A/N: I am warning everyone now that this is pure Tiva romance that borders on fluff. It has a theme but the plot revolves entirely around their transition from coworkers to a committed romantic relationship. It will contain a lot of the usual clichés like a nosy neighbor for Ziva. I will attempt not to be too extremely OC and try to keep it in a vein that could actually happen on the show over time (except for any rated R parts). At least it could if you suspend the reality that there is probably some NCIS policy against fraternization (not to mention rule 12). I'm trying to keep this story about a real relationship and not have it be a total happily ever after fairy tale. More like a romantic comedy with a happy ending.
WARNING: This story may have some allusion to and possible graphic mention of rape and other torture. It may also have some consensual sexual content as well. I've never tried to write that so I'll see how it goes.
Tony sighed as he logged off of his computer. It had been a long day and an even longer case. At least it was Friday and he had a relaxing weekend ahead of him. Not that he had any specific plans. Spending the weekend watching football with his buddies had become the norm for him. He'd never admit it but he honestly couldn't remember when he had last been on a date. Oh, he still talked a good game but it was mostly for show. Somewhere along the way meaningless hook-ups lost their appeal for him. Yet, he wasn't actively looking for a relationship either. He hadn't stopped to analyze why and he wasn't going to now.
Tony looked over at his partner. They were the only two left working on their reports. Ziva had been quiet and distracted today. He'd done his best to annoy her and gotten only a token response. He grabbed his jacket and walked over to her desk.
"Going to be here much longer?" he asked her.
"No, I am ready to print my report now. Have a good weekend," she replied.
"I could wait if you want to grab something to eat. If you don't already have plans," Tony told her.
"I do not have plans but I am very tired. Maybe another time," Ziva told him. Truthfully, she was hoping he would leave soon so she could be alone.
"Is everything okay with you?"
"Of course. I am fine, Tony. As I said, I am just tired."
"You still have to eat, though, right? Come on, let's just go somewhere quick and then you can go home. It's Friday night, Ziva. You can sleep late tomorrow."
"I never sleep late, Tony."
"Of course you don't. Come on, I'll let you choose the place. My treat."
"Your persistence is very annoying," Ziva told him with a glare.
"I like to think of it more as endearing," he replied with a grin.
"You would," Ziva said eliciting a begging look from Tony. Finally she sighed and reluctantly told him, "Alright, I will eat with you. But only if you buy me a Philly cheese steak sandwich."
"Perfect. I know a great New York style pizza and deli about fifteen minutes from here. Come on, I'll drive," Tony told her with a victorious smile.
"That is not necessary. I will just follow you there."
"And ditch me on the way over. Not a chance. I know how you think, David. We're riding together. And there's no way I'm riding with you driving. Not if you are as tired as you keep saying you are."
Ziva merely rolled her eyes in irritation. Slipping into her jacket, she followed Tony to the elevator. She was not sure why she agreed to this. She had deliberately asked for one of her American favorites. She had never eaten a Philly cheese steak sandwich before coming to NCIS four years ago. It was the last thing that would remind her of her homeland. Israel, and more specifically the friends she had left behind, had been heavy on her mind all day.
Tony carried most of the conversation through dinner. He wasn't surprised that Ziva remained quiet. He also knew better than to push her. If she wanted to talk about whatever was bugging her, she would. Otherwise, there was no chance of getting it out of her. It wasn't until after dinner that she finally decided to open up. He had just pulled up next to her car to drop her off.
"I got a wedding invitation yesterday. From Tel Aviv," she said with sadness.
"Ex-boyfriend? That always stings but you're better off without him. I'm sure the chic he's marrying is just a poor man's Ziva," he teased.
"A what? What is that supposed to mean?" Ziva asked in irritation.
"It's from a movie. The Wedding Planner," Tony explained.
"You watched a movie about a wedding planner?" Ziva looked incredulous at first but then revelation dawned. "Oh…you were trying to get some girl to have sex with you, yes?"
"Okay, yes it was a date but the movie starred Jennifer Lopez. Pre-twins," Tony told her as if that explained everything.
"The wedding invitation was not from a former boyfriend. It was from one of my closest friends. She and I went to university together," Ziva explained.
"So, I don't understand. Aren't you happy for her? Is this one of those I'm the last one not married things?" he said with mock sympathy.
"No, Tony. How is it that you ever solve cases when you are so dense? I am going to miss my friend's wedding. Just as I missed the birth of my cousin's first baby last week. This time last year I would have gone to Israel for the wedding and I would have been able to hold the baby while I was there," Ziva snapped. Her frustration with him was evident. She had her hand on the door handle when his next words stopped her.
"I know I've been giving you a hard time about the whole citizenship thing. That's just what we do, you know? Annoy each other for fun. I guess I never thought about everything you are giving up. About how you really can't go back. At least not for a long time. I…well, actually, I'm proud of you. You are making a difficult choice. And standing against your father can't be easy either. I can relate to that, kind of. I'm sorry, Ziva, that it has to be so hard for you. It isn't fair," Tony said.
Tony's sudden change to seriousness caught Ziva completely off guard. She had not expected him to be empathetic. And his attempt to encourage her was definitely surprising. She was not sure what to make of it so she fell back into old patterns.
"It is what it is, Tony. Life is rarely fair. You just have to accept it," she told him with the expectation that he would disagree. Surprisingly, he did not.
"I guess you would know that better than anyone. I hope that changes for you now, though. You said you came to NCIS to make a home for yourself. I hope it works out to be everything that you want it to be. You deserve the chance to be happy, Ziva. And I'll stop giving you a hard time about the citizenship thing. I could even help you study if you want."
"That is not necessary, Tony. I do not need any help."
"What, you don't think I know my American history? I memorized the preamble to the constitution in the fifth grade. And I can name all the presidents from George Washington to Obama," Tony bragged. Seeing her incredulous look, he admitted, "Bar bet."
"Very impressive but I still prefer to study on my own. I am tired and I am going home now. Thank you for dinner."
Tony waited until Ziva started her car before driving away. He imagined her rolling her eyes at his protectiveness but he couldn't help it. It was a partner thing, he told himself, although he knew he would never do the same for McGee. As he drove home, he thought about the past couple of months since she'd been back. She was changing. Everything that had happened the last few months had changed her.
Tony was not one to embrace change. In his perfect world, things would stay the same forever. Instead, Gibbs was becoming less Gibbs. He was overcoming his personal demons, being nicer, and getting along with Vance. He'd actually shown up for Thanksgiving dinner. McGee wasn't the nerdy little probie anymore. He was confident and strong. He stood up for himself. And Ziva just wasn't Ziva anymore either. She never bragged about anything she had done with Mossad. It was almost like she wished that part of her had never existed. And she was more emotional although she tried to hide it. It was just in the last month that she had finally started joking with him again. He hid it well but he had even welcomed the blue teeth because it was something the old Ziva would do. At least their conversation in the ladies' room a couple weeks ago had been reminiscent of their prior relationship. The way she had diverted him with sexual innuendo was classic Ziva all the way.
He guessed Ziva changing was inevitable. She had obviously been through hell. Not just from being held prisoner in a terrorist training camp either. Ziva didn't know how much he knew about the rest of it. Tony had been tasked with escorting Officer Ben-Gidon to the airport and ensuring that he boarded his flight to Tel Aviv. The Mossad officer had surprised Tony with his willingness to talk. It was like once Gibbs played the bad guy and exposed the truth about Cryer's death, a weight had lifted off of Ben-Gidon. He admitted he had not wanted to take Ziva back to Director David. He feared for her life.
"Ziva has been disloyal to her father. Her heart has been torn in two since she came to America. That is why Director David tried to use her feelings for Officer Rivkin to control her. I thought when you people left her in Israel, she would be able to forget. Earn her father's approval again. But she could not forget and the director knew it. It is why he sent her to her death. Eli David does not forgive disloyalty. She will never be safe in Israel as long as he is alive and I am thankful your Special Agent Gibbs knows this," Ben-Gidon explained.
"You don't have to worry about Ziva anymore. We won't let anything happen to her," Tony had assured him.
"Will she be happy here, do you think? She has never had that chance. I have known Ziva her whole life. Mossad is a family. We grew up together. She left me behind in Somalia, you know. She went to Saleem's camp alone because I was injured and she no longer had the will to defy her father. She intended to die there, I think. Her whole life she has been trying to please her father. Yet it has never been enough for him. I hope that she can live for herself now that she is free of him."
Tony thought about what Ben-Gidon had said. Would Ziva be happy here? Happy and safe weren't the same thing. He had teased her over the years about assimilating. Ziva excelled at almost everything she did. It made laughing at her language and cultural mistakes that much sweeter. She always seemed to take it well, often pointing out the ridiculousness of American idioms or customs. He'd never thought about what it would mean for her to truly become an American. He tried to imagine himself in another country giving up all of the traditions he had ever known. He pictured himself struggling to be understood. Talk about feeling isolated.
Ziva had just exited the elevator when she heard the door to the apartment across from hers open.
"Hello, Lucy. You are up late. How are you?" Ziva asked with a tired smile.
"I am doing well. I have had a good day. How are you?" the motherly woman asked.
"I am glad it is Friday. Are either of your children visiting you this weekend?" Ziva asked.
Lucy Dunston was in her early seventies. She had moved into the building the same week as Ziva. The retired woman needed a smaller place after becoming a widow almost two years ago. She had some health problems and could no longer take care of a big house. She had refused to move to a retirement community or to move in with her son or daughter. She and her children had compromised by moving her into an apartment near her church. Lucy and Ziva had recognized the grief and loneliness in one another and had quickly become friends. Ziva adored Lucy and enjoyedd listening to her stories about her husband. The couple had been married for fifty-two years before he died of cancer.
"Not this weekend. Jennifer's boys have a basketball tournament and Jason's daughter is in a marching band competition. They both offered to come get me but I would just slow them down. I prefer a quiet weekend at home instead. They were both so disappointed they didn't get to see you at Thanksgiving. Are you just now getting home from work, dear?"
"We finished about two hours ago but I had dinner with one of my coworkers," Ziva explained.
"Now who would that be? Was it your friend Abby? The one who is Goth? Isn't that what you called it?" Lucy asked. Ziva often entertained her friend with colorful stories of her coworkers and their varied personalities.
"No, I was with my partner, Tony," Ziva replied.
"Oh, now, is he the one who is good with computers or the one that you pretend is annoying?" Lucy said with a glint in her eye. There was nothing wrong with Lucy's memory and she knew exactly who Tony was.
"Tony is annoying, Lucy. He is very annoying. The only reason I had dinner with him was because he was so persistent. It was the only way to shut him up," Ziva protested.
"Well, dear, in my day that kind of persistence meant a young man was sweet on you but I guess that is not the way things work anymore," Lucy teased.
"I am going to that new organic grocery you told me about in the morning. Is there anything I can get for you?" Ziva asked hoping to divert the woman away from talking about Tony.
"Just whatever fruit they have that looks good. You know what I like, dear. Well, we will talk more tomorrow. I should be getting to bed. Goodnight, Ziva."
Lucy was a precious friend and Ziva was fortunate to have her for a neighbor. Lucy's husband had been a Metro cop for forty years and Lucy herself had spent many years working as a secretary in a Legal Aid office. Ziva was actually comfortable talking about NCIS cases with her. Lucy was rarely shocked by anything Ziva shared. Ziva had been more selective with what she told the woman about the events of the last few months, though. Lucy did know that Ziva had been Mossad and that her father was a dangerous man. She also knew that Ziva was starting over. Lucy had spent hours listening to Ziva talk about her family and friends in Israel. She knew all of the things Ziva missed about her homeland. Ziva did not feel like she had the freedom to share these things with her coworkers. She worried that telling them how much she missed her previous home would make them think she was ungrateful to be in her new one.
Thinking about her family and friends, Ziva finally gave in and let a few tears fall. Was it always going to be this hard? Ziva wished her conversation with Mike Franks's daughter-in-law a few weeks ago had not been interrupted by Tony. She wanted to know if it had become any easier for Leyla. The Iraqi woman had said leaving her homeland was worth it for the right reasons. Ziva agreed with that. She had no doubt that getting out from under Eli's control was the best decision she had ever made. It was just so hard. All she had done so far was give things up. Now she was waiting for the good in return. She was waiting to become a citizen and a real agent. Waiting for things to stop being awkward with the team. Waiting for the day when she felt at home here instead of feeling so alone. When Ziva had shared her feelings with Lucy the previous evening, the woman had tried to encourage her.
"Try not to think of it as waiting, dear, so much as hoping. You are hoping for your future. You are hoping for your chance at happiness."