Author's Note (Long One):

Dearest Readers,

I would like to take a few minutes of this chapter to let you know just how much I've appreciated your attention over the last few years… I wrote my very first fanfic six years ago, and so much has happened since then. I got my bachelor's, I started grad school. I met my best friends and my fiancé. In the same vein, I've had amazing readers and reviewers since I started writing. You've all made the work and the stress of writer's block worth it, and I can only hope that you've appreciated my work as much as I've appreciated your reading it. This story has taken three years to complete, and I never would have gotten past the first chapter if hadn't been for all of you.

Sadly, this will be my last fanfic. I've reached a point in my life where I no longer have time to write and while I may try again in a few years, I think it will be my own original work. Tony and Ziva have given me the confidence to create my own characters and I thank them for that. I'm so happy that this portrayal of their characters held your interest after three years of not-so-regular updates. I hope that it's been as memorable for you as it has been for me. One day, you may see my name on the fiction shelves… you never know.

So, in conclusion, thank you. Thank you for everything.

Alyssa de la Garza

(Alyssa Gallegos, when I get married in May)

Part IV: Washington D.C.

Chapter Thirty-Five


When we land in DC the sky is a damp, misty gray and a light sleet is pelting the small plane. Ziva shivers next to me and I feel like we should have known that November in DC was going to be radically different than November in Tel Aviv, but neither of us thought to grab a jacket on our way out. So, when they lower the steps, we throw our backpacks over our shoulders and lean into each other to gather what little warmth we can. It can't be too far into the evening but the sky is getting dark and the weather is getting angrier with each passing minute – not exactly the most picturesque homecoming we could have wound up with, but at this point we're willing to take whatever we can get. If home involves bad weather, so be it. It's home and I'd be kissing the pavement if I didn't think my lips would freeze to it.

We're reaching for our bags and planning to run into the building when we notice that something is blocking our way. We stop, withstanding the fierce wind to take a closer look at the obstacle in the distance. Not something – someone. It's hard to miss the shock of silver hair, even in the quickly darkening weather. He just stands there, solid and unmoving, waiting to close the distance separating us. After almost a year of miles and ocean between us, being only feet away is disorienting. It feels like there should be bad guys popping out of the shadows with guns and chains to keep us apart, but there are no bushes around for them to hide in. Absolutely nothing is standing in our way now, for a change. Still, I'm finding it difficult to put one foot in front of another. Shouldn't I be running and screaming with joy?

Ziva takes the first step forward, still holding my hand and dragging me along with her. I'm grateful for that – I may not have moved otherwise. I must be going into shock. She marches onward, purposeful with her long strides, until we're close enough to see the whites of his eyes. It's only then that she lets go of my hand so she can throw her backpack to the ground and wrap her arms around Gibbs' neck with more gusto than I've seen her display in a long time. Gibbs doesn't hesitate for even a second, holding her in a fierce embrace that seems to last forever. When Ziva steps away, her eyes are red and if it hadn't been sleeting I'm sure we could've seen tears there. Gibbs looks emotional, too, but only the Gibbs version of emotion – a partially raised eyebrow, lips unsmiling, but with a trace of affection in his eyes. It's noticing the few extra lines around those eyes that makes me forget all about shaking hands and go right in for the hug. It's brief, but it's there.

Gibbs missed me. Missed us.

"Martin?" he asks and Ziva answers.

"Fine," she says. "Back to Paris, to be with his family."

"Well," I add, "He did get shot, but he seems okay with that part."

"What about you two?" he asks. "You okay?"

"Better, now that we're home," I reply truthfully, sighing. "But now that you mention it, it's getting pretty cold out here."

The man nods down at our joined hands, catching the shine of the gold on Ziva's finger. To his credit, he doesn't seem surprised. "That permanent?"

I nod. "Yep."

"Yes," Ziva reiterates for good measure.

"Alright, then. Car's this way."

Ziva raises her eyebrow at me but I break out into a huge smile. As far as Gibbs' blessings go, that's probably the best we're going to get.

The first thing we come back to is tears. Good tears – happy ones – but still. We're ready for them. Abby's mascara and eyeliner have melted and started to run, making her eyes even more read than they already are. When we come around the corner, she seems to be frozen in place. It's not until Ziva opens her mouth to talk that a desperate gasp escapes her lips and she bounds toward us, almost tripping over her clunky platform boots as they catch on the carpet. She throws her arms around our necks and sobs, breaking my heart a little. I don't think it occurred to me before now just how much our disappearance had to have hurt her.

"Shh, Abs," I say gently. "It's alright. We're back."

She cries louder, her body shaking.

"We received all of your letters," Ziva says quietly, patting her back. "We must have read them all a thousand times each. When we got sad or homesick or scared, all we had to do was pick up those letters and it felt like we were home again."

"Yeah, Abs, and we read all of McGee's books," I say, pulling her left pigtail a little. "I even submitted some anonymous book reviews to some of the magazines, just to say how bad it was."

At this McGee glared from his place on this desk and Abby finally, miraculously giggled at the small joke.

"We missed you so much, Abby," Ziva said and looked up to meet McGee's eyes, just above Abby's shoulder. He nodded back. "We missed all of you more than we could ever say."

"Us too," she replies. "We missed you too."

After nearly strangling us, Abby relinquishes her hold on us and McGee steps up for his moment with the prodigal agents. Ziva hugs him first, giving him a quick peck on the cheek and making him blush. Next is my turn and for old time's sake if nothing else, I clutch his shoulders and shake him.

"Good to see you, buddy," I say and pull him in for a bear hug that pulls him off his feet and makes him get that whiny tone I've missed so much in his voice.

"Tony, come on," he says and I let him down. I'm so happy to be here, ecstatic to be home, that I don't care that I've managed to annoy him within 2 minutes of walking in the door. All that matters is that I'm here to annoy him at all. For a little while, it didn't look like I was even going to get that.

"It's good to see you, too, Tony."

"So," Abby says through receding tears, "How was Paris?"

"Memorable," Ziva says, sneaking a glance at me and giving me a coy grin that gets my blood moving a little faster than it was a minute ago. I know what she's going to do before she does it, but watching Abby's reaction to Ziva holding out her left hand is worth it. At the first twinkle of the diamond, Abby squeals loud enough for the rest of us to wince painfully. She grabs Ziva's hand and yanks it forward, bringing Ziva stumbling forward.

"Is this what I think it is?"

"It is," Zee confirms. "Nothing is official yet, not with these identities, but it will be. Of course we want you all to be there, whenever the date happens to be."

"Duh! Oh my gosh, look at this! Tony picked this out?" Abby asks, shocked, and Ziva nods.

"He did," she says, looking over at me and smiling. "Great taste, no?"

"Obviously," I reply smugly. "I picked you."

Abby sniffles. "Aww!"

"Congrats, man," McGee says, smiling brightly. "Really. Not to say I told you so and I know you won't believe me, but I had actually been thinking of a secret wedding for Tommy and Lisa for the next book."

"Don't even think about it, Magoo," I say but smile anyway. I really don't believe him at all, but I know he'll write about it anyway.

"You haven't picked a date yet?" Abby asks, still marveling over the ring.

"No. I have not had time to discuss it."

"We'll work it out," she says excitedly. "I've got people all over the city who have their own people. Venue, food, dresses, music… this will be the wedding of the decade."

"Oh," Ziva says tentatively and I can already feel my wallet aching.

Sensing my sudden discomfort, Ziva grabs my hand and pulls me closer. Surprisingly, it's just as easy to be a couple – to be us – here as it was in Paris. I don't know about my other half, but that's a relief to me. Looking down at her now, with Abby fussing over her and already planning our wedding, the light in her eyes seems totally alive and perfectly happy. For all the chaos, for all the danger and all the waiting and wanting it's almost exhausting to consider that for the first time in possible ever, we're exactly where we belong. Has this ever happened before? If it hasn't, we were still going to make it a habit. I squeeze her hand lovingly.

"Hey," McGee suddenly says, "Where did Gibbs go?"

Watching from the staircase, Gibbs pursed his lips to suppress what would have been a wide smile. It had been a long time since he'd smiled so easily, and he secretly relished the fact that he now had reason to do so. He watched in silence as Abby cried and his team, the one he's had dominion over for all these years, was reunited for what would hopefully be the final time. He was getting older, wearier, and he couldn't take much more of the anxiety of having everyone spread out. Not long from now, he would have to give the team up entirely. Until that day, though, they were his and they were whole. That mattered.

"Gibbs," someone said behind him and he turned to face the Director, his mouth in its typical grim line. For a moment he considered being on alert but Vance's expression gave away only that nothing was an emergency. "The Deputy Director of Mossad is on the line for you. MTAC, now."

Gibbs nodded, following him up the stairs. He'd been appraised of Eli David's funeral days ago and wasn't aware that they had appointed his successor so quickly. He had heard, however, that Ziva refused the position. It had caused internal conflict within him – pride that they'd thought highly enough of her to offer her just an important office, but relief that she'd declined. He knew, though, as soon as he saw her that she would be with NCIS for a long time to come. The look on her face said it all.

When he walked into MTAC the screen was already up and running, the picture uncharacteristically clear. Perhaps it was because the other side of the camera was situated comfortably in an office rather than on a submarine or a desert warzone. The face blown up to hundreds of times its normal size in front of him was of a woman much younger than her predecessor, with chin-length dark hair. A wry grin twisted her features and she raised her chin in acknowledgement.

"Agent Gibbs. It's a pleasure to see you again."

He smiled. "The pleasure's mine. I suppose it's not Officer Reut anymore, is it?"

"No, it is not," she replied. "I am now Deputy Director Reut. But you may always call me Liraz, first and foremost."

"DiNozzo and David are home safely," he said, abruptly changing the subject. "I owe you a lot for that."

"You have no debt with me, Agent Gibbs. My only wish for the future of our agencies is a dedicated, honest partnership. If you communicate with me, I will communicate with you. No cloak and dagger necessary."

He grinned, imagining bumping heads with the Israeli in the future.

"Oh, I think this could the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

She nodded her head.