNozzo, what are you doing? Because he knows this is rash, and his car is waiting by the curb laden with toys and grooming brushes and the much-hated dog kibble as if a physical reminder of every reason why this is a bad idea. Except then - then a motorcycle whizzes by on the narrow side street, and the puppy shrinks back against Tony's leg.
His heart turns molten all over again.
"Hey, now," he says, unsticking his feet and giving the leash a gentle tug. "It's okay, c'mon, puppy, let's go."
She doesn't budge.
"Here, puppy, puppy. C'mon!" Still no movement, and Tony realizes with startling clarity that he's treading dangerously close to baby talk. "I'll give you a lift this once," he says, folding at the waist to pick the puppy up, "as long as you don't tell anyone about what just happened. Capice?"
He interprets the lick to his nose as an affirmative.
Regret creeps in immediately upon arriving home.
The reasons are these:
Amongst all his other purchases Tony has left behind the fish food he went out for in the first place;
it takes him the remainder of the afternoon to put the dog crate together (and crate training, he and Mr. Schmidt had decided, is a definite must given Tony's lifestyle);
in the meantime, the puppy has three accidents on the hardwood floor. Tony sits back on his heels after toweling up the most recent of these and stares at the culprit, who is happily chewing on her rope toy. He mutters, "You're not cute," and means it.
He means it even more at 3 a.m.
"Okay, time to stop," Tony snaps, done pretending that the pillow over his head is doing anything to muffle the puppy's whining. Heedless, she continues to cry, possibly increasing in volume just to spite him.
With a huff, Tony throws back his covers and stalks across the bedroom to collapse on the floor next to her crate. He rests his head on the wall and reaches through the thin bars.
"Do you need out?" he whispers, petting the star of white just above the puppy's nose. "Because that's what the newspapers for."
She stares at him mournfully.
"You can't come up on the bed with me," he responds, "because I don't trust you not to pee in it. And besides – beds are for people, not dogs."
The puppy sets her head down on her paws and releases a single whimper.
Blessed silence follows.
"…Fine," Tony says cautiously. "I'll keep you company until you fall asleep." Then he warns: "But I'm not staying here all night. That'll kill my back."
(He wakes the next morning with a crick in his neck and a puppy drooling into his palm; she'd sounded so lonely, and lately he's spent too much time feeling the same not to empathize.)
By Wednesday Tony decides he never wants to be a father. Raising a baby berner is difficult enough – he can't imagine handling a newborn infant.
The puppy needs out constantly and barely lets him sleep. There are toys scattered everywhere, including a bone she's gnawed to a shiv and is forever placing right where he'll step on it, and the kitchen floor is a lake of slobber and spilled water.
It is, in a word, awful.
(Tony christens the puppy Gabby, after his favourite scientist with equally boundless energy, but doesn't actually tell anyone about her. It's not a secret, per se, he's just uneager to see their inevitable skepticism laid bare; he's feeling enough doubt about his suitability for pet ownership as it is.)
On Friday Gabby passes out with her head in her food dish.
Endeared, Tony's eyes are drawn inexorably toward the tableau as he finishes his Chinese. In an absent sort of way he finds himself remembering how much Ziva enjoyed meeting Dex the Marine Dog, and thinking she'd love to meet Gabby, too.
He pulls out his cell phone, aching a little, and snaps a photo he doubts will ever reach its intended destination.
But what if it did? he wonders later that night while watching Casablanca. What if?
The weekend is spent agonizing over the question. Tony lists the pros and cons on Saturday, writes an email, attaches the image and lets it sit in his drafts all of Sunday ("New addition" he types, not knowing what else to say).
It isn't until Monday, after McGee has left for lunch with Delilah, that he lets his thumb press down on 'send'. The joy of a decision made yields instantaneous relief.
Within two hours, the panic hits.
NCIS's MCRT is at a crime scene, Ducky's explaining suspected cause of death, and suddenly Tony's ears are roaring with white noise - he's teetering on the edge of a cliff, can't quite breathe, really needs to sit down.
"You okay?" Although Bishop stands at his elbow the question seems to come from a great distance.
"Yeah," Tony says. He shakes his head to clear it.
For once, Tony's fitful slumber has nothing to do with Gabby. It has, instead, everything to do with his empty inbox. Myriad reasons for Ziva's lack of response spiral through his mind, growing progressively direr as the hours tick by, and the maelstrom is impossible to settle.
He stumbles to his coffee maker the next morning feeling bleary and bloodshot and foolish.
She's fine, Tony tells himself, savagely scooping ground beans into the filter. She just wants to move on and you need to let her try.
It's the mantra he's been telling himself for months, actually – repeating it every time he wants to share a joke or talk out a case or needs a shoulder to lean on – but today it rings particularly hollow.
"I'm an idiot," he informs Gabby, who is patiently waiting for her breakfast. She barks as if in agreement. "You two would've gotten along. Ziva wasn't afraid to call me an idiot, either. You know, this one time - "
A beep interrupts the conversation.
Tony looks warily to where his phone sits, stark black on the gleaming white kitchen island, and tries (fails) not to get his hopes up.
1 new email
Pulse tripping, he unlocks the screen and swipes over to the correct window. Grins - helplessly, hopelessly, endlessly - when he sees the message.
Adorable. Is she yours?
If Tony's eyes are a little wet it's only because he's exhausted.
'Yes,' he types back, 'her name's Gabby.'
The puppy in question is now blowing bubbles into her water dish, and so he takes a short video and adds that, too.
Hitting send comes easier this time around.
A few more weeks, and Tony and Gabby are more stable in their routine. She's officially housetrained, sleeps through the night, and although she continues to despise being crated she no longer whines to be released (her eyes do bore into him pleadingly, but Tony remains adamant she won't be allowed up on the bed; it's bad enough she's connived her way onto the couch).
For his part, Tony has relaxed into dog ownership - or at least stopped questioning his decision to adopt said dog. The mess of toys no longer makes the neat freak within him cringe, and he's made friends with his lint-roller.
The greatest remaining challenge is the midday rush home to check on Gabby. It's a whirlwind, to say the least, and it's not at all helped by the volley of emails sent between D.C. and Israel in its midst: invariably, Gabby does something cute and Tony is compelled to tell or show Ziva; if she can, Ziva gets back to him, and so it goes. Their talks are never lengthy and rarely detailed, but they're something – and if he's occasionally a little late back to work because of them, well, it's worth it.
(The fifth time Tony's hour-long lunch break turns into an hour-and-a-half, he's sure to bring Gibbs apology coffee. He gets a light headslap for his trouble, as well as a sideways glance from McGee.
"New lady friend," he says by way of explanation once Gibbs is out of earshot.
McGee frowns. "Really, Tony?"
Tony frowns back. Blusters, "Man has needs, McGee!" because the former-Probie's reaction would have been unwarranted even if he were seeing someone.
McGee scoffs and walks away.)
When Gabby starts teething Tony is at a complete loss. She won't eat, won't play with her toys - not even her favourite stuffie – and spends most of her hours listless and lying glued to his side.
'Still not eating,' he writes to Ziva. There are piles of untouched paperwork spread about his laptop but he's too worried to focus.
Her reply is instantaneous. 'You have talked to your vet?'
'Says it's normal.' Tony reaches over to rub at Gabby's belly; he swears he can feel ribs beneath the thick fur.
Having nothing else to say, Tony lets radio silence fall. He sinks back into the couch cushions, strokes his hurting puppy, and tries to force the tension from his muscles.
"What am I going to do with you, huh, Gabs?" He releases a slow breath, turns to where Kate and Ziva swim in their shared tank: "Raising fish was so much easier."
He jackknifes to an upright position, whipping his head around fast enough to send a painful twinge shooting through his neck. "Ziva," he says.
She gives him a tiny nod from the computer screen, lips quirking unevenly upward. "Tony," she repeats. Her hair is wild and the world dark around her. "Have you tried softening her food with water?"
His jaw works uselessly. It's the first time in months he's heard Ziva's voice. 'Yes," he somehow manages to get out, "I did."
Ziva hums and her attention shifts slightly to the left – Tony assumes to another window.
"I also, uh." He searches for his bearings. "Got one of those bones that are supposed to massage their gums? Tried to bribe her by mixing in ground beef and rice with the kibble…"
"One website recommends that you freeze wet washcloths for her...?"
And that's an idea he hasn't come across in all of his desperate Googling. "I'll give it a go," Tony says.
Ziva beams. "I hope it helps her. You will let me know?"
"Count on it."
"Good." She sobers. "I've been concerned."
Tony scrubs a tired hand across his eyelids. "Yeah, me too."
The words, when she says them, are exactly what he needs to hear: "It will be okay, Tony."
A washcloth melting on his duvet, Gabby finally at peace and snuggled up next to him in bed, it hits him how very much he's missed his friend.
The next day Tony catches Gabby chewing a piano leg. He declares her permanently re-banished to her crate at nights.
(The punishment lasts for almost a full twenty minutes of guilt-ridden tossing and turning).
With video calls now on the table, interactions between Tony and Ziva can no longer be carried on by virtue of photographs and emoticons alone. It's necessary that they change – become a richer.
He's not complaining.
Sometimes, Ziva shares bits and pieces from her day – a trip to the market, a book she is reading, a recipe she wants to try. In kind, Tony regales her with tales of his latest film fixations and botched attempts to get back into jogging. He never talks about work, afraid even to mention McGee, or Gibbs, or Abby, on the chance it might break whatever spell has been cast. Ziva never brings up NCIS either, so maybe he's right to avoid the topic.
(Tony asks, once, where she is. It's not Israel, as he'd initially thought, because he recognizes the background featured in her webcam window. The inquiry is firmly rebuffed.
It's apparently off limits, too.)
Mostly, they talk about Gabby.
One day Bishop stops Tony in the elevator and hands him a small paper bag. It's stamped with a paw print, the words "Sarah's Organic Dog Bakery" emblazoned just above.
Tony raises a quizzical brow. "I'm trying to figure out if I should be offended."
"They're treats for your puppy," she says, expression caught somewhere between eagerness and bemusement. "Half a dozen home-baked peanut butter cookies and a cupcake."
"A cupcake?" He unrolls the top of the bag and peers in. "Huh."
"We were at the market this weekend," Bishop explains. "I saw the stand and thought of you."
Touched, Tony's responds with the sincerest "thanks" in his arsenal.
Something's bugging him, though. "I never told you I got a dog."
"Oh," Bishop says, glancing at her feet and tucking a strand of hair behind her left ear. "Sorry, I know – but there's been hairs all over your suits lately and with the way you keep disappearing off at lunch… I put two and two together. Came up with four." She studies him, forehead creasing. "Or did I come up with five?"
"No, no," Tony assures as the elevator door dings. He tries not to brush at the arms of his jacket too obviously. "Definitely four."
Gabby loves the treats.
Feeling adventurous, Tony looks up recipes the following weekend and tries to make his own. Though Gabby gobbles them up, the endeavour is, aesthetically, a failure: the treats are supposed to be shaped like tiny bones (he bought a cookie cutter and everything) but instead they come out looking like lumpy blobs.
Tony takes a picture of his malformed creations and sends it to Ziva.
Nearly 7:00 p.m. and Tony's still sitting at his desk. The case they're working is a difficult one, full of false leads and confused witnesses and suspects that refuse to talk, and Gibbs glares whenever someone makes a move to leave.
The situation isn't novel, and normally it would be a-okay - maybe even funny because McGee's face as he cancels his dinner plans is a beautiful study in misery - but at this point Gabby's been crated for over seven hours.
Tony's been feeling like a negligent parent for two.
His knee jiggles, fingers drum a rata-ta-tat. He's so keyed up he nearly jumps out of his skin at the too-loud beep from his cell.
'Where are you?'
Tony sends a careful glance around the bullpen to check no one's paying attention before snatching up the device like a lifeline.
'Navy Yard,' he responds, for once heedless of the mutually understood no-fly zone. 'You try dialing in?'
'Yes,' she says. 'Gabby is fine – I talked to her awhile.'
Tony lets out a hushed laugh, imagining it. '*Did* you, Miss David? '
There's a long stretch of inactivity during which he's sure Ziva's busy scowling at the subtle tease.
'Get back to work.'
He smirks. 'Sure thing, Dr. Doolittle! ;)'
"You having fun, DiNozzo?"
Tony fumbles his cell. Three pairs of eyes are upon him, two curious and one severely annoyed. "No, Boss. None at all."
He starts taking Gabby to a dog park. She sticks close to him, seemingly afraid of other dogs, other people, and the world at large.
"She's so sweet," coos a blonde with a golden retriever. She's wearing yoga pants Tony can't help but appreciate. "What's her name?"
The retriever sniffs at Gabby's head; her tail tucks more firmly between her legs.
"Gabby," he says, crouching to rub a soothing hand over her back.
"A berner, right?"
"You got it."
The blonde dimples. "She'll be a beautiful dog."
"Already is, aren't you girl?" Gabby burrows her nose into his armpit.
"You never told me how you got her," Ziva ventures one evening. They're supposed to be watching North by Northwest, but have talked over most of it.
Tony shrugs, nearly dislodging the laptop from its precarious position on his stomach. "Not much to tell – I went to pick up Kate and Ziva's fish food and there was Gabby. You know how it is, I've always been a sucker for a pretty face."
He chuckles but Ziva doesn't join in.
"You named your second fish Ziva?"
Tony freezes. "That tone makes me glad you're an ocean away."
"I am not dead, Tony," she says, voice low and dangerous.
He regards his socked feet, abruptly fascinated by the hole in the left toe. "Don't…read into it," he hedges. "It's a nice name…"
"Stop." Ziva's eyes squeeze shut. She releases a heavy breath. (Tony's envious, because it feels as though his own lungs have turned to stone and he's running out of air.) "I am not dead."
"I know," he says. He still can't look at her. "But for awhile there it felt like you really, really were."
Silence lands heavy between them. On the television Cary Grant says, "I may go back to hating you, it was more fun," and Tony hears the words echoed across his and Ziva's tenuous video connection.
"I have to go," she announces.
Ziva disconnects without saying goodbye.
Tony stays bitter about the exchange for days.
The thing is, it's Ziva who left. It's Ziva who's stayed gone. And it's Ziva who chooses, every time they chat, to remain distant. He doesn't know where she is, or what she does, or who she does it with, and the not knowing cuts into him at the most unexpected of times. It had felt like she was dead; sometimes he suspects it might be easier if she were. And so, Tony thinks, this means she's not the one who gets to be angry.
If anyone has that right, it's him.
They make up when Tony drops Gabby off at doggy day care for the first time. He pulls over to the side of the road and emails Ziva halfway to NCIS, asking if it's too soon.
'Gabs is shy,' he writes. 'New dogs make her nervous.'
'She will be fine,' Ziva says.
The support makes him feel marginally better. He types and deletes his next message twice before finally sending it.
'Aren't we always?'
Gabby doesn't take well to obedience training. At least, not for Tony: he tries the clicker method, positive reinforcement with treats, and outright bribery, but nothing works. He says "sit" and she takes off across the room; tries "come" and she gives him a defiant stare as she deliberately licks at a paw.
Of course, when Ziva catches the puppy chewing a throw pillow one night when Tony's not paying attention, all it takes is a harshly spoken "A'zov!" over the laptop speakers for Gabby to release the soggy fabric and lower her tail in contrition.
"How did you do that?" Tony wonders, moving the pillow to the other side of his lap.
"It is all in the tone," Ziva says. "And also practice - you leave her unattended far too often. If it weren't for me your piano legs would be much more damaged than they are."
"Are you telling me you've been teaching her Hebrew commands all this time?"
"Only since you left the room a couple weeks ago and she attempted to eat your takeout. You're welcome, by the way - I think I stopped her before she actually licked it."
"You think?" Tony demands, hard-pressed to say which of the two omissions he feels more betrayed by, or if what stings the most is the fact that his dog is clearly playing favourites.
"Relax, Tony," Ziva says, bringing a bandaged hand to brush a stray curl out of her face. She continues with a dry, "You clearly lived, and I have seen you let her kiss you," before launching into a list of the orders Gabby's learned on the down low.
Truthfully, Tony is relieved to gain some measure of control over his dog - especially since the equivalent of her terrible twos are in full swing – but, on principle, he doesn't get over how it was achieved for a while.
Tony meets the blonde and her golden retriever again on a sunny day in May. He learns her name is Andrea, and her dog, Ollie, is a rescue.
Tony's picking out a variation on Twinkle, Twinkle, Gabby offering short howls in counterpoint to the melody, when the incoming call notification begins to chime on his laptop. Concentrating and egging on his canine accompaniment by turns, he doesn't realize he has a guest until the last notes fall away from the keys and Ziva clears her throat.
"I have never heard that rendition before," she comments as he spins around on the piano bench, "but I think it is my new favourite."
Tony struggles to find a response that will mask his ridiculous, skipping heart.
"Is that French?" he asks, referring to the voices that clamour for dominance in her background audio.
"No," she says shortly. "Would you play something else?"
Gabby is pressed against him, a tiny furnace glued to his thigh, on the night Tony reveals, "I slept with someone." The sentence bursts forth unbidden, and half of him wants nothing more than to snatch it from the air before it can be carried across the Skype connection.
The other half feels immediate relief.
"Oh," Ziva says. Her residual smile from a few moments prior ices over into something studiously blank.
"That is…good. That you." She stops, restarts. "Good."
"Are you going to repeat everything I say?"
"Well, give me something to work with here! 'Oh'? 'Good?' What does that even mean?"
Next to him Gabby begins to snore. Any other time Tony would be drawing the computer closer so Ziva could hear, but not now - not with frustration crackling in her eyes and in his chest the way it is.
"It means exactly what it implies - I am glad that you are-"
"Moving on?" he supplies.
"Over your dry spell."
"Is that what we're calling it?" Is that what we're calling us?
Shoulders going rigid Ziva demands, "What is it that you want me to say?"
Tony considers. Realizes he doesn't know. "It was months ago," he offers. "Just to be clear."
A second passes, then two, then ten.
"It is late, here," Ziva sighs, so muted he almost doesn't catch it. "I am going to bed."
She leans forward, hand drifting to her trackpad.
Throat sore, Tony asks, "We good?"
The screen goes black.
Ziva gets in touch three days later. It's 11:00 in Washington, D.C. and she looks drained.
"I meant it," she tells him, head resting on a pillow. "That we're good."
Although he hadn't, not really, Tony says, "I know."
She shifts and he hears the rustle of blankets. "We were never…"
"I know," he reiterates.
They were never.
Never anything more than a possibility, never anything more than a maybe.
Never anything more than a tattered dream.
Ziva is always unavailable on Saturdays – why, she's never said – and with that absence more pronounced than usual Tony asks Andrea if she'd like to grab a coffee.
She says yes.
He leaves Gabby out of her crate while he takes a jaunt to the pet store for more dog food.
He returns to find she's torn apart the book he'd left on a kitchen stool, its pages now strewn across pale floor tiles. ("The Alchemist," Ziva had recommended, "You'll like it.")
Tony says, "You have got to be kidding me," and Gabby, lying at the disaster's epicenter, cocks her head at him unrepentantly.
He grabs his laptop.
"Yes?" Ziva asks once she's picked up.
"Look at what your dog did," he says, aiming the web cam away from him and toward the mess in the kitchen.
"Gabby!" comes Ziva's scandalized reaction. "Me'lunah!"
Tony eventually introduces his new companion to McGee - the poor guy's been down since Delilah left for Dubai and, he thinks, could use some cheering up.
She barks, frantic, as if it's a home invasion rather than a friendly visit. It takes several sharp "Lo!"'s to silence her.
(At the foreign command, McGee shoots Tony a perplexed look; the only possible response is a grumpish, "I don't want to talk about it.")
Without any pomp or circumstance Fridays become dinner and a movie night, the semi-successful dog cookie experiment having rekindled within Tony a dormant love of cooking. It's nice, he finds, digging through his mother's old recipes and having a fully stocked fridge. And Senior would be proud – especially if Ziva's envious comments are any indication.
"Is that lasagna?" she asks, pointing with a gauze-wrapped index finger.
"Sure is," Tony confirms around a heaping forkful. "You know, if you moved out of that crappy apartment you could make lasagna too."
"My apartment is fine."
He waves her off; it's an old debate at this point.
Ziva takes a bite of her (frankly sad-looking) brown rice. "We are still watching Avengers next week, yes? My pick?"
"Oh," Tony says, stomach sinking. "About that…"
Her brows draw together. "You have other plans?"
"I may," he stresses, "have a date. But I can cancel – you and I had plans first."
"Oh ho, no. Do not do that on my account."
Tony wants to assure her it's just a first date, that it's not serious, not a big deal. She's just a girl I met at the dog park, he thinks, but Ziva's eating her dinner like she doesn't care and he can't bring himself to say it aloud.
The rest of his lasagna tastes like ash.
In the intervening week Tony almost cancels the date twice, and Ziva, encouragingly, agrees to mind Gabby while he's out.
"It's just that she's not used to being crated in the evenings," he explains. "If you kept an eye on her I think I could leave her out – she listens to you better than me, anyways."
Ziva nods and Tony tries not to analyze the tightness in her jaw, the puffiness of her skin.
"Thank you," he says. "I won't be long."
"It isn't a problem either way."
His fickle conscience wants desperately for that to be a lie.
Tony is about to head out the door to meet Andrea when Ziva says, "Don't go," as if the words are being physically torn from her lungs. "I have…no right to ask you but -"
In contrast, Tony's answer escapes without thought or effort: "Okay."
"You can make up whatever excuse you want, or blame me, I just - "
"I said okay."
Because it's true: Ziva has no right to ask it of him, not really, but next to "I'll come home with you," "don't go" was everything he'd wanted to hear on that airfield in Israel. So he repeats, "Okay," and pulls out his cell phone to make the call.
"I'm in Paris," Ziva tells him later, while Black Widow waltzes out of her would-be torture chamber with heels in hand and head held high.
It's just three words, but they mean everything.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is winding down and on the computer screen Ziva's eyes are drifting shut. Tony says, "I ever tell you Jimmy and Breena are adopting a baby?"
Ziva rouses herself, tugs at the blanket that's slipped off one shoulder, and answers, "You didn't, no. Tell them congratulations from me."
"Will do." Tony strokes one of Gabby's velvety ears distractedly, then adds, "Can you imagine? A little autopsy gremlin running around?" It's a picture that warms him, even as tendrils of melancholy curl at the edges.
"Mmm," Ziva hums, sitting up a little straighter. "Palmer will be a good father, I think."
"Not a doubt in my mind." He pauses. "God, that's got to be terrifying, though - knowing you're going to be responsible for raising a tiny human."
"And with what we see every day."
"Exactly! I mean - the thought of bringing someone into this world is just…"
"Would give me a heart attack."
"To say nothing of the 3 a.m. feedings and sleepless nights," Ziva adds.
"And arguing over names," Tony offers in exchange.
"Whose turn it is to change her diaper."
"Finding space for her…all the baby paraphernalia, like the crib, and the toys…" he trails off, casting a glance around a room littered with bones and stuffies and half-taken over by a dog cushion Gabby never uses. He buries his fingers a little more firmly in her fur.
Voice edging into wistfulness, Ziva continues, "All the small clothes…little socks getting lost everywhere…." Her gaze is wide - so wide for someone that had been close to sleep but moments before - and somehow Tony can see its fragility even through the dim pixels of her Skype window.
"Yeah," he says. It feels like there's something in his throat. "Terrifying."
"I'll, uh, be sure to pass on your congrats. To Jimmy."
"Thank you." Ziva takes a deep inhale. "It's Saturday tomorrow - well, today…"
"Right, your mysterious 'thing'. Early start, you should probably go."
"Yes." She hesitates before ending the call.
It turns out Ziva works part time in a used and rare bookstore, and that her "mysterious thing" involves volunteering at a multi-lingual children's reading circle every Saturday morning.
"It feels good," she tells him and D.C.'s dawn sky. "I am helping them dream."
She doesn't say the "like I used to," but Tony hears it anyway.
"And these bandages that keep popping up all over your hands? Paper cuts?" He's been reluctant to ask.
"Burns. I also help at a soup kitchen."
"Sounds like a great start," he says honestly. The selfish part of him wishes she were here, watching the sunrise with him; the unselfish part knows his wish for her has already come true: it sounds like she's found her balance.
Time goes by.
Tony wouldn't call what he and Ziva have a relationship. They're not together - not officially or geographically or in any other sense of the word. But he knows that for the foreseeable future his Friday nights will include his couch, Gabby tucked against him, and Ziva's face and voice filtering through laptop, and that's enough.
He wouldn't call what they have a relationship. It feels a lot like family, though – and an L-word of which he's ever less afraid.
Tony occasionally runs into Andrea at the dog park.
They wave to each other. That's it.
"And then," Ziva says with hands sailing through the air, "do you know what I told her, Tony?"
Beyond entertained, he shakes his head and waits for her to continue. On the coffee table his risotto is growing steadily colder - has been sitting there untouched ever since the wonderful sound of an incoming call began to chime - and Gabby's nose is slowly inching towards the plate, but he pays none of this any mind, entranced by Ziva's rare animation.
"I told her," she goes on, tone growing more horrified with each passing word, "That she should really try to watch the film, as well!"
"No!" Tony exclaims. The fond uptick playing about his lips belies any attempt at false horror.
"Yes!" Ziva's palms jerk upwards a final time, then down to land in her lap with an audible smack.
At the noise, Gabby freezes in her crawling stretch toward Tony's abandoned dinner and stares, puzzled, at the laptop. He reaches to scratch her head and placates, "Well, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss, Dame Judi Dench - instant classic! If she hasn't already seen it, you did her a huge favour."
"I work in a book store, Tony, and that is the second time in as many weeks I've done someone such a favour."
"Been watching too many movies lately, Miss David?"
He asks it lightly, expecting a jab at his own movie-watching habits in return, but instead Ziva blinks once and lets something in her countenance soften.
"All the time," she says. "Even when it's not our…'date night', I watch them all the time."
McGee and Delilah make the long-distance thing work. Instead of jealousy, it sends off sparks of hope.
Tony visits Gibbs' basement and tells him he's in touch with Ziva. Spoken over bourbon and sawdust, the revelation has been a long time in coming, except:
"Well, yeah," Gibbs says. "You've been walking on air for months."
"Besides, she talks about you and that damn dog all the time. Now would you stop gaping and hand me the level I asked for?"
He unglues his shoes and does as he's told.
(Ziva calls Gibbs when she finds out about Andrea, a compulsion resisted for days before caving.
The familiar voice, wrought with disbelief, sends unwanted tears rolling down her cheeks.
"I am not calling to cry about a boy," she informs both him and herself. "But because I have missed you."
Gibbs doesn't ask. Just says, "Me, too.")
It seems like Gabby goes from being a ball of fluff to a miniature horse in the blink of an eye.
"This bed isn't big enough for the both of us," Tony tells her. "And stop stealing my covers."
She throws him a baleful glance and he ends up buying a bigger bed.
Senior gets married. Tony's his best man.
He poses for photo after photo until his brittle grin threatens to shatter, then he sneaks off to the washroom to call Ziva, international charges be damned.
"I'm happy for him," he confesses, "but I keep thinking about..."
Ziva's voice is gentle. "That's allowed."
They're chatting on a rainy Sunday afternoon and Tony suddenly sits upright from his lazy sprawl to blurt, "Your background."
Ziva squints at him. "My what?"
"Your background - the -" he gestures, struggling to make himself clear, "- the wall behind you. It's different! God, that was bugging me this whole time -"
"You're being ridiculous, it is the exact same wall," Ziva interrupts.
"…the whole time!" Tony carries on above her. "There was this niggling in the back of my mind. But that's it, it's the wall! Where are you?"
She sighs with her entire body, but it does nothing to curb his elation at finally figuring out the puzzle. "I am in my apartment," she says. "Nothing has changed."
"No, it definitely has. That is not the crappy wallpaper from the cardboard box you call home."
"Perhaps I should tell Gibbs he is working you too hard, if you are seeing things." As an afterthought, Ziva adds, "The wallpaper is not crappy."
"You're right, but your wallpaper is."
She twists to look behind her. "It's the same white as before," she says.
"See that's the thing," Tony responds. "Now it's white - I don't think we can call what it was before white."
Revolving back around, Ziva glowers. "What do you have against my apartment?"
"Where to begin?" He casts his gaze dramatically to the ceiling. Then: "Wait - if you re-wallpapered, that doesn't mean you're planning to stay there, does it?"
Something in his chest clenches.
"No," she says, steady. "It does not mean that, because the wallpaper is the same."
The wallpaper, to his investigator's keen eye, changes twice more in the space of a week.
Ziva denies it.
When Tony answers the door, the person waiting on the other side is the last he'd expected to see.
It's an extended, soundless moment before he's able to choke, "Ziva?" He thinks those might be tears blurring his vision, but maybe this is a dream. "Ziva," he repeats, just to check.
Ziva nods, and her eyes look a little wet, too. "I hope this is not a bad time," she says, the corners of her mouth pulling up and down like she's unsure whether it's okay to smile. "I know it is early, but there wasn't a later –"
She lets out a gust of air as Tony finally remembers how to move and lunges to wrap his arms around her; she embraces him back just as tightly.
"Is it a bad time," he says, breathing in her scent like a man starved of oxygen. He plants a kiss on her neck, her cheek, her lips. "Are you crazy?"
"It has been said," Ziva laughs. She draws away to peer over his shoulder. "Hello, Gabby."
Without letting go of Ziva's waist – he's never letting go again - Tony turns to look at where Gabby is seated a few meters behind them. "Yeah," he says, "she doesn't take too well to strangers, so don't be offended if…"
But then Ziva steps past him over the threshold, crouches down, and Gabby is bounding toward her, tail wagging faster than Tony has ever seen it go.
"Huh." He watches Gabby lick Ziva's face, and suspects this is what it's like to be completely and utterly happy.
It's been awhile.
Because it's Friday, Tony makes Ziva lasagna and tells her to pick out a movie. While the sauce bubbles she explains to him the lengths she'd taken in order to make her trip a surprise.
"The hotel at one layover had bright red walls," she says from her perch on the island counter, "and I had to get into the bathtub to Skype you. It was the only place with white."
Tony can't help but be amused - she looks disgruntled even now. "You could've just emailed me."
"Yes," Ziva agrees. "But I wanted to see your face. It was worth the pins and needles up my backside."
He catches her eyes, alight with good humour, and can't help but say, "You're worth numb bum too, you know."
It's not 'I love you,' but it's close.
Tony is visiting Ziva in Paris and they're people watching in Tuileries Garden.
"You are tense," she observes. "Is something wrong?"
"You're supposed to be sizing up the tourists, not me."
Ziva slides her sunglasses off. "Tony."
He grimaces. "Not really. But, listen: there's going to be an opening at the Marseille field office soon and I was thinking of taking it." He backtracks. "Well, applying. Who knows if I'd get it-"
"You would," Ziva cuts in. "You are Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, and you would get it."
The certainty with which she speaks has Tony reaching across the space between their chairs to squeeze her hand. "I'd get to have my own team," he says. "And I think I'm finally ready, you know? To make that change. And it'll really cut down on my travel bills, too, except –" He scoots closer, coming to the edge of his seat. "I know we agreed not to move too fast, and that you still want your space. So if you're not okay with it…"
"Tony," she says, cupping his face with her free palm, "that would be more than 'okay.'"
She kisses him, then, and afterwards whispers against his lips, "But maybe it would be better if, since you're already making a change…I move to Marseille and change with you?"
(The decision to get a dog is not premeditated. It is, however, one of the best of Tony's life.)
"Lo" – correction word; no
"A'zov" – let go
"Me'lunah" - crate