A/N:This is my first multi-chaptered NCIS story. I have another chapter written up already so I should update soon. This probably won't be very long. Maybe five chapters at the most. The chapters will alternate between the past and the present (which is our future) so if you get confused, check the dates. Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own nor am I affiliated with NCIS in anyway.
Chapter One: Where Ziva Feels the Wind on Her Face
Another day draws away,
And my heart sinks with the sun.
Its like catching snow on my tongue.
Its like catching snow on my tongue.
'The Sweetest Decline.' Beth Orton.
"Boss, do you realise that Ziva has never had a cheeseburger?" Tony called out across the bullpen.
Ziva rolled her eyes and watched as Gibbs mentally argued over whether to point out the pointlessness of the remark when there was a murder investigation on or whether to simply play along. Being the pro that he was, Gibbs managed to do both.
"Not exactly kosher, is it, DiNozzo?" he asked. "Or relevant to the case unless a cheeseburger is really code for a mighty big lead. Like one that narrows the suspects down from forty to say, oh I don't know, one."
"Right. Sorry, boss," he replied. He sent a glare to Ziva who looked briefly away from her computer screen to quickly waggle her eyebrows at him. "This is all your fault. You just HAD to tell me you'd never eaten a cheeseburger. You knew how I would react and you just wanted to get me into trouble."
"Grow-up, Tony," she parried back. Her hands never stopped typing and her eyes never stopped searching. "There are bigger things in life than cheeseburgers."
"I just don't understand how you can have lived in America for four years now and never have eaten a cheeseburger," he continued. "I don't know if I can marry someone who has never eaten a cheeseburger."
"Fine, Tony," she shot-back. "We will not get married.The wedding is in less than a month and things are from finalised. It will make my job easier if I just cancel everything."
Though he opened his mouth to protest, she turned back to her work and ignored him. For the next three hours every time he went to apologise, to explain it was a joke, she talked over him or blatantly ignored him. At quarter-to-six Ziva got up and walked over to Gibbs desk. Tony and McGee exchanged glances as she lowered her voice to talk to him. He looked over at Tony and seemed to roll his eyes but he nodded. Tony and McGee watched open-mouthed as she collected her stuff and left the bullpen.
"Boss, how come Ziva gets an early mark?" Tony grumbled.
"How about you shut up and do your job? Maybe then you'll leave in time to find out," Gibbs called out. He stood-up. "I'm going to MTAC. I don't want to see either of you here when I get back. Sit back down, DiNozzo. I do want to see your finished reports on my desk."
"Yes, boss," he grumbled.
"Sure thing, boss," McGee replied. They waited until Gibbs had gone up the stairs before they spoke again. "What do you think is going on?"
"I have no idea, probie," Tony shrugged. "But let's not stick around to find out."
They finished their reports quickly, emailed one to Cynthia then left a printed copy on Gibbs desk. They collected their things then made their way down to the parking lot. Ziva was sitting on the bonnet of Tony's car with a brown paper bag next to her. She shot Tony an unnerving smile before reaching in and pulling out a paper-covered item. She unwrapped it, revealing a cheeseburger.
"Well, I'll be damned," Tony muttered. "She loves me."
"Of course she loves you," McGee said with a roll of his eyes. He walked off to his own car but he sat in it and watched them.
Ziva took a big bite from the burger. She chewed it slowly and methodically before swallowing. Tony went to say something but she shook her head and continued to eat the burger. Finally it was finished and she rose an eyebrow at him.
"I was just going to say leave some for me," he said. A steady smile grew across her face and she waved him forward. He leant next to her and she opened the bag to reveal another cheeseburger.
"It was so good I might just eat it for myself," she joked. Her face grew serious for a moment. "Tony, please do not make jokes about not marrying me again. I did not like it."
"You didn't like it?" he asked. "How do you think I felt when you said we wouldn't get married?"
She answered him with a kiss.
"Mama?" Ava called. She came into her mother's room and found Ziva staring at the mirror pushing back invisible wrinkles. She came up behind her and rested her head on her mothers shoulder. "I miss him already."
"Me too, sweetheart," Ziva replied. She turned around to hug her nineteen year-old daughter properly.
"But it's barely been over a week," Ava said, her voice breaking.
"It has been seven years and we still miss Ducky," Ziva reminded her. "It is hard for me to remember a time when he was not part of my life. You have known him your whole life. That is longer than me so it is only natural you would miss him so much."
"I talked to Aunty Abby this morning and she's gutted," Ava sighed. "I just feel so helpless. She's still not coping very well and I can't do anything for her."
"They were very close," Ziva said. Mother and daughter had made their way over to the queen-sized bed. "Abby knew Gibbs even longer than I did. He was a second father to her."
'And to me,' she added silently.
"He was like my second-father too. And when Ducky died he took on the grand-father role too," Ava said. Ava loved her adopted family more than her blood relatives. It was only natural as she had known them since the day she was born. What was left of Ziva's family was scattered across the globe and she had never even met most of her father's family. "It's just so strange to think of him as being gone. It seems like only yesterday that he was finally putting his boat in the water."
"It was at least seven years ago," Ziva laughed. "No, it was six."
"It was so not that long ago," Ava disagreed. "I was sixteen."
"You were thirteen," Ziva corrected. "I remember because it was the year after Ducky died. Now are are we going to see your aunt or not?"
"I'm right behind you, sweetcheeks," Ava replied.
"Of all the things to pick up from your father," Ziva sighed.
Ava giggled and swatted her mother's pony-tail. She skidded around Ziva and raced her to the bottom of the stairs.
"Can I drive, Mama?" Ava begged.
"Sure," Ziva said. She threw her the keys then pulled a grey cardigan over her white t-shirt. "Have you spoken to your brother?"
"He said he got home safely," Ava answered.
"I do not see why he could not go to a school closer to home or why he could not take a semester off before going to college," Ziva grumbled. "He is not even eighteen yet."
"Most parents would be cheering," Ava reminded her.
"I doubt that," Ziva disagreed. "I think most parents would feel the same as me."
"You know I hate living in a family where my brother is clearly the favourite," Ava huffed. "Maybe you would love me as much as you love him if I moved to another state."
"Don't you dare!" Ziva ordered. "You cannot abandon your old mother."
"Cause you're so old," Ava said rolling her eyes. She tapped her foot impatiently. "Are we going to see Abs or not?"
"Yes we are going," Ziva said.
She went to walk out the door but Ava stepped in front of her and pulled her into a hug.
"You know I'd never leave you, Mama," Ava said seriously.
"Pssht. You can leave me anytime you want and you probably will," she replied. "You should."
"But I won't. You're stuck with me," Ava sighed dramatically.
"Of all the other things to pick up from your father," Ziva sighed again.
Ziva, Ava and Ethan made their way out to Ziva's car. A light dusting of snow that would be melted by the time they returned covered the ground. It was the first snow of the season but it was the last thing on the DiNozzo family's mind.
"Can I drive?" Ava asked.
"I want to drive," Ethan pouted. "I never get to drive anymore."
Ziva threw the keys up in the air. Both children lunged for them but she laughed and caught them herself.
"I am driving," she said. She unlocked the door and hopped in. She waited as her children fought over who got the frontseat. Ethan was the winner and Ava was sulky in the backseat.
"Ava, aren't you a little too old to be sulking?" Ziva asked.
"I'm not sulking," Ava answered. She let out a shuddering breath. "It just kind of hit me. What today is, you know. I mean, I know what today is but it just hit me."
"At least it only comes once a year," Ethan replied.
"Yeah," Ava said softly.
Maybe it came once a year for them but it came everyday for Ziva. Sometimes it hit worse than others. Sometimes she went twenty-three hours and fifty-eight minutes without her remembering but the pain in those last two minutes reminded her quick-smart. But it was easier for Ziva's children to set aside only one day to grieve for the losses they had suffered over the years. They had lives of their own. With them gone from her home, Ziva had no-one and nothing but time to think and remember and to try to heal.
And yet she was the one who had trouble moving on.
Abby and McGee were already waiting when the DiNozzo's pulled up. Abby, resplendent in a knee-length black dress with a full skirt and cap-sleeves, waved half-heartedly. She shivered in the cold but refused the coat that McGee offered her. She made grief look good and until she experienced it three times over, she had liked the idea of it. Now, eleven years to the day of the first heartbreak, her preoccupation with death was something more like a preoccupation with grief. How much more could she handle? And how long could she experience it? She never found the answers but it didn't stop her asking them. Ziva could have told her the answers if she'd asked but she never did.
The five of them silently walked through the cemetery. Words weren't necessary. They each knew the way to the grave like the back of their hand. They pretended that each of them visited the grave just twice a year. Once, on his birthday, and again on the anniversary of his death. As far as everyone was concerned they had each been to the grave twenty-two times. It was a little closer to one-hundred and thirty-two for Ziva who averaged twelve point five visits a year or one visit per month. McGee had been at least ninety-eight, Abby eighty-four. Ava and Ethan had been forty-one and thirty times respectively. But who was counting? And who was telling? Certainly they weren't. Visiting the grave meant they were having trouble letting go.
They got to the grave and stood in a cluster. They stood for minutes in silence as they took in the simple rectangle of marble and the carved words on its bronze plaque.
'Anthony 'Tony' DiNozzo. 1970-2018. Just believe that I love you.'
Tony had specifically requested the words. The quote was from the letter Ilsa sent to Rick in 'Casablanca.' Ziva thought it was perfectly fitting. While it meant something special to everyone else, it meant more to her. They had watched the movie together countless times, tears rolling down their cheeks each time. When he'd told her he wanted those words on his gravestone Ziva had laughed but when he'd died, she hadn't been able to think of anything else as perfect.
"I can't believe it's been eleven years," Abby said sadly. "Do you think Gibbs is with him and Ducky?"
"I like to think that they are," Ava answered.
"I think they are," Ethan agreed.
"I bet they are looking down on us right now," Ziva added. "It is a nice thought anyway."
"Do you think we should do it now?" McGee asked. "It's getting colder by the second."
"I hate cold cheeseburgers," Ava said. "Let's do it now."
McGee handed out the five cheeseburgers while Ethan spread a blanket out on the slightly snowy ground. Everybody sank to the ground and ate their cheeseburger. It was something they did every year to acknowledge him. If Tony could sacrifice his life to save another then Ziva coul be un-Kosher once a year and eat a cheeseburger to honour him. It was cold on the ground and the melting snow was starting to seep through. They ate quickly and then stood up again.
"It's so cold," Abby shivered.
"Would you put your coat on please?" McGee asked.
"Fine," she agreed. She accepted her thick coat and slipped it on over her dress. "Much better."
"Do you have the rose, Ava?" Ziva asked.
"Yep," she replied.
"Do you want to go first?" she asked.
They had another tradition. They each knelt, or squatted, in front of the grave and said something in private. No-one stood close enough to hear what was being said but they could each imagine.
"Okay," Ava agreed. She stepped forward and place the rose on top of the headstone. She squatted down in front of it and whispered to it. "I wish I could hear your voice one more time. I wish you could tuck me into bed and sing me to sleep. I miss you, Daddy. I always will."
She stood up and Ethan took her place.
"My soccer team won again. I thought that would make you proud. I was going to bring the trophy down here but Mama told me the groundsmen would just remove it. I wish you could have seen me play. I scored the winning goal. Mama was so proud she cried. I think she wished you were with us too. I miss you," he whispered.
He stood-up and Abby tearfully took his place. She traced the letters of his name. All the while tears ran down her face.
"I miss you so much, Tony. Especially now with Gibbs gone. I hope the three of you are together. Maybe Kate is there too. And Shannon and Kelly. I'm a bit jealous that you get to meet them while I'm stuck down here missing you all. It makes it easier thinking that you're all together. We have each other and you should have someone too. It sucks that they're gone but it helps a little to think that you aren't alone," she whispered. "I made a new moppet of you to put in the lab. I switch photos every now and then. Ziva gave me a tie of yours to put on it. I have a pair of Ducky's glasses and some of Gibbs' cuff links. I feel closer to you all when I'm with my moppets. Anyway, it's Tim's turn. I love you, Tony."
McGee went over and copied the others. His conversation was brief.
"I feel a little stupid talking to a piece of marble when everyone else is watching," he admitted. "It's easier when its just me here. I just hope you're out there somewhere watching. And if you are then you already know what I have to say. I'm trying to watch out for Ziva like you asked me too. I think she's going a little better. It's hard to tell. I know some people don't see why she can't get over you when it's been eleven years but I understand. I knew you too. Umm, I guess all that's left to say is I miss you," he said.
Abby and Ava had their arms around each other when he turned around. They were both crying softly. Ethan was looking at something in the distance. He blinked to hold back the tears. McGee went over to the girls and put his arms around both of them. Abby moved away after a moment and let him engulf Ava into a full hug. Just for a second, the girl was comforted. If she squeezed her eyes shut it was almost her father's arms around, was almost her father's voice in her ears.
Ziva walked mutely over to the grave. She, too, traced the letters on the plaque and rested her head against the cool metal. She sang softly, her voice coming out in heaving sobs. Somehow she managed to get through the song without losing it completely. She didn't need to say anything to him. She missed him and loved him with every aching breath that she took. Anybody, even the blind, could see that.
An arc of wind blew through the cemetery, rustling her loose hair. She stood up, closed her eyes and breathed the fresh air in. It almost felt as if he were right there in front of her. Almost as if she could... but she reached out to touch him and all that was there was marble and metal.
Ziva walked back to the group, taking each step carefully and deliberately.
"Are we ready to go?" she asked. She rubbed Ava's back and slipped her arm around Ethan's shoulder.
"Can we get a hot chocolate somewhere?" Ava asked.
"Of course," she replied. She began to walk away but Ethan pulled away from her and continued to stare at the grave.
"It looks like something from a movie," Ethan he said. "Like the end of 'What Lies Beneath.'"
Ziva turned and looked behind her. With a single red rose laying on the dusting of snow that topped the gravestone, he was right.
"Your Dad would have loved it," Abby said. And she was right too.
The next afternoon she stood out on the veranda and closed her eyes. She squeezed them shut and thought about Tony as hard as she could. The wind blew a gale and thrashed the world around. Ziva didn't care about the leaves that flitted across the sky or the birds whose flight paths were seriously derailed. She tried to feel Tony out in the breeze like she had in the cemetery. She tried in vain, though, because there was nothing but ice and snow in the strong winds.
The sun set quickly that night and darkness took over the world. Ziva sat on the window-seat in her bedroom and looked out over the front yard. If she squinted her eyes she could almost see Tony coming in from work or returning from the grocery store. And she did squint her eyes but all she saw was grass, an elm tree and the dark grey driveway. And so another day drew to a close. Another without Tony. And tonight it wasn't any easier to accept.