A/N: Part II in my finale trifeca. This one happens sometime before the Promised Land (if you have no idea what that is, don't worry about it). And I have nothing else to say really other than a thank you to the families of the brave men and women that sacrificed their lives for our freedom. May God bless their souls and their loved ones. Much love and say a prayer for peace, Kit.
DISCLAIMER: If I owned anything Tony and Gibbs would've been there.
Her front door needs painting, she decides as she rummages in her bag for her elusive key ring . . . . "Ha!" she announces, triumphant, as her fingers find the jagged teeth of her target object, producing her silver keys with a jingling flourish.
Ten seconds and the door swings open and she steps into the coolness of her apartment.
Fading daylight is streaming through the windows set in the wall farthest from her front door, pale golden rays effectively illuminating the beige walls and cream carpet. She slips her shoes off where she stands, nudging them into a corner, and deposits her keys on the coffee table as she passes into her kitchen in pursuit of a little iced tea.
Ten minutes later and she's leaning against the cabinet, the edge of the granite counter top pressing into her lower back as she sips the coolness, so soothing on her throat.
She woke up alone this morning.
And it's odd, she muses, how a year ago waking up in an empty bed was a common occurrence. The sheets around her would be tepid from a lack of extra body heat and the ceiling fan would be the only thing loaming over her. Her bedding would smell like honey and cinnamon, or the tang of oranges and sandalwood depending on which soap she used, or what she put in her tea.
Now normalcy relies on warm skin brushing against hers and soft hands draped loosely over slender waists. Her bed snug with additional heat and the forgiving familiarity of aftershave and peppermint toothpaste diffused into the air, the sheets, and her. Bright green eyes that watch tenderly as she wakes, his grinning countenance and morning breath the first things to greet her every morning.
Except for this morning. This morning she didn't receive a husky, "Hey" or playful kiss, there were no gentle strokes of fingertips against her arm to rouse her from her sleep, nor were there the subtle advances that led to a more . . . . intimate waking. Instead she was met with cool sheets and a lazily spinning ceiling fan. And a note.
It perched on his pillow innocently, folded up neatly and waiting patiently for her to notice it, pick it up, read it. His apartment was quiet save for the quiet gurgle of the coffee machine, no footsteps, no running water, utter and total pristine silence. Tony wasn't there and she was confused –rarely did he physically get out of bed before her. So where was he?
The note had fluttered softly in the room's light breeze and her attention was drawn to the innocuous white paper. She had picked it up, held it gingerly between two fingers, analyzing it without even opening it . . . . And then she smoothed it out against the comforter and began to read familiar, untidy scrawl:
I can't tell you I'm going to Mexico for a surveillance mission because Vance would be mad at me for breaking all that privacy/secrecy crap he's so good at. . . . So, I'm sorry. I just can't tell you. My flight leaves at one thirty this morning and it's a quarter till now so I'm heading out. Don't worry about it, I'll be safe and whatever else. I didn't want to wake you up because you seemed tired and you certainly don't want bags under those pretty eyes.
I don't know when I'll be home –soon, I hope. Maybe the beginning of the week? Just know that I begged Vance to delay the departure but he couldn't. I promise I didn't forget what today is. I won't be able to call, so don't try my cell. I love you, T.
Ziva frowns, her thoughts returning to where she stands now in her kitchen. She sighs, looking across the breakfast bar and out into her living room, her heart stopping in her chest for a brief moment as her eyes gravitate to the wall where an old bureau once sat. Now, however, the wooden piece seems to have vanished . . . .
To be replaced by an old upright piano.
She absently sets the glass of tea down on the counter top, migrating toward the newest addition to her little apartment. And, upon closer inspection, she finds that she is not hallucinating, it is in fact a Steinberger piano. The finish is a dull cherry wood with a few nicks and scratches and the ivory keys are slightly yellowed and, granted, some are chipped, but she thinks it might be one of the most beautiful things she's seen in a long time. There's a low bench placed before the instrument and she gingerly sinks down onto it, running a hesitant fingertip along the piano's top. She takes a deep breath, places her hands over the keys, not quite touching the smooth ivory, but hovering just above as her bare feet come to rest lightly atop the damper pedals below . . . .
She presses down on the according keys and a C major chord rings brightly around the apartment. Excited and thrilled, she quickly runs through a D major scale, a rapid succession of notes as the octave starts at a low growl and cascades higher and higher. The movements are second nature even though it has been forever since she's even entertained the thought of touching a piano. Muscle memory and cooperative fingers produce fragments of an old Schubert sonata that stuns her and exhilarates her, pleasant energy coursing through the air. It feels like taking a deep breath after being under water for long time.
The chord on which she stops echoes fadingly around her and she realizes with a slight buzz warm in her belly that he's had the piano tuned.
She smiles genuinely, all alone in the confines of her living room with piano sounds resonating within the walls as she idly presses random keys. And then the vase of daisies dyed red, blue, and natural white catch her attention from where they sit cheerfully on the top of the piano lid next to a little figurine of the Statue of Liberty . . . . and a mug with Abraham Lincoln's face printed across the ceramic . . . . beside a stuffed bald eagle plush toy with a postcard depicting the White House façade leaning up against it. Flanking the left side of the bird is a miniature flag, red and white stripes, stars sprinkled across an expanse of blue, standing proudly. Her smile is now overcome with a fit of laughter as she takes in the objects, symbols of their country, lined up before her and she can easily imagine him collecting the tokens from various places.
Her heart is warm and full and her face hurts from all of her grinning.
A single leaf of paper falls into her lap and her curious fingers return it to its original position on the built in music stand. Simple black notes dot the grand staff that runs transversely down the page. The top, in bold letters, proclaims the piece to be Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner.
And directly below the printed title is another line that has been handwritten in with blue ink. It's a sentiment that is so surreal and so sweet she can't help the uncharacteristic tears that sting her eyes.
Ziva, it's your anthem now. Welcome home.