A/N: The final installment to my little trifecta revolving around the season finale. Heh, it's the finale to the finale. Heh. Anyway, this one takes place after the previous two. Tony is still a tad POed at Gibbs and, possibly, himself. Ziva's still on her citizenship high. And Gibbs, well, Gibbs is being Gibbs. That being said, I hope the emotions throughout this piece aren't too turbulent. . . . I think I'm going to wait on my Obession Tag until they replay it one CBS -I will probably get around to writing my Jet Lag tag this week, since they're replaying it and all. And All We Are, yeah, well, I don't know when I'll finish that one. But it WILL get done! . . . . So, much love, and keep the peace until next time, Kit.
DISCLAIMER: And I own not a thing.
He supposes he should have called her, it would have the courteous thing to do. Call her and inform her that he would be late, that something came up, that he was just going to have to miss one of the most meaningful moments in her new life. . . . But he didn't call. He didn't call and therefore he didn't apologize, he didn't acknowledge her hard earned success. His seat was vacant and he has failed her.
And granted, this time at least, he didn't leave her on a cold tarmac under an unforgiving desert sun, empty eyed and flanked by cruel men with crueler intentions. This time at least, she was surrounded by other people that cared enough about her to show up. . . .
Some days, he thinks, he cares too damn much. After all, not caring would be so much simpler because not caring means there is no leverage to be used against him. Not caring means that he could merely pull a trigger and nothing terrible would happen to those few people he unfortunately cares so much about.
People he loves.
Ziver. The endearment enters his mind like a haunting call, embedding itself in the frontline of his thoughts, unmoving and sharp. Damp eyes intrude on his musings as distant echoes of You're the closet thing I have to father infiltrate his headspace.
With a jolt he realizes the gravity his absence has had and he prays, begs, pleads, silently that he is not too late to rectify yet another wrong. Because he has repeated an offense he condemns Eli David for: He missed his daughter's golden moment.
He really is a bastard.
He is quick in locating his cell phone, calloused fingers pressing down hard on the five and send call buttons. The dial tone rings ominously in his ear as he takes the stairs two at a time, making it to the Charger before an eerie, robotic voice clicks on and informs him that, "The number you are trying to reach is currently unavailable, please try again later." His heart in his throat as he throws the clutch into reverse and slams down on the gas pedal, wheels squealing as he tears down the quick street.
He doesn't see the little grey Honda that she's been driving in the lot in front of her complex, but he still can't quench that terrible dread that is rising steadily in his stomach. He darts up the stairs at a pace that belies his bum knee and arrives at her apartment door to find that it doesn't appear to have been forced open. . . . In fact, he finds it locked and therefore resorts to his lock-picking kit.
The door swings open quietly to reveal a silent apartment devoid of any signs of duress.
"Ziva?" he calls out, his voice seeming to echo back mockingly. There is no answer and he takes a tentative step inside the coolness of her living room.
The area is spotless, the cream carpet beneath his feet plush and pristine, the cushions placed on the couch with symmetrical precision. The television is blank and the coffee table dustless and he wonders absently if Ziva isn't OCD. The kitchen is equally clean, no dishes in the sink, no food left out on the countertops. Her bedroom, too, is tidy, the bed made with neat pleats and the throw pillows are both fluffed and carefully placed against the head board. Her bathroom smells faintly of Clorox and possibly Lysol, but nothing seems amiss. There are no suspicious stains, no out of place objects. Everything seems exactly as it was left –the only thing majorly different about her apartment is the upright piano in her living room.
Ziva isn't home and there is no sign of struggle, but he still has that nagging off feeling that is insistent that something isn't right . . . . With the apartment cleared his does the next logical thing: He makes some phone calls. Speed dial 2 and three rings and a sleepy voice crackles over the line, "Hello?"
" Boss," the younger man acknowledges, stifling a yawn, his voice coming across as utterly confused. "We have a case?"
"Then why're you ca-"
"Ziva's missing." His delivery is blunt, no preamble, no warning. In his mind's eye he can see the specter of Tony last summer without Ziva and he silently prays that nothing has befallen her.
"Boss?" Tony doesn't sound remotely upset, there is no edge in his words, nothing tensing as he continues this conversation at three eleven in the wee hours of the morning. "Boss."
"Have you heard from her?" And there is an odd washing of déjà vu.
"She's fine-" She can take care of herself and before he can say anything to contradict this statement, Tony continues quietly, "She's here. With me."
The silvered haired marine takes a deep breath, pent up fear uncoiling slightly in his chest. "Where are you?" His reply is clipped, steady.
"I'll be there in fifteen."
He snaps his cell closed and sighs, running a hand through his sleep tousled hair.
"Tony?" her voice is isn't whispered, but normal volume and he hears the sheets rustling as she sits up, tugging the fabric up around her chest. "What's going on?"
He perches on the edge of the bed, his mattress sinking with his weight. "He wasn't making much sense . . . . He thought you were missing," and now green eyes meet brown and both pairs are equally questioning.
"Why would I be missing?" and she can't see him shrug, but she knows he does.
"He's coming over. Hey-" he reaches over and catches her forearm, two fingertips touching her skin, all warm and flushed from sleep. She straightens up from where she had leaned down toward the floor, blind groping for her clothing pausing as she shifts back to face him. "I got this," he tells her, standing up and retrieving his own discarded clothing from the floor. She watches him through the darkness as he dresses and, offering her a half smile, goes to wait for Gibbs.
Four minutes later and there's a furious beating against his front door. Tony gets up from his couch warily, opening the door to reveal a harried, and frankly irritated, Gibbs waiting impatiently in the dim hallway. He's rather impressed that the retired gunnery sergeant didn't knock down his front door.
"Can I come in?" the visitor asks gruffly, fixing a steely gaze on his senior field agent, ignoring the fact that he's dressed only in a t-shirt and boxers.
Tony returns the look in kind, straightening his posture and replying smoothly, "That depends, are you going to start yelling at me?"
"Do I have reason to?"
"Well, yeah, because I'm definitely a little pissed off at you and, you know, situations like that usually lead to loud voices," and he permits himself to bumped aside as Gibbs brushes past him and into his apartment.
"Why're you pissed?"
Tony scoffs, scarcely able to believe that that particular question was even allowed to be asked. "You missed her swearing in ceremony."
"So did you."
"Yeah, well, I at least gave her the heads up. You just didn't show."
"And you care . . . ." it's been a long night and stressful morning and it's brought out the uglier aspect of his mood. He's worried and guilty and absolutely deserving of Tony's irate coolness. He's goading the younger man, daring him to actually acknowledge the situation. . . .
"Because she's my partner. And you hurt her."
Gibbs is silent and Tony is stunned.
The latter breaks the uncomfortable impasse, wondering, "Aren't I gonna get lectured about Rule 12? 'Cause this -this isn't a booty call-"
"Because that would be breaking Rule 1."
"You might as well get it out of your system boss, Ziva's had a long day –you're not chastising her about this." Us.
Gibbs blinks once, twice, then says slowly, "I didn't come here to bitch, DiNozzo. I came to apologize. Now may I talk to her?" It irks him slightly that he has to ask Tony's permission to see his newest agent, but the younger man seems to be the gatekeeper tonight, and, honestly, he's too tired to argue with her overprotective partner. And it is this last thought, the overprotective partner part, that makes him realize that these two idiots of his are actually . . . . they actually love each other. And then he realizes that Tony is guarding her from him. Because he really hurt her that bad.
"I don't care if you two are sleeping together," he eventually says.
Tony is incredulous, "You don't?"
Gibbs shakes his head slowly, "No. Rule 51."
And Tony's brow furrows as he racks his brain in a failing attempt to conjure up this foreign Rule 51.
"Rule 51. Sometimes you're wrong. I'm no exception."
Tony freezes and the silence returns, but it isn't as crippling as it could have been. "I'll go get Ziva."
Tony does not reaccompany her back into the living room. It's just her, petite frame engulfed in one of DiNozzo's dress shirts, hair mussed up, standing curiously behind the couch. "Shalom, Gibbs," she greets neutrally and his heart aches.
He shouldn't say it for fear of tarnishing the beloved endearment, but it falls off his lips before his mind can censor it. "Ziver."
And she smiles at him. She should be pounding him, screaming at him, anything, but smiling. And yet she is. Just smiling.
She navigates around the couch and actually instigates a hug. Ziva David instigates a hug. And he is more than happy to comply, to wrap this U.S. citizen in a warm embrace and whisper, "I'm sorry." And he doesn't specify what and she doesn't ask for clarification.
"I'm proud of you."
"I know, but you could have called," she amends.
"I forgive you though."
She leans back, regarding him intensely before saying softly, "Life is too short and family is everything."
And isn't that the truth? "I know," he whispers, pressing a kiss to her temple.
The bedroom door opens and Ziva stands there at the threshold. Tony looks up from where he lounges tensely on the bed, feigning reading a magazine. "How'd it go?" he asks nonchalantly, but his eyes are burning.
"Yeah. Rule 51. Sometimes you're wrong. Apparently, Gibbs is not immune to his own guidelines."
She cocks her head to the side, crawling over her side of the bed while he sets his reading material on his bedside table. He shifts so he can accommodate her as she settles against his chest with a sigh.
"I love you," he murmurs, kissing the back of her head.
And she leans back, her head falling against his shoulder. "Ah, the American dream, yes?"