Hi all! I can't believe how fluffy this final chapter is, but there you go. I had about six points I wanted to end this story at (the end of the last chapter and the natural end of the episode included) but decided that this story deserved a happier ending. I hope you all like what I cooked up. Let me know what you think! Thanks so much for letting me back into NCISland to play.
vi.) if they were inevitable
Nothing is inevitable, she had told him once, but he thinks that now, the two of them have proven that wrong.
She has cheated death twice, for him.
He has crossed the ocean thrice, for her.
They have traversed time and land and head slaps and every possible statistical odd, and yet … they are still here. Still standing. Together.
To him, that is inevitability.
Telling the team had been hard. Quitting had been scary. But hard didn't mean wrong, and scary didn't mean unhappy. After Kort had been disposed of, after he'd returned safely to Tali and Ziva, after he had said It's over, after Ziva had kissed him deeply, he'd clomped down the stairs to Gibbs' basement one last time. Ziva had volunteered to come with, but he had demurred. He needed to do this alone. A pair of Mason jars were already out.
Gibbs had been waiting for him.
"Two cups," he'd said, staring at the jars, remembering a long-ago Christmas promise. It had melted with the snow that year.
"You find a way to fill 'em both?" Gibbs'd asked.
"Not really," he'd sighed, grabbing the Scotch and pouring two fingers into each. He'd passed one to Gibbs. "But I know which one is more important to me now."
"You're leaving." It hadn't been a question.
"Yeah. Ziva … has a job offer in Paris. Starts in July. There's some stuff in Israel to wrap up, my condo to sell … And then we're all heading there. I think … We hope … It's a fresh start."
"Will it be?"
"Yeah," he'd said. "Listen, I know by now you're pretty clear on the fact that we were breaking your rules and you're probably pissed —"
"DiNozzo," Gibbs'd interrupted. "Every man has to live by his own code." It was a blessing of forgiveness, and Tony had taken it.
"Yours was a pretty good one, Boss," he'd smiled crookedly. "Family first; don't waste good; and never second-guess your decisions in life — I'm taking all of those. But yeah — this is what's right for us. We need to work on us a little — hell, probably a lot — and Paris will let us do that. It's fresh, you know? No bad habits to fall back on." He'd thought, for the first time in months, of Jenny Shepherd, and winced. Paris had only been a bad habit for Gibbs. "Ziva loves Paris." He loved Ziva.
"Gonna give Interpol a call?"
"Right now? No. I'm going to take six months and get to know Tali. In the new year I'll start thinking about it. But if I've got her — them — to come home to, that changes things. Today, with Kort — all I could think of was that I just wanted to get home. To them."
Gibbs' nod had been curt. "Let me know if you need me to talk to someone."
He nodded, too. "I will. Though …"
"You could — should — talk to Ziva," he had blurted out. "The two of you — this is a second chance for you two, too." He had never fully understood the dimensions of their relationship; had only known to respect it. "She's not gonna disappear again, Gibbs. She's … grounded now. You might think I'm being naive or optimistic to think so, Gibbs, but she's changed."
"I don't think you're naive," Gibbs had replied. "And I know she has. And I will. She knows where to find me."
There hadn't been much else to say, so Tony downed the rest of his Scotch and nodded. "We're going to get a place with a spare bedroom," he had said to close out. "We'd like you to come for Christmas."
The next day, after he'd turned in his resignation to Vance, Abby cornered him in the elevator, flicking the stall-switch familiarly. "First off, I am so, so upset that you all are leaving," she had started, and he'd braced himself for the Full Abby Takedown. "Especially after we just got Ziva back! And just met Tali!" She had started to cry a little. "But this is the bravest thing I've ever seen anybody do, Anthony DiNozzo, and I love that even after twenty years in law enforcement and ten years of not being able to be with Ziva, and having your heart stepped on by your family and Jeanne and Wendy — you still see the good in people and things, Tony. You still try. And I love you for it. And I'm gonna miss you."
Goodbyes and bittersweet tears with Bishop and Tim and Ducky and Palmer followed, and one evening Ziva disappeared, armed with a tray of chicken parm, to spend seven hours with Gibbs, hashing out whatever was unspoken between them. There were weeks of unending logistics, paperwork and visas and realtors and movers and insurers. Senior had volunteered to oversee stuff on the D.C. end, and he and Ziva had flown to Israel, and then he had gone on ahead to Paris to try and find them all a home, a place that was airy and bright and smelled of the future. A four-bedroom walkup in the Sixth had done the trick; when Ziva walked through with Tali in her arms for the first time, she had sighed deeply and smiled and her eyes hadn't shut up.
And then suddenly there was furniture and Senior went back to New York and Ziva started work and he and Tali set out to explore Paris and this was life now. They held tight and dug into the quotidian.
It was strange, to begin again, years after you thought you'd lost your chance. To feel near fifty and yet to be a father to a very young girl. To see the world through her eyes and realize that it was filled with as many balloons and chocolate-stuffed croissants and carousels as it was with murderers and thieves and terrorists and garden-variety assholes. Tali, he discovered quickly, was a genial but stubborn child, easygoing until she needed to throw a tantrum, ready to perform for a crowd and a little too smart for anyone's good. Ziva said she was much like the original Tali. Tony knew she had him wrapped around her little finger. He grew more confident around her every day. Tali quickly learned that Abba would play games all day, that he would throw her higher than Ima was comfortable with, that he was OK with her smearing ice cream in his hair as he carried her on his shoulders. Abba was silly and Abba was light and Abba's heart was unburdened, and Tony didn't know he could be this. He liked it, and his heart unclenched.
Ziva, too, was freer — inclined to dance Tali around the apartment and tickle her until she convulsed with giggles, to sneak up behind him and ghost a hand around his abdomen before carding her fingers through the short hairs that drifted around his belly button. She was the stricter parent, but open, loving, affectionate with them, warmer than she had been in years. She wore her hair in curls exclusively; in motherhood, and in Paris, she was in her element.
Initially, of course, they had distracted themselves with devilish details; there was so much paperwork and so many decisions that they could go days without talking about anything real, could practice normality as a way to achieve it. They were overly polite around one another, decorous and formal and even-toned. They walked so far around their eggshells that it was impossible to break them. The silences were imperfect and overly long; their elbows and comments did not fit together quite as synchronously as they used to. They had both grown and changed and everything was just a half-beat off.
But cracks in the veneer of discomfort emerged early: A loud argument over how to wash dishes ended in laughter and bubbles and sex; she licked his ear to wake him up as he and Tali napped on the couch; his hand found its way into hers just minutes after another stupid argument about how to get a couch up the stairs. They tried carefully to be kind to each other and to themselves, to be considerate and take deep breaths and not shut down or huff off. Before Senior had left he gifted them a weekend in Marseille, just the two of them, and she napped on his shoulder on the plane, snoring the entire time. When they arrived at the InterContinental (booked via one of Senior's associates) and stared out their balcony windows to the clear blue sea, the silence stretched between them like a rubber band for a second, until she took his hand, said, "Alone at last," and pulled him toward her on the bed.
"Milady," he said, taking the white fedora he'd been wearing and plonking it on her head. "You look good in my hat." She looked like she had the first day he'd seen her again.
"Please. I look good in most of your clothes." She reached up to cup his cheek, kiss him deeply. "Thank you. For taking this jump of faith with me."
He exhaled. He had been holding his breath for so long, steeling himself against the possibility that she would leave, take Tali, disappear. It was a debilitating block, a grab at an illusive security. He knew that any sort of realistic tether — marriage, a legal custody agreement over Tali, a new birth certificate — would do little if Ziva became convinced she needed to run. As she'd said weeks ago in D.C., the only permanence was in each other.
All he had was her promise to stay.
It was quite the leap for a guy who'd had the same boss for fourteen years and the same apartment for twelve. And more importantly, he didn't think he could take another defection, another heartbreak — there was no other side upon which he could land gently or safely. He simply wasn't strong enough, was too fragile now, for her to leave again, and he had to unlearn his reflexive fear of that, to quiet the thrumming in his ear. For what was love — or life — without risk?
Sitting in the hotel, looking at her, thrilled and curious and serious and sexy all at once, just as she'd been in another hotel an ocean away a decade ago, he was beginning to think the risk had paid off, that the thrumming was so faint that it would soon he a memory. The sorrow that had burdened him for so long was lessened. His life was bittersweet, but he was no longer drowning, no longer alone.
They spent the weekend walking around hand-in-hand, eating in cafes by the Mediterranean, picking up small things for Tali and the apartment. As they were eating dunking crusty bread into bouillabaisse in a tiny cafe, he finally asked, "So how were you going to tell me?"
"About what?" she asked, distracted.
"Tali. If the farmhouse hadn't been bombed —"
"Ah yes," she said, her voice brisk. "I had not thought of it, exactly. I had committed — July. In my head, I would call, and — I don't know, I would say I had moved to Paris, and I would ask you if you could come for a visit. And then — I pictured you saying, count to a million … and then you would come. I think I would have picked you up alone, but we would go to Tali, and I would say there is someone important for you to meet. And you would have a small moment of panic and think it was a husband, but then you would meet her. And smile. And we would be OK. That," she said, trailing a fingernail around the rim of the bowl of discarded soup, "is all I could picture."
Tali turned two and Ziva started work, Britain Brexited and Nice cried. Sometimes it was hard for Tony to sleep at night, fingers itching to help. "How do you just … Stop? And give it up?" He asked.
She shrugged. "I think it was different for me than you. You had much better intentions when you became a cop than when I became Mossad." He bit his immediate response to correct her choice of verb; he hated when she spoke of Mossad as an intrinsic part of her identity, like being Israeli or being Tali's mother. "But it just became too great."
Paris was tense and edgy in a way that he hadn't expected; the folds of the world's geopolitical tragedies pressing close in a day-to-day way that surprised him even after all of his years at NCIS. He knew that Ziva, prepared as she was after the years of harrowingly casual violence and her family's demise and her work with refugees, was also carefully wary: she was relieved when Tali's American passport (last name: DiNozzo) came in a studiously nondescript envelope marked Do Not Bend and insisted that they speak English in public and wrapped his loud Americanness around them all as a security blanket. He took a Hebrew conversational class twice a week at a synagogue and picked up her habit of scanning carefully before he walked into a room.
But there is joy in their family, in Tali, in themselves. Shadows do not lurk around every corner of their joined psyche. It is work, but the best kind of work — sweaty hard labor that produces tangible results. He and Tali spend the fall cavorting in parks and visiting museums and stuffing themselves with baguettes and secrets from Ima. She cries for him instead of Ziva for the first time in September and a loop closes. "You have always been the best partner, Tony," Ziva says sleepily as he slides back into bed, "but I think you should know you are also the best father, as well." She falls asleep again she she kisses the hollow where his neck meets his clavicle. He visits a jeweler to browse, but ends up purchasing a vintage diamond and ruby ring that is ornate but simple, exactly like Ziva. The diamond is of tremendous quality, which will please the Israeli; the rubies remind him of Tali's July birth. They will match the necklace he had already given her.
They're out for an afternoon street carnival a kilometer or so from their apartment a few days later when Tali starts whining for a snack. Eager to get out of the crowds, Ziva navigates them to a nearby cafe for eclairs and coffee and a milk for Tali. She handles the ordering, as always, as he and Tali practice French, Hebrew, and English color names with the macaroons. He hears the cashier say something about mari et fille, and Ziva respond fiancé et fille. His ears prickle. Ziva grabs the two china cups of coffee and he takes the milk and snack and Tali runs outside first to a tiny wicker table.
"What were you and the cashier talking about?" he asks.
Ziva reddens but remains calm. "She thought you and Tali were adorable. I said thank you."
"She said your husband and daughter were adorable," he corrects. His French has been improving rapidly, though he knows he will never be able to speak the language with anything resembling a clean accent.
"Yes. And I corrected her."
"By calling me your fiancé."
"Well," she says, eyes darting to Tali for a distraction. The kid is behaving perfectly, for once, eating the raspberries and almonds off her pastry neatly, her eyes wide and happy. "It is true, is it not? You said you were going to marry me. And I think I made it clear with my tears and the enthusiastic sex that night I would accept. So technically that is true. You are the man I plan to marry."
"Yes, but," he starts. The romance. The wine. The flowers. "I haven't had the chance to ask."
"Well," she sighs, pushing a lock of Tali's curls behind her. "That is, as they say, on you." She glances around. "Have we been here before? It looks familiar."
She is fishing for a distraction, he knows, but there was an odd tone to her voice that signaled the query was genuine. He scans. "I don't think so—" he starts, because it's a street they don't visit frequently. Then — "Wait. Nora. This was the cafe we had breakfast in when we were here for the day to pick up the witness." It had also been the first time they'd slept together since Rivkin, since Somalia. The night had been nearly cliche: A mistake in the reservation, a single bed, a nightmare for Ziva, a conversation, then a plea that they have sex, because she was worried she would never be able to feel comfortable with sex again, after the camp, wanted to remember the good and trusted him more than anyone. He had thought they were going to get back together, but they had not — the harsh light of DC, their masochistic tendencies, and their inability to be honest with themselves and each other, had interrupted again.
"You are right," she says, her voice wondrous. "That was what — six years ago?"
"Yeah," he affirms.
"How far we have come," she remarks, wiping some chocolate from Tali's chin before dragging the back of her finger across the apple of her cheekbone.
"How far you've come," he says, because this woman is a far cry from the hardened, gimlet-eyed survivor he had scooted around with that day.
"You as well, Tony," she replies. "Do not sell yourself short."
One hand falls to hers, but the other covers the cube in his coat pocket. It's incredibly risky, he knows, toting it around, but he'd been doing it out of paranoia since he and Tali had picked it up on Thursday.
He pulls it out.
Ziva's mouth falls open. She goes pale. "Ziva David —" he winds up.
"Yes. I already told you yes," she says. Tali makes a play for the box, delighting in the sparkliness, and he grabs it quickly, flips the lid open. Ziva's eyes fill with tears.
"We've watched enough movies together that you know that the guy needs to make a speech," he chides, leaning toward with his elbow on his knee. It'll have to do. "Anyways. It's been ten years. Four continents. A kid. And every day I learn more things about you, and become a better person because of you. I should've asked you this nine years ago when I realized that you had ninja-crept into my heart and taken up residence, and I definitely should have asked the last time we were at this cafe, because I'm pretty sure that I knew then any other outcome was out of the question. I know you don't believe in inevitability, but I'm grateful that the universe gave us the sixty-two chances it did to work this out. I intend to keep trying to work it out for the rest of my life. I want to marry you not because it's something permanent, but because life is going to change, and you're the partner I want to change with. So, Ziva David. Will you marry me?"
She's full on happy-crying now, a sight he has not seen for a long time. She leans forward to kiss him deeply, before pulling back, speaking in a thick voice. "Yes. I said that six months ago and two minutes ago. You are my partner, Tony. The reason I do not think we are inevitable is because I do not think that acknowledges how hard we have worked, and I very much think that effort should be recognized. But if anything is inevitable — and I still doubt that very much — it is this."
He kisses her again before pulling back. "Hear that Tali? Abba and Ima are getting married."
"Married?" She asks. "Who married?"
"She is too young, Tony," Ziva says. "She will never remember a time this is untrue." The thought makes him smile.
They debate getting married immediately, then find out about the total tonnage of paperwork doing so will dump on them. Given how long it will take, he suggests they give her aunts, Schmeil, his dad, and the team notice and a chance to make it out. They skype with the announcement that they'll be getting married on New Year's Eve and Ziva wins five euros from him because she predicts that yes, Gibbs will tear up.
He is still on Daddy-duty and takes over most of the details, faxes birth certificates and proofs of residency and blood tests where they need to go. In November he gets a call from a friend at DHS who says that Gibbs suggested they chat, and he realizes that while he doesn't have the stomach for true fieldwork anymore, he does want to get back to law enforcement. Ziva is unsurprised and supportive, provided he can stay mostly out of the fray. When his dad comes for a month starting at Thanksgiving, Tony informs him that he'll be the DHS deputy director for terrorism at the embassy starting in mid-January, and Senior nods and says, "I guess you'll need me to stick around to watch Tali, then." He is grateful, and accepts Senior's offer at face value.
Sometimes, you have to move on from resentments, and step into the light, bright and scary as it is. Ziva has taught him that. But it certainly hurts less than inflicting and infecting yourself with old wounds.
Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve this year, and the aunts and Schmeil arrive on the twentieth to prepare for celebrations. He met the aunts in Israel and is especially pleased to see Nettie again — she pats his cheek and calls him a mensch so often he throws a smirk at Ziva, who sticks a tongue out in response. The team — Gibbs and Abby and McGee and Delilah and Abby and Palmer and Breena and Ducky and hell, he had even invited Bishop — is due to arrive after noon on the 24th (Orli will be arriving on the 30th for his wedding, and the thought of Orli Elbaz attending his wedding to Ziva makes his head spin).
Nettie and Senior kidnap Tali after breakfast that morning, ostensibly so Tony and Ziva can prepare for the large dinner they're hosting but really because they adore her, and he is shaving in his jeans in the bathroom when Ziva comes in and shuts the toilet seat before sitting on it gingerly. "So, Tony," she says, seriously and nervously, "before we marry, I realize there is one thing we have not discussed and I think we need to."
He taps the razor against the sink. "What is it, Zi? I told you when this started, I come with a kid," he jokes. "Single dad you snared, here."
"That is it, actually," she bites her lip. "Do you — what are your thoughts on more children?"
He scrapes the razor over his neck. "Positive," he says. Truthfully, he has long assumed Ziva is one-and-done with Tali. It has suited him fine, but he would never be opposed to more. If the current model of David-DiNozzo gene-blending is anything to go by, the world needs them to have as many children as possible, because Tali is the epitome of joy.
"Really?" She is honestly surprised.
"Why not?" He shrugs. "We're a great team. Tali is amazing and secure and loved. Why not, you know?" He looks at her sideways.
"Good," she half-laughs, with a heavy dose of relieved sigh. "Because I think I am pregnant."
"Really?" He stops. He honest-to-God hadn't been expecting that.
"Yes. I was supposed to get my period last week and I have not. I took two tests, and they agreed with my assumption."
"How?" They hadn't been not-trying.
She shrugs. "Given that this is our second unplanned pregnancy, either you are exceptionally virile or I am exceptionally fertile. Do not smirk," she smirks. "How do you feel? Honestly?"
"I wish we'd gotten married before I knocked you up again, but great. Really great, actually. You?"
"I — wonderful," she says, struggling before landing on the simplest explanation. "Truly. I think it is early, about five weeks, so we cannot tell people yet … But I am very excited." "
"Got it," he breathes, moving to kiss her. "When do you think …."
"Late August, maybe early September, I imagine. Tali will be three. I think she will be excited too."
"I think she'll be bossy," he says, and she laughs in agreement, nuzzling his nose again before moving her hands to the snap of his jeans.
The team arrives a few hours later to a mostly-clean apartment (the celebration sex pushed their schedule back a bit), with boisterous loving exclamations from Abby and manly backslaps from McGee and a characteristically long hug from Gibbs to Ziva.
"This apartment is wonderful," Abby enthuses. They'll be staying at a hotel a few blocks away, of course, but Tony doubts they'll do anything but sleep there. "Paris is fantastic. Tali is so cute. Are you guys, like, beyond head-explodingly happy here?"
He looks at Ziva, and they exchange a smile full of secrets — of their latest and biggest, of course, and of Ziva's plan to ask Gibbs to walk her down the aisle. But one of many others too: memories of taking Tali for ice cream and of painting the apartment on hot August nights and of good-natured bickering over whether to watch Casablanca or The Sound of Music again; the knowledge of her skin slick on sheets as she comes to a sweaty quaking orgasm and her hand in his when they trip down sidewalks and conversations in cars and under covers and undercover; truths of the hardness and softness of parenting and annotated lists of Tali's likes and dislikes and developmental milestones. Years of partnership, months of separation, decades of growth behind and in front of them — things shared only before the two of them. He catches Gibbs' eye, and he knows the samurai senses have kicked in again, or that he's smelled it on Ziva — at any rate, he knows she's pregnant again.
Gibbs smiles. Tony turns to Abby. "Yeah. We are." It is a term he has never believed in, and a scale he has never measured himself against, but he is an investigator and he is trained to seek unvarnished truths.
And the truths are these: Ziva is alive. He is alive. They are here, with Tali and the team and their families, and they are a family. Things are not necessarily easy, but he knows now how to separate easiness from happiness. And yes, they are head-explodingly happy.
It is more than enough.