Ziva's couch was covered in papers and books full of highlighted and underlined sections. She had a pen clamped between her teeth and a binder in front of her as she sat cross legged, searching for one piece of information she remembered seeing somewhere.
The intercom buzzed twice and Ziva glared at it, then checked the clock. 1300 already? Where had her morning gone? She was still flipping pages with an intense look on her face when Tony let himself in a minute later. He looked around and glanced at his watch.
"We had plans for lunch, right Ziva?"
She waved her hand at him. "I do not have time for lunch. There is something I have to find."
Tony didn't say anything and Ziva ignored him in favour of continuing her quest. Ten minutes later he set a grilled cheese sandwich on the coffee table and gathered a pile of papers together so he had room to sit. He stared pointedly at the plate.
"Eat." Rolling her eyes, Ziva dutifully picked up half the sandwich and took a bite. Tony frowned. "With ketchup Zi, that's how you're supposed to eat grilled cheese."
Ziva did as ordered and Tony took the opportunity to move all her study materials out of reach. He paid no attention to her noise of protest and quickly wolfed down his sandwich, then picked up the cue cards he'd helped her make. Between bites Ziva answered the questions and Tony prompted her when necessary. Finally he grinned.
"Two months to go and you're doing great. You're a shoo-in."
She looked at him strangely. "What do my shoes have to do with anything?"
Tony groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "Hopeless," he murmured. Then he brightened. "But if you ever did start speaking proper English, I'd miss correcting your Ziva-isms."
Ziva was starting to look exasperated. "My what?"
The alarm on Tony's watch went off and he jumped up. "Sorry, no time to explain, we've got an appointment." Ziva stood up as well and started for the door but Tony coughed to cover his chuckle. "You uh...might want to get dressed first."
She looked down in surprise, having forgotten she was still in her pjs. "Two minutes."
Tony put his hands on his hips. "I don't believe you. No woman I've ever known is ready in two minutes."
"Time me." Ziva's twinkling eyes dared him to prove her wrong.
He touched a button on his watch. "Go."
Ziva sprang into action, changing in a minute fifty-seven seconds flat. Dark grey track pants and her most comfortable maternity sweater, plus a scarf to accent the outfit. She reappeared, smirking in triumph while Tony shook his head in disbelief.
He took her hand on the way out to the car and for once Ziva didn't fight the smile his touch brought or the tingles that shot up her arm. Was this what being in love was supposed to be like? For a moment she almost wanted to tell him, to just blurt out the truth and watch Tony realize he didn't have to hide his feelings anymore.
But fear held her back and Ziva let go of his hand to get in but didn't encourage him to take it back. Slow was the key. Slow so no one got hurt. Slow so she could get used to the change. Slow so there was still time to back away without losing her heart in the process. Slow, because she didn't know how to deal with anything else.
"What do you think of this house Mr. DiNozzo?" Marlene asked, clearly anticipating another rejection.
Tony chuckled self-consciously and rubbed the back of his neck. "I know I said I want a house with a story, but it's a little too...strange."
The realtor forced a smile. "Of course. But we still have two more houses on our list, perhaps one of them will catch your fancy."
"I hope," Tony mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.
The second house was nice. It looked small from the outside but was fairly spacious inside. However, the colour scheme was kind of...different. Tony stopped the tour in the livingroom. "Too green," he announced. And with each room a slightly varied shade of the same colour, it really was.
Ziva laughed at her partner. "Tony, you can paint it."
But Tony was resolute. Marlene rolled her eyes when her client wasn't looking and they left to go to the last appointment. On the way there, Ziva thought about the reasons Tony had given for each house they'd seen so far. She smiled when she realized they were starting to sound like his excuses to sleep on the floor so he'd be close to her during the two weeks she'd spent at his apartment.
Finally they reached their destination and from the moment Tony stepped out of the car and moved slowly up the walk, Ziva could tell that this one was different. She'd been dragged over half the city during the last month while Tony searched for his dream house, but she'd never seen him captivated by anything they'd looked at so far. It wasn't that she minded, this was her partner and to see him happy she'd do almost anything - even walk through a dozen houses waiting for the moment he stumbled upon what he was looking for. And right now, it looked like he'd finally found it.
Tony looked at the house in front of him in something akin to awe. He'd been hunting for a feeling, something that would strike a chord inside him, and the moment he saw the delight on Ziva's face when they walked inside, he knew this was the one. Quickly, before she had any time to protest, he slid his hand into hers, squeezing lightly.
"What do you think?" Tony asked, smiling.
Ziva turned to him with a look Tony couldn't quite decipher. Was that disappointment? "It would make a lovely home. What do you think?"
Tony cast his gaze around and a feeling of contentment and rightness flowed through him. "I think this is the one Zi. There's something about it that just seems...right, you know?"
She nodded, but there was something in her expression that said she was holding back. Tony didn't have time to explore what she was thinking though, because his realtor, having overheard their exchange, started spouting off about the house, anticipating a sale.
"It is a magnificent house Mr. DiNozzo. Did you and your girlfriend want to take a look around? I can just wait outside until you're ready."
At her words they both froze and Tony's first instinct was to check Ziva's eyes to see how she was handling the slip. What he saw there gave him more hope than he'd had since he found out she was pregnant. For a brief moment, longing flashed in Ziva's gaze and Tony knew exactly what it was for. Longing to be wanted, to be loved, to belong somewhere and to someone.
Just as quickly it was gone, but Tony knew he'd be seeing that look in his dreams, which had been increasingly filled with a dark haired, dark eyed, exotic beauty and a frilly white bassinet he could never quite see into. Then, realizing time had stood still for a moment and Marlene was still waiting for an answer, Tony cleared his throat and nodded a little jerkily.
"Yeah, that'd be great. My partner and I will take a tour and then we'll talk."
He hoped Ziva appreciated the clarification, because Tony would've rather left the woman with her mistaken assumption, just so he could live in his happy little dreamworld where Ziva was his and she was having their baby and they were buying a house for their family, for a few more seconds. It would happen, he was certain, the only question now was, when?
Marlene stepped out onto the front porch, leaving them alone in what would be the livingroom. Tony, ignoring the almost awkward moment they'd just had, stood with his back to the front door and looked around. To his left was a small alcove and a rod to hang coats. Then the door to a...storage closet, he checked quickly.
A slightly curved staircase hugged the wall to the second floor and beyond it, the door to a large, unfinished basement. There he turned the corner and found a full bathroom behind the kitchen, but before that was another door leading out to the two car attached garage. Ziva lingered in the kitchen, looking around at the lovely white cupboards and new countertops and thinking how much fun it would be to cook there when she came for dinner. It had so much more space than her small apartment kitchen.
On the other side of the room was an empty space for a diningroom table and a clear line between carpet and tile marked the separation of the livingroom and eating area. A tall, handsome fireplace straddled both rooms and would make the whole space cozy on chilly winter nights.
With a grin on his face, Tony took Ziva's hand and tugged her up the carpeted steps to the second level. It opened up into a nice wide hallway, with a railing bordering the left side of the staircase at the top. The bathroom was directly
across from the stairs and down the hall lay the first of two guest bedrooms.
Across from the railing, the door to the master bedroom with attached bath stood open. There was lots of space, it was clean and nice, but neither dared linger too long there. The last room before they came back to the stairs was a larger bedroom with two windows facing out onto the side yard.
Tony stood there and looked out, then turned to Ziva with a light in his eyes. "This is it Zi," he whispered. "This is what I've been looking for."
Clearly expected to say something, Ziva swallowed past the lump in her throat. "I am happy for you Tony."
Tony caught the husky note in her voice and tipped her chin up. "Zi, nothing is going to change just because I'm moving."
She wanted to believe him, she really did, but Ziva was far too used to losing the important things in her life and Tony finding his house suddenly felt like the first nail in her hope. The second was when his attention was immediately distracted from her to the next step.
The thrilled prospective buyer hurried downstairs and back outside to where Marlene waited. She noted his excitement with surprise. "Don't tell me we've found a house you like." After a month of no's and silly excuses, she was beginning to wonder if he'd ever find 'the one.'
"Not only do I love it," Tony said quickly, "but I'm ready to make an offer."
"Wow, okay," Marlene looked a bit shocked. "Tell you what, I'll draw up the paperwork and talk to the current owner today, and first thing Monday morning I'll let you know."
Tony reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "I'll start with that amount, hopefully we can keep it close."
Marlene smiled. "Perfect." She held out her hand. "Well Mr. DiNozzo, it's been interesting."
He chuckled. "Thanks for your patience Marlene." The realtor left and Tony turned to Ziva. "Hey, it's been a long day. Can I take you to dinner?"
Ziva looked down. "I am not really dressed to go out."
He gave her a quick once over. "Ziva, I'd take you out no matter what you looked like." You're beautiful to me. The words danced on the tip of his tongue but Tony swallowed them. "Anyways, I think you look great and I really want to celebrate tonight. Please?"
Giving in, Ziva nodded and they hurried back to the car to get warmed up. Twenty minutes later they sat at a table in a quaint little restaurant, sipping Shirley Temples out of tall glasses as Tony went on and on about his plans for the house and Ziva tried to be happy for him.
She knew it was stupid, because nothing short of Armageddon would keep Tony from her - even Africa hadn't been far enough. But she somehow felt that this move, this change would take Tony out of her life in the comfortable way he had been there for almost five months now, and for five years before that.
Because of this, Ziva cited needing to study for her citizenship test as a reason to skip their usual Sunday morning routine. The fact that Tony seemed distracted and agreed so easily just added to her feeling of impending loss. Tony has said he wasn't going anywhere, but Ziva now wondered how long he could keep that promise. Change was not always a good thing.
When he dropped her off at her building and said goodnight, Ziva could barely muster up a smile. Everything was going to be different now and the loss tore at her heart. She stood watching the taillights of his car as he pulled away and everything in her heart cried out, just like she had done after a nightmare - Please, paal lo yarad, do not go.
It was rather early on Sunday morning when Gibbs' basement stairs creaked, but it wasn't his usual visitor that appeared. Tony entered his boss's domain without even looking at him and leaned against one of the sawhorses by the workbench. Gibbs was content to keep the silence until Tony didn't want to, so he continued painting long even strokes of varnish on the finally complete hull of his sixth boat.
Finally Tony cleared his throat. "I'm going to marry her, Boss."
Gibbs put the brush down and turned to face him. "She know that?"
Shaking his head slowly, Tony answered. "No, not yet."
He grunted. "When you plan on telling her?"
Tony fumbled with the zipper on his pocket and tossed the small blue box to Gibbs. "When I ask her."
Gibbs looked inside and raised one eyebrow. "Pink?"
Tony met his mentor's eyes. "I know it's going to be a girl."
Understanding how serious he was about this, Gibbs chose his next words carefully. "Why tell me?"
Tony sighed. "Because I need your help."
Gibbs sat on the stool. "I'm listening."
"I'm buying the house we looked at yesterday," Tony informed him with a light in his eyes. "There's a room upstairs that's perfect for a nursery. I want to have it done before...well, just before." He looked at Gibbs hopefully. "Will you make the furniture? It would mean the world to Ziva." Tony smiled. "She treasures anything you've touched."
Gibbs didn't say anything, so Tony continued. "I can pay you. I mean, I know it's a lot of work and I wouldn't expect-"
The silver haired man reached over and smacked the back of Tony's head. "Family doesn't pay DiNozzo." Tony's eyes widened and Gibbs laughed. "She's my daughter now, she wants me to be that child's grandfather." He stared seriously at his senior field agent. "I told her it would be an honour."
The words sank in and Tony stuck out his hand. "Well, I want to be her baby's dad and her husband, if she'll have me. So...welcome to the family."
Gibbs rolled his eyes but shook Tony's hand, squeezing it hard. "Don't push her," he warned. "You could just as easily lose her as get to have her forever."
"Noted," Tony agreed, heading for the stairs. Halfway up he turned back. "Boss?"
Gibbs looked up. "Yeah?"
Then he was gone and Gibbs realized in some ways, things could never really be the same.
Three months, Tim marveled as he lay in bed with Abby, one hand holding up his head while the other slowly traced the cross tattoo that took up most of her back, had it really been three months already?
Abby lay on her stomach, her head pillowed on her folded arms, resting after their most recent love making session. The couple had decided to celebrate their three month anniversary by not leaving their bed unless absolutely necessary. But Tim had a bubble bath with Abby's aromatherapy candles in mind for later.
He reached her lower back, just above where the sheet pooled around her hips, and Abby squirmed. "Timmy, that tickles," she murmured. McGee drew his finger gently up her spine and leaned over to kiss her shoulder. She cracked one eye open. "Give me a few more minutes."
"Tired of me already?" Tim teased.
Abby closed her eyes again. "No, but I know when you're leading up to something."
He scooted closer and began playing with her hair. "I was leading up to something, but it wasn't more sex." She gave him a disbelieving look and Tim amended the comment. "Not at the moment, anyways." He sighed. "We need to talk."
Abby frowned. "Famous last words. We having problems I don't know about?"
McGee kissed the expression off her face. "Stop being so negative. Talking isn't always a bad thing."
She pulled the sheet up to under her arms and rolled onto her side. "No, but it can be. And it gets in the way of other...more fun things." The look she got said he knew she was trying to change the subject so she got serious. "Okay, I'm ready."
Tim stroked her cheek. "I love you Abby, I have for so long." Apprehension coloured her gaze, so he got to the point. "I don't want to hide us anymore Abbs. I know it was my idea to keep this a secret to begin with, but I'd like to at least think about telling the others that we're married." He shook his head. "They're our friends, our family. I don't like how it feels to keep them in the dark."
Abby dropped her eyes to his hand, running her finger over the heavy steel ring he insisted on wearing today. "I like our marriage being our secret Timmy," she confessed. "Do we have to tell?"
Tim lifted her hand and kissed each finger. "Ziva's worried something is wrong because we're acting different. Tony is playing protective big brother and wonders why it's taking me so long to commit to you." He shrugged. "I don't want them to be concerned for no reason."
Abby pushed him gently onto his back and rested her chin on his chest, brushing her fingers through the hair. "I honestly thought someone, most likely Gibbs, would notice before now and it would all come out. But since it hasn't..." she trailed off. "Is it really such a bad thing to keep going as we are?"
Tim put his head down and looked at the ceiling. "We'll have to tell sometime Abby."
She inched up his body until they were face to face. "I know. But do you really want to talk about the others when you have me, naked in your bed to do with as you please?"
McGee knew it was a distraction technique to keep from talking about it any further, even as much as there was real desire in her eyes. But heaven help him, Tim couldn't stop himself from responding to Abby's suggestive look. He swallowed hard. "You have a point there."
The next thing he knew, her lips were on his and his fingers tangled in her hair. It wasn't long until they were lost in the bliss of each other and the conversation disappeared from their minds completely. But Abby couldn't help remembering that sooner or later, all secrets come out.
Ziva swirled the water in her glass as she sat on the third step from the bottom in Gibbs' basement on Sunday night. It wasn't often he got two visitors in the same day and he wondered if it wouldn't be easy for the two of them to just start talking to each other, instead of coming to him. Except Gibbs wouldn't change these moments or the trust and respect they had for him, for all the world.
"I deserved what they did to me in Somalia," she said at last and Gibbs looked up. He hadn't been sure she was going to say anything this time. Sometimes she just sat there until she found the courage, other times her nerve ran out before that happened.
"Yeah? How's that?" Gibbs asked, ready to smack some sense into her if she didn't stop thinking of herself as worthless. How could she not see that every day Tony looked at her like she was the sun, the center of his universe? How everyone on the team loved her and were so glad to have her back alive?
"I used to be one of them," Ziva said slowly. "I was one of those holding the knives and needles or causing pain without leaving a mark. I tortured people until they screamed and begged for mercy, until they broke and finally gave me answers and information." She laughed bitterly. "I was forced to drink my own medicine, yes? Now I know what it is like."
Gibbs stared at the dark haired woman who was like a daughter to him. "Say it again."
Ziva frowned. "What?"
"Say it again."
Sighing, she started to repeat herself. "I was-"
"Stop," Gibbs cut her off. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Now she was getting confused.
"You said, 'I was one of those people'. 'Was' as in past tense. You're not one of them anymore Ziver."
"But-" she began, and Gibbs shook his head.
"No. I'm not going to sit here and let you take the blame for something that was not your fault. You hear me?" He said the words slowly and clearly. "Somalia was not - your - fault." Seeing the doubt in her eyes, Gibbs prepared to use more words than he usually said in a week, if only it would help her understand.
"What you did in Mossad, you did because of Eli. He trained you to be his soldier and you followed orders. Now you are NCIS. You are going to be a mother. You have learned, in most things at least, to follow your heart." He walked over and knelt before her, cupping her face in his hands. "You did not deserve what happened in Somalia Ziva, no one deserves that."
Ziva's eyes stayed fixed on the floor and her hand gently caressed her rounded abdomen. Finally she met his gaze. "But if not for Somalia, I would not have this life inside of me. And I think," her words came slowly as she worked through it in her head, "I think that my baby will be worth all the pain." A small smile claimed her lips. "Being pregnant, feeling the baby move, having life inside me...it is amazing Abba."
Gibbs laid his hand near hers and waited. Seconds passed and he felt a tiny kick. "You're right Ziva," he agreed. "You love this child already, despite how it was conceived. I have no doubt that the first time you hold your baby in your arms, he or she will be worth everything you went through."
Leaning forward, Ziva rested her head on his shoulder and let the comfort of her father's embrace wash over her. Someday, somehow, it was all going to be alright.
END OF PART THREE
A/N: Well guys, we've finally made it to the last chapter and the end of Part 3. Thank you so much for taking this journey with me and for making it so rewarding with all your lovely reviews and encouraging comments. So you know the drill, if you're interested in Six Months Home, throw me on Author Alert so you know when I post the first chapter. I need a break to work on it, so I'm thinking almost a month from today, January 20, 2012. Look for it around then.
But, just so it's not a completely boring wait, I will be posting 3 T&Z one-shots not related to Remnants of Somalia, over the first three weeks of January. I'm also working on an AU story with a little T&Z, but more Ziva and a new character. I'm not sure how people will feel about it so I'm a little leery about putting it up, but if I get time to finish it, maybe you'll see that posted too.
Again, thank you so much and I hope you enjoyed the conclusion of Three Months Alive.