Part Three - Epilogue
Kate doesn't really believe that Vance is letting her come back to NCIS until she's sitting in the squad room, perched on the edge of Ziva's desk, still reeling from Abby's welcoming hug. She watches Ziva out of the corner of her eyes. She's already noticed that Ziva looks more relaxed than she's ever seen her before.
It's being back here, Kate thinks. She's waiting and hoping for that same relaxation to settle on her, but it hasn't yet. It's been a nerve wracking six months as Agent Afloat. Being the only NCIS agent dealing with a thousand petty and some not-so-petty disagreements puts an incredible strain on the agent doing the job. Kate can't quite believe that some agents actually sign up for it voluntarily.
Even though she's back, she's still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Abby seems certain that she's back for good, though. She, at least, still has complete faith in Gibbs. Kate does too, but somehow Jenny's death has tarnished that faith. There are some things that even Gibbs can't control and she knows it now.
She's trying to catch Kate up on six months of her life in a few short minutes. Words are flying out of her mouth, almost faster than Kate's jet-lagged mind can keep up with. Fortunately comments aren't necessary, as Abby's keeping the conversation flowing all by herself. Kate listens to the tone more than the individual words, and then gives into the urge to give Abby another one-armed hug.
Abby hugs back, but never stops talking. Kate laughs, happy to be back in this place even if it doesn't last.
Still, it's Ziva her attention keeps coming back to. They haven't spoken since the morning that they both left. Six months has drifted by with no communication between them, not even an email or a postcard. They never discussed it, but it has the feel of a mutual decision. Six months is a long time though.
People change in that amount of time. Kate knows that she has and she wonders how much it has affected Ziva. They had hugged aboard the Seahawk in front of Gibbs, but it was a brief, impersonal hug. A gesture between two friendly colleagues, not long-separated lovers. Kate isn't sure what to make of it or what it means for them now and she wants to know.
She'll never admit how much of her thoughts Ziva consumed while she was exiled aboard the Seahawk and the Ronald Reagan.
Ziva looks good, Kate muses. She looks well-rested and strong. Her tan is slightly deeper than when she left D.C. A different climate, Kate supposes, but whatever it is, it looks good on her. There's a scrape along the edge of Ziva's hair that only someone looking as carefully as Kate would notice it.
Kate wants to know the story behind that. She feels terribly out of the loop and she doesn't like it at all. It's more than that too. It's a craving to find out all the details she's missed about Ziva's life since she's been gone. She wants even more to know where they stand.
Finally, Abby rambles to a halt. Kate squeezes her shoulder and smiles.
"Tell you what, Abs," she says casually. "Why don't I buy you lunch tomorrow and you can catch me up on the rest?"
Abby's grin is huge and completely honest. "Sweet! But only if we don't have a case, because you know how cranky Gibbs gets if we take time out for lunch while we have a case." She wrinkles her nose adorably.
"Wouldn't want Gibbs to get cranky," Kate says dryly. It's a joke, but then none of them are really joking.
Abby hugs her one last time and Kate squeezes back tightly.
"Missed you," Kate says for Abby's ears only and it's true. She has missed Abby, missed her friendship and her impossible cheerfulness. She hadn't realized how much she depended on it, until she couldn't simply call Abby whenever she felt like it, or go down to her lab and visit.
"Missed you too," Abby echoes back.
Kate grabs her bag and her purse, and heads for the elevator. Only once she's alone in the small space does she let her eyes drift close and lean tiredly back against the wall.
The ding of the elevator surprises her when the door slides open. Her eyes snap open, and she wonders if she really drifted off to sleep that quickly. There's no doubt that she's tired, but she isn't quite ready to sleep yet. She wants something else.
Opening up her cell phone, she dials a number and hopes that it still works. To her surprise it rings. After two rings, it's picked up.
"David," Ziva's voice snaps crisply in her ear.
"Hey," Kate breathes out the simple word.
Silence lingers. Kate focuses on the soft sound of Ziva's breathing.
"Can I see you tonight," she asks softly. If the answers going to be no, well, she still wants to know where they stand.
There's a moment where Kate's afraid that Ziva isn't going to answer.
"I can be at your apartment in half an hour."
Kate flushes with unexpected warmth. She hasn't realized just how worried she was until she gets her answer.
"I'll see you there."
She hasn't had a chance to go back there herself, so she has no idea how bad the place looks. On her way back she stops by the store and picks up a few essentials, beer, fruit, a few veggies and eggs. She has a distant hope of making omelets for Ziva in the morning and even if that doesn't happen, she still has to eat. There's nothing in her apartment.
She lets herself in the apartment and finds it dark and slightly too warm. Dropping the bags on the counter, she winds her way through the apartment to turn up the air conditioning. She opens up a few windows to let some of the stifling air out and flips a few lights on.
The door creaks and Kate's hand drops to the gun in the holster at her side out of habit. She stays in shadows as she moves towards the door.
"Kate?" Ziva's voice calling out for her startles her, but she relaxes immediately.
"Back here," she answers.
"You should not leave your door unlocked," Ziva says as she comes into sight.
"I just got here," Kate explains. "I left it open for you."
Kate checks the small pot on her window sill by sticking her finger down into the soil. It's still slightly damp. Kate smiles. She'll have to treat Abby to a very expensive dinner tomorrow to thank her for keeping an eye on this for her and making sure that it didn't die in Kate's absence.
"It's beautiful," Ziva says from behind her, taking in the thriving plant and it's sprays of multiple blooms.
"It smells wonderful too," Kate adds. "It mistakenly got delivered to my hospital room that time I got hit by the shotgun blast. I brought it home with me and somehow I've managed to keep it alive." She smiles over her shoulder at Ziva. "It's the only plant I've ever managed to keep alive for this long."
"It wasn't a mistake."
Ziva's voice is so soft that at first Kate isn't sure what she's heard.
"I said, it wasn't a mistake that it was delivered to your room."
It takes Kate a moment, but abruptly she realizes what Ziva's implying.
"That was you? I didn't - there was no note."
"I would have wanted to thank you for it. I've really enjoyed having it."
Ziva raises an elequent eyebrow that says plenty.
"Okay, so maybe I wouldn't have thanked you, then. I was being kind of a bitch."
Ziva snorts at that statement and the tension eases.
"You were not very happy with me, yes?"
"Why did you do it though?" Kate's curious now.
"I saw it in the gift store and I thought you would enjoy it."
In truth, she had scoured the gift store for hours until she'd found something that she thought Kate might like, but some things, she's still not ready to tell.
"Thank you, Ziva." The sincerity in her voice makes her words thick with meaning.
They linger a little too long in silence until the moment starts to become uncomfortable between them. Quickly Kate clears her throat and smiles before she grabs the bag she's set down to check on the plant.
Ziva watches and follows her as Kate heads into the kitchen.
"Want a beer," Kate asks over her shoulder.
"Yes, please," Ziva says a little too enthusiastically.
Kate smiles knowingly.
"Been a long few days?"
"Very long," Ziva agrees.
Kate stops moving, holding the refrigerator door open and looks at Ziva. "Is your head still bothering you?"
"Not worth mentioning."
Meaning it's still hurting, probably throbbing, but not badly enough for Ziva to complain. Then again, Kate's seen Ziva need stitches, and not mention it. There's a small part of Kate that's dying to ask if she can kiss it and make it better. She holds back though. She wants to do this right, not fall back into old of habits of not quite discussing things.
"Good," she says decisively and then turns her attention back to her refrigerator.
Kate gives Ziva the beer, opens her own and then finishes putting away her groceries. Ziva's sitting on her counter, her head leaned back against the cabinets, watching Kate when she's done.
"Still feeling jet-lagged," Kate asks, searching for small talk.
"Yes, but you've been back longer."
"Only a week."
"Does it still feel weird to be back here?" Kate asks, leaning back against the opposite counter. She considers copying Ziva's gesture, but she's never really been one for sitting on counters.
"I'm very happy to be here." The slight emphasis on the last word doesn't escape Kate's notice. "But, yes, I know what you mean. Everything is the same, but different."
Kate casts around for a segue. None easily come to mind. Maybe it's the hour or the past few very long days and the multiple time zones. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter.
"Move in with me."
Ziva blinks, sets down the glass bottle in her hand and stares.
It's not quite what Kate had intended to say. She had meant to go a little bit more slowly, ease into things, but most of all she wants to do things right this time. She and Ziva have spent years screwing this thing between them up, dancing around the issue and never quite getting it right.
Now they have a chance to start fresh. Kate wants to stop being afraid and just live her life. She has more proof than she'll ever need that life's too short and she doesn't want to waste anymore chances.
Ziva drops down from the counter.
"Wait," Kate says quickly. "That didn't come out right." She reaches out, taking Ziva's hand, and smiling, but it's a slightly nervous smile. "Let me explain," she asks.
Ziva nods and Kate still can't tell what she's thinking. She can feel the way that Ziva's heartbeat's pounding under her fingers where her fingers are holding Ziva's wrist.
"When we first met, I hated you."
"I remember," Ziva says dryly and Kate has to smile at that. They've come so far already.
"And then I didn't. You got under my skin and you surprised me. And then when Gibbs -" She stumbling over her words now, hoping that Ziva will understand, despite the lack of her usual preciseness. "I didn't know how to handle it, Ziva. And then Jenny." She shakes her head. "I want to be with you, but I don't want to screw it up this time."
"So you want me to move in with you?"
"No," Kate says quickly. "Do you want to?" She's grinning wildly now. She can't quite help it and she can't quite believe she's doing it either. Kate Todd does not make impulsive propositions like this one. "It doesn't have to be now, or ever maybe, but I want you to know that I'm serious." She steps closer. "You have no idea how much time I spent thinking about you while I was gone. I have notebooks full of drawings of you. I'd end up sketching you, your face, the lines of your body, even when I wasn't intending to."
Ziva smiles, and Kate basks in its warmth. She holds Kate's hand between her own and brings it to her lips, placing a kiss on each finger. When Ziva looks back up, there's no doubting the heat of her gaze.
"Before I left, I told my father that I wished to make my assignment here permanent."
It's Kate's turn to be startled. She's been half-expecting Ziva to want to return home again, now that she's had a taste of it.
"I could have stayed there this time. Things with my father are less tense than they were, and perhaps staying would have eased them more, but I did not want to. I wanted to see you. So, yes, I would like that, very much, if you're serious." Ziva smiles. "And if you're not ready, then we can wait. But my answer will be yes then, too."
Kate can't resist any longer. She claims Ziva's lips in a searing kiss. Ziva pulls her greedily closer. Kate slips a hand behind her neck and presses into Ziva's warmth. She loses herself in the soft, warm skin pressed against her own and the feel of Ziva's tongue brushing against her lips.
And finally, Kate can relax.