3 years from now
I once thought that I was living the American dream; an independent life, a job requiring a gun, and a string of leggy blondes. I vaguely thought that it would eventually include a son to carry on the DiNozzo name, but I honestly had no real intention of committing to anyone long enough to see that happen.
I now know I was wrong. The American dream is about second chances, about being better than other people's expectations. It's about justice and personal triumph over tragedy. It's having an immigrant wife who is intelligent and exotic and bears badges of strength and courage on her perfect skin. It's holding our precious daughter who is the spitting image of her mom, a first generation Israeli American.
Ziva is sleeping after the long delivery. There's one more scar on her stomach, but this time there was no sorrow with the pain. I hold our daughter in one arm and stroke Ziva's hair back out of her face with my other. There is a light knock at the door and I get up and open it for Gibbs, our first visitor.
He walks in, I introduce him to his first granddaughter, Tali, and he tenderly takes her from my arms, kisses her cheek and cradles her in his arms. His eyes redden as he starts humming and swaying back and forth holding her against his chest where she can feel the lulling vibrations of the song.
I lean against the wall, arms crossed, watching this man who's tough as nails getting emotional over our little baby girl . . . I can't even finish the thought without my own eyes watering. We are quite a pair.
After some manly tear swatting and throat clearing Gibbs speaks quietly, as not to wake Ziva.
"How's she doing?" He nods towards my wife.
"You know, I've seen her win knife fights, bring criminals to tears in interrogation, fight off guys twice her size with no weapon at all, and I have even seen her being tortured, but I've never been so in awe of her as I was last night. It was amazing, Gibbs. I had no idea I could love her more than I did two days ago but I do."
Gibbs smiles at her, looks back down at Tali, and I can tell he's remembering being in my position a long time ago. I now understand what he went through when he lost Shannon and Kelly. My eyes start to water again, this time in sorrow for him. Gibbs walks towards me, and hugs me a bit awkwardly with Tali cradled in one arm, and with the other hand firmly planted behind my neck and says, "I'm proud of you, Son."
I break down and cry. I can't tell you if it's because I've been up for over forty hours straight , if I'm just so emotionally overwhelmed or something else all together. I'm sure Ducky could somehow tie it to my lack of paternal affirmation growing up, but whatever the reason, I have to admit it feels good. This man, the one I most admire and respect, the man who has seen all the times I've screwed up over the past dozen years, the man I would have chosen to raise me, is proud of me. I've done nothing to deserve it. Gibbs keeps his hand on the back of my neck and squeezes it a few times. I look at him again with my daughter and I finally get it.
No matter what happens, no matter how many times she messes up, I will love this little girl. I will protect her, I will be there for her. I know I'll screw up now and then, but there is nothing that she could ever do to change my commitment to her, or her mom. I now understand how Gibbs could help me get through all my stupidity, patiently being there to help me be a better man in the long run. My own father was required to parent me, but it was done reluctantly at a distance. Gibbs has always been just a few feet away, and has parented all of us by choice.
I start thinking about the first serious conversation I had with him about Ziva, a week after she processed the assault victim.
I had never been so nervous in my life. I've come to Gibbs about all the big stuff over the years, and this should have been no different. Except that of course, it was. He could have turned me out and that would have been the end of it. After pacing circles in his front yard, I finally had gotten up the nerve to walk in the house and down the basement steps.
My hands were sweating, I had no plan of action, I just went. He heard the steps and said, "What can I do for you, DiNozzo?"
I decided that since I was talking to Gibbs the fewer words the better. I tossed him a tiny box. He opened it, looked at it for what seemed like an eternity, closed it, tossed it back then said dryly, "You know you're not my type."
I replied, "I know it's the hair, isn't it?"
"Among other things . . ."
"So?" I started to pace not being able to take the suspense.
"Are you asking my permission for her hand in marriage? I wasn't aware that things were that serious. Have you ever even taken her on a real date?"
"Well, I'm not exactly going to completely trump rule 12 with an engagement right off the bat. I don't know when I'll give it to her, but I'm certain that someday I will."
Gibbs pulled up two sawhorses, "Sit." I obeyed.
He poured us both a drink. "You know, I went through all my career with a set of rules that worked well for everyone, and then this Mossad agent stepped into the picture and for once I find myself making exception after exception for her. She looks at me with those eyes and I get soft, even sometimes act against my better judgement."
"Gibbs, you're the closest thing to a father she has, and I am asking."
"Don't know how she'd feel about you getting permission. You don't need it to get a marriage license, you know. She's free to make her own decisions."
He was taunting me and I took the bait.
"Fine, I just wanted your support, but you're right, I don't need it." Except I did. "Do whatever you need to do to reassign me to a different team, but I'm not giving up on this." I started to stand up.
He put his hand out to motion for me to sit. "Didn't say you weren't getting my permission." There was determination in his eyes. "I wouldn't trust anyone but you, Tony. Look after her. Take good care of her."
After we had our drink he asked, "So, how are you going to ask her?"
I rubbed my hand on my neck, "I don't know, nothing seems good enough. I want to really wow her but also take her by surprise."
He half smiled, "Good luck with that. You'll have your work cut out for you."
"Thanks, Gibbs." I shook his hand then he pulled me in for a manly hug disguised as a back slap.
"You're welcome. Just don't screw this up." He gave me a preventative head slap.
Only after that conversation did I call Ziva and ask her on our first formal date. I was nervous even though we had been friends for years. We didn't need time to figure out if we were compatible, or if our relationship would last, and we had the added pressure of the unpredictability of if tomorrow would come, so I was not planning to wait long before popping the question.
In the end, I blurted out the proposal a few months later while she was defusing a bomb. In the face of potential death, I had to know what she would have said. She never looked from the wires she was gingerly manipulating. She just said, "Yes, Tony, I will marry you." And I saw some tears fall as she finished. She was successful and then I felt the weight of disappointment at the timing and situation of the last marriage proposal that I would ever make. As soon as we left the building I took her hand and we went out back. I got down on one knee in the alley, apologized for not asking her properly, and after some string of incoherent nonsense that I hope was romantic, I asked her formally, and she still said yes, even though we would live to see another day. I took out the ring that had lived in my pocket all that time and slipped the size five perfectly on her sweaty finger covered in bomb residue. It was far from a blockbuster performance, it was unpolished and chaotic, but in the end it seemed to fit. At least I did take her by surprise. Before we left the alley she put her hand out to stop me, took out her phone and dialed, "Abby . . . "
Once I settle down we both hear Ziva stir and we walk towards the bed. I sit next to her and hold her hand, rubbing my thumb on it as her eyes flutter open. She instinctively looks for Tali and finds her in Gibbs' arms. He leans over and kisses her cheek. "Congratulations, she's beautiful. You've done well." Ziva beams and squeezes my hand.
"I can see that she is very comfortable in her grandpa's arms."
"Yes, she is."
"Gibbs, are you certain that you are prepared to do this?"
"Ziva, I've spent my life working, and I've loved doing my job, but I would've traded it all for one more day with Shannon and Kelly. You're giving me a chance to spend time with my granddaughter. My senior field agent has been ready to take over for years and I've stood in his way long enough. Anyway, where else could you possibly find another babysitter with the skills required to both change diapers and protect her from rogue Mossad agents and terrorists?"
"Well, Grandpa Gibbs, you know I am taking 2 months off then only going back part time, so you will have to share her."
"Well then it's fortunate you chose to move into the neighborhood so you can visit her." His smile never fades.
Gibbs has already made a crib for her and he's working on a second one to keep at his house. As much as I do not want to lose Gibbs as my boss, I feel secure knowing that he'll be spending time with Tali. She will have a kick-butt Manny, carpentry skills at a very young age and I will never have to worry about boys coming around when I'm not there. Gibbs has one more month of work then he is retiring from NCIS, and handing me the reins. Technically I am qualified for them, but I know I will never steer them quite as well.