A/N: A shippy multi-chap from jelenamichel? Wow, what a departure.
This is set out of canon. No Rivkin, no Somalia, no rift. I'll explain why a little later. It also presents Tony's take on Ziva's citizenship application completely differently to how he reacted on the show.
The story spans the timeline between an engagement and a wedding, but the chapters don't necessarily flow from one day to the next. I'll make every effort to make it easy for you to follow, though.
Huge props to my Wonder Twin, SnoopMaryMar for casting a lovingly critical eye over the first nine chapters, and pointing out an enormous mistake that I was utterly blind to. Nice save!
Hope you all enjoy the ride.
Part 1: The announcement
Anthony DiNozzo was a man whose moods could be affected by the weather. Although generally even-tempered, an overcast or rainy day could make him punchy and prone to snarking, just like a day of sunshine could give him energy and make him want to sing. Today, he should have been singing. It was a brilliant blue-sky day of Technicolor beauty, with the sun warming his skin, the perfume of flowers in the air and butterflies chasing each other through the cool, lush grass. It was storybook beautiful, and if it were any other day Tony would have sat down in the grass with a smile on his face and possibly declared his love for all things bright and beautiful.
One such bright and beautiful thing was the woman walking beside him as he did a lap around the Navy Yard. He glanced at his companion out of the corner of his eye as she took her takeaway coffee from the barista stand in the park. Today she was another spot of brilliant color moving in the sunshine. Instead of turning up for work in her usual jeans or cargo pants, Ziva David had wriggled herself into a fitted, bright purple, sleeveless dress that stopped just above her knees. She was strutting around in deep red peep-toe stilettos, and she'd secured her hair in a low ponytail, her hair sweeping across her forehead to hide her widow's peak.
She was impractically dressed for a crime scene, but appropriately dressed to feature in the roughly 10 fantasies Tony had dreamed up in his first 60 minutes on the clock. Ziva seemed irritated by the parade of agents that had passed her desk as the morning wore on—apparently word had spread that the tough-as-nails assassin was looking particularly girly today—and this was part of the reason Tony had suggested that they go for a walk. If she sat at her desk much longer she would start displaying some of those death-by-paperclip skills.
Although she'd made his jaw hit the floor, she was also the reason that his step was less springy than it should have been and why he was too nervous to really appreciate the stunning summer's day. Ziva was dressed up not to encourage him to add to his already considerable bank of fantasies, but because she had a date in—he checked his watch—two hours with the INS. Her citizenship test was scheduled for later in the week (which would visit another round of fresh hell upon Tony's stomach lining) but today's interview would also form a critical part in Uncle Sam's decision to let her stay in the country. If today went badly, Ziva was screwed. Which meant Tony would be screwed. He relied on her too much to watch his back, keep his sanity in check and his happiness prevailing. If she had to leave the country…
He winced at the knotting feeling in his gut, and tried to relax the cramp with superfluous talk. "There's no reason to worry," he told her for probably the fourth time that day. Every time he said it, it had lost some more of its impact, and now it sounded desperate and panicked. But he was determined to cheer this thing along until they either passed the finishing line or died of exhaustion three feet from it. "It's just a formality."
He caught Ziva's head turn in his peripheral vision, and looked down at her. She had an odd look on her face, something halfway between 'you are annoying me' and 'please keep telling me that'. He shot her a smile to split the difference, knowing it would at least draw one out of her. She smirked and then sipped her coffee.
"If I just answer the questions honestly, everything will be fine," she said, repeating the other thing he'd already told her four times that morning.
"You do listen to me," he said, bumping her shoulder with his.
She blew out a laugh, and they headed for a raised garden at the edge of the lawn that was drenched in sunshine. Normally they'd take their drinks back to the bullpen, but it was such a nice day, and they had so much forced assurance to hand each other. With no open case on their desks, Tony figured they could probably stay out here for a half hour before he got a cranky phone call from Gibbs, and he intended to spend most of that time pretending that he was enjoying Mother Nature's gifts. Before they made it to the garden, though, a voice called out to them from behind.
"Hey, Tony! Ziva! Wait up!"
They turned in unison to see Jimmy Palmer jogging towards them with a huge smile on his face and a backpack over his shoulder. Tony wasn't sure exactly how old Jimmy was. He'd have to be at least in his late-twenties, probably early- or mid-thirties, but he always gave the air of a bubbly 12-year-old. Who was known to have sex in morgues.
"Hey, Palmer," Tony said when the ME's assistant joined them.
Jimmy was practically vibrating with excitement when he looked between them. "I'm so glad I saw you guys! I've got some great news, and…" He looked at Ziva and momentarily lost his train of thought. "Wow, Ziva, you look beautiful. Anyway, guess what?"
Tony and Ziva shared a look, and Tony braved the question. "What?"
Jimmy's smile practically split his face. "I'm getting married!" he cried, barely able to keep from jumping up and down. "I proposed the Breena last night at the Lincoln Memorial. You know, because she loves statues? And she said yes! Isn't that great?"
Both Tony and Ziva employed their unflappable cop faces.
"It is," Ziva told him, putting on a smile injecting just enough happiness into her tone to pass as believable. "Congratulations, Jimmy. It is wonderful news."
"Yeah, that's great, Jimmy," Tony offered, just as Jimmy surprised them both by lunging at Ziva and grabbing her in a bone-crushing hug.
Tony tensed, ready to pull his carcass away from the rabid lioness, but before he knew it Jimmy had released Ziva and turned the bear hug on him. He met Ziva's gaze over Jimmy's shoulder, and her eyes widened in amusement as Tony's bulged in shock. Then, almost as quickly as the assault began, it was over. Jimmy let go and started walking backwards in the vague direction of the main building.
"I'm just so happy," he told them. "She's perfect for me. I can't believe this is happening! I'm so lucky. I gotta go tell McGee." He started to turn, but another thought occurred to him and he spun back to face them. "You guys'll come to the engagement party, right? It's on Saturday. We're gonna do it all really fast and have the wedding by the end of August."
"Sure," Tony heard himself say, feeling almost overwhelmed by all the rapid fire information flying at them, but remembering there was a question in there somewhere.
"Absolutely," Ziva said, backing him up and assuring him that he'd said the right thing.
Jimmy sent them another megawatt smile. "Great! I'll see you then." He held his arms up in victory. "I'm getting married!" he whooped, and then turned and ran towards the building.
Tony and Ziva watched him leave and waited until he was out of sight before turning again and continuing their previous route to the garden in silence. Tony blew out a breath of disbelief as he hoisted himself up to sit on the waist-high ledge, and Ziva took him by surprise when she put down her cup and then stepped between his legs and placed her hands on his shoulders gently.
"Are you all right?" she asked earnestly, her expression completely deadpan.
Tony frowned. "Huh?"
He watched a glint enter her eye, and the corner of her mouth twitch into a curl. "I know you were hoping to spend forever with your man-crush."
It took him a moment to work out what she was talking about, but then he burst out laughing. Since Tony had used Jimmy as a sounding board in the months that Gibbs was retired down Mexico way, Jimmy had latched on to him keenly. Their relationship was hardly a fine bromance; Jimmy had a tendency to come on a little too strong, and it amused Ziva and McGee to no end.
"I'm his man-crush, Ziva," he reminded her. "Not the other way around."
"But I know you were close," Ziva continued to tease, now not bothering to keep a straight face.
Tony's tongue was firmly in his cheek when he replied, "I'll find a way to cope."
Ziva wrapped her arms around his shoulders and cradled his head to her. "Stay strong," she implored.
He laughed against her and enjoyed the touch for as long as he could. "Just try to be patient if you get drunken phone calls from me at three am."
"I am always patient with those calls," she replied, and then hoisted herself up to sit on the ledge beside him. She crossed her legs towards him, tugged her skirt down as far as it would go, and then picked up her coffee.
Tony's eyes quickly fell to her legs. Although she'd made an attempt at modesty, the hem of her skirt was now well above her knee, showing off stunning tanned, toned thighs. He looked away before she caught him.
"How long have they been together?" he wondered, turning attention back to Jimmy and his unexpected news.
Ziva shrugged. "Maybe six months."
It seemed like barely enough time to learn all her friends' names, let alone know that you wanted to marry a woman, but what did Tony know? "I guess when you know, you know."
Ziva paused. "Do you think he knows?"
"I hope so."
Ziva sipped her coffee as she thought about that. "How can you know after six months that you want to spend the rest of your life with someone?"
He almost laughed at her having the same thought as him. "I don't know. But some people do. He won't be the first person to marry in less time than the span of a TV season. My dad's done it…" He paused and cocked his head to the side as he tried to remember. "I'm actually not sure how many times. Four?"
Ziva looked up at him with a guilty expression. "Don't tell anyone I said this, but…Jimmy doesn't come from money, does he?"
She was reading his doubting mind. "No. And he's not exactly raking it in now."
"She is an American citizen, yes?" she asked, now wincing at what she was implying.
But Tony was completely on the same wavelength. "I think so."
They looked at each other silently for a few moments, letting their eyes have the inappropriate conversation.
Ziva cleared her throat. "Am I terribly evil if I want to do a background search on her?"
Tony grimaced. "We'll just do it quietly. Keep it between us unless we find something?"
"Okay." After a beat, she added, "I really do hope they are madly in love."
"Sure, me too," Tony agreed quickly. He thought about it for a little while longer, and a smile broke over his face. "It's be really nice if they were."
Ziva watched him with a neutral expression for a moment before smiling fondly and looking away.
He frowned at the look. "What?"
"You are such a romantic at heart," Ziva softly accused.
"I am not!" he protested, but then brought his coffee cup to his mouth to hide his smirk.
"You believe in love," Ziva argued back. "That is not a bad thing."
He glanced at her. "You don't believe in love?" he asked before he could consider the implications of exploring this.
"Yes," she said firmly. "But I do not necessarily believe in marriage."
"Did you used to be married to Gibbs?" he cracked, drawing a chuckle out of her.
Tony knew the conversation should end now, but he felt something more bubbling up inside him. In his right mind, he knew that he shouldn't push this. There was no good reason to share his private thoughts on the matter. But he didn't seem to have control over himself, and he soon found himself giving her his exact position on the subject.
"I never used to see the point in it. But I get it now. It's still largely symbolic for me, but that's kind of the point. It's saying to that person that you're on the same team. That you've got each other's backs. That they're everything to you." He paused, and attempted to swallow the rest down. But he was panicking over what would happen if she wasn't granted citizenship, and something inside him felt it was important that she heard it all.
"I didn't think it was possible to feel that way about one person for your whole life. I used to have this argument with Kate where I'd tell her that marriage was invented by cavemen who had a life expectancy of 25 years, so till death do us part actually wasn't that big of a commitment."
Ziva snorted into her coffee at the dose of levity in a conversation that was likely to weigh heavily on both their minds for the next few weeks.
"It drove her nuts," Tony told her, smiling at the memory of Kate's indignant expression. "She'd give me this Little Miss Know-It-All look and say that as soon as I stopped screwing around and paid attention to the world around me, I'd work it out." He shook his head. "Jesus, she was right. I'll have to tell Abby. She'll love it."
"So you started paying attention, and now you believe in marriage?" Ziva asked.
Hs thoughts drifted to Jeanne Benoit for just a moment. The entire relationship had been a lie, and it was always going to end. But towards the end, when he really had fallen for her, it had been far too easy to imagine that he might make that trip down the aisle eventually. Not because he needed the ceremony and the ring, but because Jeanne would have. If push came to shove over the issue he probably would have done it.
"I just understand why people want to do it," he told her. "I don't think it's for everyone. I think there are couples that marriage would damage rather than benefit. And I believe you can have a team, and have each other's backs, and commit to one person without the piece of paper and the ring." He paused as he looked down at his bare finger. "But I understand wanting to officially hitch yourself to one person for the rest of your life."
"I understand it as well," she admitted. "But I think you are right. It is not for everyone."
"No," he agreed, and looked over at her to find she was already looking at him. They held gazes for what felt like minutes, and somewhere in their silent conversation there was an acknowledgement of their circumstances.
It's not for us.
A year ago, it may have seemed like a bold thought. But the fact was that they were together now. They both knew it. They'd never had a conversation about it, and they probably never would. But emotionally, they were there. Physically, they still had a way to go. They were comfortable enough to share a bed, and ended up doing that one or two nights a week when they told themselves it was too late to go home. They'd had several epic, down-to-their-underwear make-out sessions, but they'd both resisted taking things further. Not because they were unsure of each other or scared they were making the wrong choice. But with Ziva's citizenship application up in the air and no guarantee that she'd be able to stay in the US, keeping the physical barrier in place was their one and only defense against total heartbreak if she had to leave.
He gave her a soft smile, swallowed down his nerves over her application again, and shifted the spotlight back to their newly engaged friend. "I think Jimmy's the kind of person who needs it to be legal and official."
Ziva nodded. Tony heard her exhale of breath that she'd probably been holding the whole time they'd been watching each other. "He is adorable," she finally said. "Very sweet. Kind. Cute. Well educated. Stable."
He aimed a dubious eyebrow at her need to list all the reasons it wasn't crazy that someone would want to marry him after just six months of dating. Ziva just shrugged. She knew she didn't need to explain herself to him.
"Saturday night will be interesting," he said. "See them together. Work out how they fit."
"Profile them," Ziva said bluntly.
Sensing the conversation was over, Ziva finished her coffee and then tossed the cup into a nearby trashcan. Tony tossed his after hers, and made the shot even through he wasn't looking.
"Show off," Ziva smirked.
"I used to play varsity for OSU, you know."
She turned a smile on him. "Yes, Tony, I have heard that once or twice."
He wasn't completely ready to go back inside yet, and looked for another source of amusement. His eyes immediately went back to her legs, before traveling back up to her face.
"You do look beautiful," he told her, echoing Jimmy's statement.
Ziva's head turned quickly in apparent surprise, and he gave her a completely non-leery smile to assure her he was serious. Then he promptly looked back down at her legs. "You don't wear skirts enough."
"They are not practical," she told him.
Tony believed her. He remembered how Kate would often wear a skirt and heels to the office, and if they got called to a crime scene, she would always have to run to the bathroom to change. Tony had never understood how Gibbs let her get away with it but he'd never complained. He'd always appreciated the view of her legs across the bullpen. Not as much as he appreciated the view of Ziva's, but there was a big difference between how he thought of the two women. Kate had been like a sister. Ziva…well, he could spend all day coming up with words to describe who she was to him.
"You've got amazing legs, Ziva," he stated, presenting it as the fact that it was.
Ziva stretched one leg out in front of her so that he could see her foot. "Even better with stilettos, yes?"
"They don't hurt," he admitted. "You used to wear skirts and heels to the office."
Ziva's eyes drifted heavenward for a moment. She knew he wasn't going to drop this. "Have you ever tried sprinting in heels and a pencil skirt?"
"Once," Tony replied, gazing into the distance. "Greek Week. They make you do weird things."
Ziva closed her eyes, clearly blocking out the mental image before it could form. "Greek Week is a college fraternity thing, yes?" she asked.
"Yeah. But it's unlikely to feature on Uncle Sam's test."
She nodded. "We should get back," she said, checking her watch. "I will have to leave in about an hour."
The knot in Tony's stomach returned with a vengeance, but he ignored it and slipped his cheerleader uniform back on. After all, he was on her team, and he would always have her back.
He put his hand on her shoulder. "You're going to be fine. You've got this. You've got the director of a federal agency vouching for you. You've already been serving this country for five years. Your driving record's not great, but otherwise you haven't been in trouble since you arrived."
She gave him a skeptical look, and he backtracked. "Okay, you've been in trouble, but not through any fault of your own," he amended. "This is cake, Ziva. We've got this." He held his fist out, and she bumped it with her own.
Ziva slid off the ledge and squared her shoulders, and Tony could see her trying to fuel herself with his confidence. "Okay. Thank you."
"And it if doesn't go well, I'm sure I've got something on someone over in INS that we can use to blackmail them."
Ziva laughed, but he knew she wasn't sure if he was joking or not. "Okay, but let's make that Plan B."
Full disclosure upfront: This was the shortest chapter in the story. From now on, word counts are going to get pretty high. You have been warned.