Author's Note:

Sigh… the final chapter. It didn't seem too long ago that I got the idea for this story. How sentimental am I?

But I hope you've all enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I've loved hearing feedback from everyone, and I hope to hear from you all again when I start posting chapters to the sequel. (Yes… sequel. I couldn't help myself.)

So… here it is.

Chapter Twenty-One

"Now or Never Pt. II"

It was just after midnight, and Ziva wasn't any closer to falling asleep than she had been two hours before when she'd gone to bed. Surprisingly, for once, the pain killers she'd been prescribed weren't knocking her on her feet. She was hardly drowsy, but she had a good idea what could put her quickly to sleep. It was a guilty and feminine pleasure, but something told her it would be exactly what she needed.

By the time the water was filled to the brim of the bathtub and her special bath salts had been added to the mix, she was all too ready to climb in and relax. She stepped out of her clothing and put one foot in the heavenly water, moaning at its soothing heat. The other foot came next, and then her legs as she kneeled into the water. She slid down the length of the tub and her waist felt the water's heat. Before she had a chance to think any differently, the previously comfortable water hit the four inch gash on her stomach and she instantly reeled from the blinding pain. The skin was still incredibly sensitive, apparently, and didn't handle the heat well. She lifted herself out of the tub and reached down to let the tub drain. Her hot bath was out of the question.

Instead, she ran a lukewarm sink full of water and washed her hair in hopes that it would be enough to calm her system down and help her fall asleep. After all, Tony would be over in the morning and she wanted to be able to greet him without bags under her eyes. He'd know she didn't sleep and she'd have to hear about it; she loved his concern, but found it mildly irritating after it after the comfort of it wore off. Since Tony had been much more affectionate in the last week, she wondered if it was going to be something she had to get used to. If, of course, it lasted. She would understand if Tony was being nicer because she'd been through a lot, but didn't know if there was more behind it. If there could be, even. Just because she cared for him didn't mean it worked both ways.

She left all the lights in the apartment off as she moved around, more comfortable in the dark than she had been in all the glaring lights. It only took a few minutes rummaging around in the kitchen to decide that it wasn't food she wanted. The TV and the stereo both sounded annoying, and so she ended up sprawling across the couch like she had a few hours before. She didn't know why she just didn't go back to bed; laying there would have been just as convenient.

Lights flashed just outside the window and illuminated the room; probably traffic from her street. She got up from the couch and walked to the window, pulling the blinds apart to stare down at what she thought would be a deserted city street. Instead, she found a very familiar car parked at the curb. The driver was missing, but she had a feeling he wasn't that far away. Her eyes searched the street and found no one before they finally rested on a bench across the street. Someone was sitting there, drinking from a large mug and staring up at her window. She thought it was either Tony or a stalker, both of which could be easily handled by going downstairs.

She pulled Tony's sweater over her head and put on a pair of sandals before she walked out of her apartment, not bothering to lock it behind her. Taking the steps carefully to mind her stitches, she walked out the front door of her building expecting to find Tony waiting just outside it. She didn't, however, and continued walking in the direction of the bench on the opposite side of the street. When she got close enough, she realized that it was Tony sitting on the bench and not someone she had to worry about. He finally caught her eyes and his widened, unsure of what her reaction would be to find him sitting outside her apartment so late at night.

"Hello, Tony," she said after crossing the street and coming to stand in front of him. Despite the cold air, he had thrown his jacket across the back of the bench and had removed his tie. The plain black shirt he still wore was rolled up to his elbows, letting Ziva's eyes wander up the smooth expanse of muscle on his forearms.

Tony gulped, ignorant of her stare, but took the time to notice that she was wearing his shirt. Her dark hair hung, dark and damp, down her shoulders and he found his mouth suddenly dry. He didn't think he'd ever seen a woman more beautiful. Or, for that matter, one that made him more nervous.

"Uh, hey."

She moved to take a seat next to him and took the large coffee mug from his hands, stealing a long drink that drove off the slight chill in the air.

"I did not think you were coming over tonight," she observed, staring out into the street.

"Gibbs released us early," he explained. "I wanted to drop by but I didn't know if you would be awake."

She raised an eyebrow. "So you sit outside my apartment?"

He shrugged. "It made sense at the time. And this was the closest I thought I could get without you breaking my legs for spying."

"I would not have broken your legs," she said coyly. "Perhaps a finger or two, but not your legs."

"Thanks, that's good to know," he said and took his coffee back from her. "You're still feeling okay? How are the stitches healing?"

"Slowly," she said, not bothering to mask her annoyance. "I could not even take a bath tonight."

"That's because your baths are always just a few degrees above boiling," he said. "They specifically told you lukewarm at the hospital, if I remember correctly."

"Whatever," she mumbled. She wanted to bring up their earlier attempts at a conversation, but she couldn't find the words that wouldn't put him instantly on his guard. Instead, she settled for an inane question to fill the silence. "How was Maryland?"

"Uneventful, save for the hostage situation," he said, laughing. "And when we were driving back, I got McGee good."

"What did you do to him?"

"He was leaning forward, trying to tie his shoe," he started, barely able to contain his giggles as he recounted the story, "And I hit the brakes hard enough to slam his forehead against the dashboard."

"Tony!" Ziva cried. "You did not kill him, did you?"

"Psh, no," Tony responded, scoffing. "We weren't going more than thirty miles an hour, anyway. I'll be surprised if he has a bruise. It was just funny."

"You are terrible," she said, smiling. "Truly terrible."

"You like that about me," he said, looking down at her. "Right?"

"Very much so, I am afraid," she said, looking back up at him. He had a look on his face that seemed to be screaming something she couldn't understand, and she could hardly remember seeing him in such a way. Part of her worried, but the other part had her stomach fluttering in a million different ways. She didn't know which she should be more concerned about.

"It's good, being together like this," Tony started, interrupting the heavy silence they'd let themselves fall into. "A few days ago, I thought I wouldn't have the chance again."

Ziva's head dropped. "That makes two of us."

"I really hate that we fought," he said, referring to the last time they'd seen each other before she disappeared. "I never meant to hurt you."

"I hurt you as well," she said. "And for that, I am sorry."

"I usually hate apologizing," he laughed, albeit nervously. "Gibbs' influence and all that. But I think it's good this time. I've been dying to get that off my chest."

Her heart fell. "That is what you were going to say to me the other night, yes?" she asked. "In my hospital room?"

Tony stared at the mug in his hands. Ziva had given him a chance and a choice to make, and the decision he made at that particular moment would affect the rest of his life. He could choose to affirm her suspicions and say that an apology was all he had in mind when it was much further down his list, or he could tell her the truth: That he loved her, and that he had for some time.

It's now or never, DiNozzo, he thought as he looked over at amazing woman next to him. After this, you're out of excuses.

He took a deep breath.

"No," he said, surprising them both. "That's not what I wanted to say to you that night. That's not what I want to say to you now, even."

Ziva looked up. "Then what was it? I have been curious all week but we never seemed to have a moment alone."

"I've noticed," he said. "It happens that way, I guess."

She saw the nerves on his face and couldn't begin to guess what it was that he was keeping locked up so tight. It was a wonder he hadn't collapsed under the pressure.

"Tony," she said, placing her hand on his arm, "Whatever this is, you can tell me. I am right here."

"I know," he said and laughed. "I wanted this to be a bigger deal, you know? I always thought it would take an act of nature to get me here, but here I am. On a bench in the middle of night wondering if the next few minutes are going to change my life."

Ziva frowned. "I do not know what you mean."

"I'm not sure I do either," he said, turning to face her on the small bench. "I'm not sure what anything means anymore, but I think that could finally be something good."

"Tony, you are confusing me," Ziva said quietly.

He stared at her in the moonlight and saw the subtle questions written on her face; he'd never been surer of anything in his life as he was about the way he loved her.

Ziva watched his eyes darken in the cool light from the streetlamps and wondered for the millionth time in the last week what was going through his head. It was this question that plagued her as he took her face gently into her hands and tilted her chin up to meet him, his lips covering hers so softly that she had to wonder if it was really happening. This kiss was nothing like the first they'd shared all those years ago in the hotel room; the nervous excitement had gone completely, leaving in its place tenderness and a totally overwhelming passion that surprised them both with its subtle but distinct flavor. Ziva couldn't remember feeling more wanted in her entire life than she did in those few moments, with him on a bench in front of her apartment. Her hands gripped the front of his shirt in a fervent attempt to bring him closer, only to have him pull away.

"I love you," he said breathlessly against her lips, keeping her face in his hands. "More than I'll ever be able to tell you."

Ziva nodded, staring up at him. "You are doing well so far."

He laughed, pulling her against him again. This time his kiss took on the distinctive and biting edge of the unrelenting desire that had been building steadily between them for three years. The regret he felt for every moment that he wanted to hold but didn't was now pouring out of him in waves, rendering her completely breathless and shaking in his arms. His lips pressed eagerly against her own, leaving her only to surrender to him. Her chin tilted a little farther up, allowing him the access he'd been craving. His tongue took hers in one stunning sweep and she let him take from her, knowing there was much more he could say this way than he could ever say out loud.

Tony relinquished his hold on her only when the need for air had outweighed his desire for her, and even then he instantly missed the feel of her lips against his. Ziva stared back at him, unsure of what the last minute would do to the rest of their lives. Surprisingly, she felt immense satisfaction rather than the outright terror that usually accompanied these situations. Neither of them said a word; for two people who usually had more problems staying quiet than speaking up, they were unusually silent. Tony kept his fingers running through her hair, unspeakably happy that he had the ability to do so.

"You're not saying much," he pointed out nervously. His earlier conversation with McGee came to mind. "I know this is a lot to handle, but I couldn't walk around with this anymore. And it's okay, you know, if you don't feel the same way about me right now. Or at all. I understand. I know I haven't always been nice to you, or understanding, but I do care about you and as soon as I start figuring out a better way of showing it—"

"Tony," Ziva interrupted, an amused smile gracing her lips.

"—I'll start doing that, you know, and—"

"Tony!" she yelled and shocked him out of his rambling. "Will you be quiet long enough for me to tell you that I love you as well?"

He blinked. "You do?"

She nodded and he laughed, kissing her again.

"Thank you," he said before he could contemplate a better way of conveying the emotion careening through him.

The phrase made Ziva laugh. "For what?"

"For being here, for putting up with me," he said, keeping her close. "For never letting me get too full of myself and reminding me that I'm only human."

"You are only human," she said. "And so am I, which made it rather hard for me to resist you all these years."

Tony smiled unabashedly, a laugh glittering in the air between them.

"I knew it," he said. "I knew you'd fall for me eventually."

"Did you?" she asked skeptically. "How could you possibly?"

He shrugged. "It was all the little things."

Ziva raised an eyebrow.

"You know, you staring at me when you thought I was wasn't looking," he started, "Saying things to purposefully make me jealous. Asking random little questions that you didn't think I would get, like the whole soul mate thing."

"I am impressed," she said. "And here I have been thinking that you were just a dull instrument."

"Blunt, Ziva," he said. "And I'm a lot smarter than you give me credit for."

"So I have noticed," she said, laughing. "Well, I do not think I can continue to taunt you if you have me figured out so thoroughly."

"That's right," he replied smugly. "I'm the senior field agent, you know. I'm supposed to figure this stuff out."

"Very good," she said, winding her hand around the back of his neck to pull him down to her. "It is no wonder I feel for you the way I do."

"Because I'm a senior field agent?"

"No," she said, laughing. "Because you never cease to surprise me."

"Never will, either," he said. "I plan on surprising you every day for a long, long time. If that's okay with you, of course."

Ziva pretended to consider the question. "I suppose I can adjust."

"I was hoping you'd say that," he said, sliding his lips over hers. "Does this mean you're not going to break my fingers for staking out your apartment?"

"Not tonight," she said and lowered her voice to a seductive purr. "I have much more creative plans for them."

Tony sucked in an excruciating breath.

"God, I forget sometimes how good you are at that," he said, staring down at her. "And it's not fair."

"What is not fair?" she asked, confused.

"Your stitches don't come out for another two weeks," he said.

"So what?"

"The doctor said no strenuous activity," he reminded and the corner of his lip turned up in a daring smirk. He leaned down to whisper in her ear, "And what I have planned for you is very, very strenuous."

This time, it was Ziva's turn to gasp.

"I cannot wait that long," she said, running her hands down his chest and making his breath catch before catching his jaw in a quick kiss. "Have we not waited long enough?"

"Exactly," he said, running a hand absently down her arm. "What's two more weeks? We can do it."

"Ugh," Ziva groaned. "Do not say 'do it'."

Tony laughed. "It'll be okay. Until then, you'll just have to put up with me at my romantic best. Breakfast in bed, candlelight dinners—the works."

"I do not need all those things, Tony," she said, shaking her head. "I just need you."

"I know you don't need them," he said, helpless against the smile that seemed to have plastered itself across his face. "But I want to. Let me."

She considered the request and nodded her head.


He pulled her close and brushed his lips across her forehead before leaning in for another earth-shattering kiss.

"I love you," he murmured, meaning it even more then than he had the last time he'd said it.

"I love you, too," Ziva replied and curled against him. The more she thought about it, the more she realized she was exactly where she belonged.