Three cheers for the end of the semester, Winter break, and the Holidays!
Hope you all relax and get to enjoy them!
AN: A HUGE Thank You to all that constantly review and enjoy this story. Please know I notice those who do so every time I update, and recognize all that leave me comments - even if I'm bad at getting back to you. A million thanks!
The bride's not what she pictured, exactly, but she's unable to recall anything in her memory regarding one Special Agent E.J Barrett.
She seems friendly enough, however, for she greets the team like old friends. Tony had told her earlier that day it'd been several years, in fact, since they'd seen Agent Barrett, and had divulged delicately that Ziva and herself had never been each other's greatest fans. They line up before her and the groom amongst other well wishers and guests, and when they finally step forward to greet the bride, E.J's eyes light up with surprise at the family, and then amusement, and Ziva watches her partner shoot her a self aware smirk as he clears his throat, unwrapping his one arm from around Ziva's waist to hug the bride properly. Ziva adjusts Piper on her hip, untangling her dress to keep it from wrinkling, and allows Tony to do the talking.
"Congratulations, Erica Jane," Tony tells her as they break apart. E.J's smile is wide as she looks between the two partners again.
"Thank you for coming," she says sincerely, eyes still twinkling with amusement and a little bewildered as they dart between the pair. She turns her attention to the little girl in Ziva's arms, proffering her hand. "And who is this?"
Piper perked up from where she rested her head against Ziva's shoulder, giving her a toothy grin and accepting E.J's hand politely.
" 'M Piper," she chirps, "I like your princess dwress."
The three adults laugh, and Ziva presses a kiss to the side of the girl's head appreciatively.
"Thank you, I like your dress very much too." E.J tells her smiling, before letting go of her little hand and turning to look at Tony.
"That smile? All yours, Tony. You have your work cut out for you when she's older."
Ziva breaks her silence, laughing aloud at her partner's indignant expression. Tony pinches Piper's cheek affectionately as she giggles, swatting his hand away.
"The Ziva half of her is going to get her in ten times more trouble than my half will," he jokes, looking smugly at Ziva, and E.J simply smirks in amusement.
"Well, I can't say I'm surprised," she half-laughs, before sobering. "It's good to see you two worked things ... out." she winks at them, and tugs at the hem of Piper's dress. "Make sure you get this one a piece of cake before it's gone. Your table is on your invitation; I put your whole team together, of course."
Ziva smiled gratefully and Tony inclined his head to kiss her cheek again.
"Thanks, E.J," Tony murmurs just as Piper exclaims, "Cake?!"
They laugh as Ziva shushes the little girl quietly. Looking up, Ziva leans in awkwardly to shake E.J's hand.
"Thank you, and congratulations." the two share a kind smile, and as they begin to turn away, E.J's face lights up with realization.
"Oh, and just to let you know, Agent Cruz isn't here. Actually, he's been-"
Tony cuts her off quickly with a hand on her arm.
"We know, thanks E.J," he gives her a polite smile, and takes Ziva's hand, steering them away from the bride.
Tony pays exaggerated concentration to their invitation he's procured from his pocket, and Ziva casts him a sideways glance.
"Tony," Ziva says softly.
Tony fumbles with the invitation, muttering to himself.
"Table seven," he mumbles. "Isn't it bad luck to eat at odd numbered tables? Something's hinky about an odd number."
"Tony," Ziva says pointedly.
Sighing, her partner returns the invitation back to his pocket, before casting his attention to her.
"Is there anything I need to know?" She asks him softly.
He holds her gaze for a moment, then shakes his head as he inclines to kiss her briefly.
"Nothing that can't wait," he says against her mouth.
She hesitates, but sees nothing in his face that makes her suspicious.
"Okay," she concedes, and it's forgotten as Piper cries out in delight in sight of the towering cake.
She watches her daughter twirl, once again, in Gibbs' arms as the song's tempo rises dramatically.
And because she's irrevocably attuned to her voice, her sound, and all that encompasses her - despite this accident, despite all the loss - she can hear Piper's peel of laughter carry across the expanse of the dance floor, through the crowd of noisy and merry guests, to where she sits alone at their temporarily abandoned and unsuspicious table seven.
Gibbs' smile lights up the room as they turn gracefully, and Ziva's smile mirrors his own; struck by how effortlessly her flesh and blood can light up this man's - her boss, her apparent adopted father figure's - face, so easily. She's comfortable with Gibbs, familiar even, and can recall glimpses and flashes of memories of him; but with or without her memory, she doesn't think she'll ever get used to feeling the love reserved exclusively for a daughter.
Ziva assumed the hardest part about the night would be being surrounded by a room full strangers and mutual co-workers and ex-girlfriends she had little to no memory of. Not to mention, the anxiety that comes with being in a social setting. As it turned out, though, the wedding reception brought forth different demons fighting their way through the fog in her head.
Her mind wanders as her thoughts stray to Eli David.
Would her own father look at her daughter in such a way?
Would he look at herself that way?
Ziva swallows down a lump in her throat when she realizes she's not entirely sure what is of her father at the present.
"Your beverage, m'lady."
Tony's smooth voice from behind startles her out of her reverie, and she blinks in surprise at the sight of her suited up partner, offering her a glass of white wine with an embellished curtsy. Ziva plasters her automatic smile on her face, graciously accepting the glass with a soft Toda.
She takes a deep sip and his head cocks to the side, studying her, before pulling out the seat beside her and settling into it.
"Prego," he chimes after a beat, falling silent and allowing her space, and he watches as she sets her glass down and her gaze falls to the table top. Her dangling earrings catch the light and sparkle, and he can't help himself then. Tony extends his hand to brush the tamed curls that fall around her face, and Ziva leans into the touch, her lips stretching into a smile as she looks up at him, then back across the dance floor.
"I know you said not to ask," he begins hesitantly, "but are you doing okay?"
Ziva's gaze doesn't falter, but rather gives him a quirked smile, flashing the dimples that make his chest tighten.
"Yes," she says, turning slightly to kiss the hand that still rests against her cheek. Her eyes light up as she continues to gaze across the room. "Our daughter appears to be quite a party animal." She raises her eyebrows and Tony grins before following her gaze. Piper's on Gibbs' shoes now, arms moving wildly with their bosses' as the music hits the final crescendo before it finishes. There is clapping, and Tony's hand leaves her face as he claps along, merry and drunk off the wedding atmosphere. Ziva claps politely along with him, and he flashes her another grin as the DJ calls forth all fathers and daughters now. Ziva's wills her polite smile to remain still as she watches Tony's grin widen, his gaze finding his daughter. They watch together as Piper drags GIbbs across the room in their direction, soft curls bouncing and Gibbs smiling patiently.
Piper collides with Ziva, the closest to her, and her hand leaves Gibbs as she engulfs her mother's dressed-clad body in a hug.
"See me, momma?!" She exlcaims excitedly.
Ziva doesn't have to force a smile as she gazes down at her.
"Yes, I did," she coos softly, brushing wayward strands of hair out of Piper's reddened face. "You dance wonderfully."
Piper smiles proudly, then rushes around Ziva to her father, pulling his arm in an effort to drag him from his chair.
"Our turn, daddy. Lessgo!"
Tony grins proudly at Ziva, finishing the rest of his beer before scooping the little girl up and rising.
"Duty calls," he says over Piper's giggles, and leans down to plant a soft kiss against Ziva's lips before whisking his daughter off to the dance floor.
Ziva smiles after them and returns her daughter's wave, and she begins to settle back in her chair to watch, until she feels Gibbs' presence still standing beside her. She looks up, and he leans down with a proffered hand.
"You heard the DJ, David." he growls sternly, and she looks at him, startled.
Gibbs face goes from serious to amused, and he takes her hand.
"Time for our dance, Ziver."
Her face softens and she looks unsure as Gibbs pulls her up and leads her over to where Tony and Piper are twirling exaggeratedly. They stop several feet from them and Tony catches her gaze as she settles her head near Gibbs' shoulder. His eyes are soft and he smiles in that way that makes her throat tighten and her stomach warm. He flashes her a grin and turns to the beat.
"Sorry if I don't move fast enough." Gibbs winces, "My granddaughter has her father's two left feet."
Ziva lets out a laugh and rests her cheek against his suit, breathing in the smell of coffee and sawdust and Gibbs, and she sighs, relaxing.
"Whatcha thinking about, Ziva?" He murmurs softly.
His arms tighten around her, almost protectively, and she blinks quickly, looking up to keep the tears at bay.
"I am wondering about Eli." She half-answers, settling for honesty.
Gibbs hand squeezes hers a little more.
She considers him for a moment.
"I am wondering about him here. About me; my daughter. The things I know but do not know."
Gibbs is thoughtful as he spins them in time to the music.
"He's alive. And well. Doesn't hear much from you. You don't hear much from him."
He keeps his tone light, but she can detect the strain. They dance in silence.
"Would he look at us as you do? Piper and myself?" Ziva's question is careful.
"Don't know how he damn well couldn't."
His voice comes out gruff and her's betrays tears and he holds her while they continue to circle the floor.
"Does my father know? About my accident, I mean." He hears what she actually means.
Does he care about her?
He turns her again so she faces the abandoned side of the room, allowing her privacy, because he feels the warm tears leaking through his jacket.
"I'm sure he's heard by now." Gibbs says, not unkindly. "He knows we are here to take care of you, Ziva. You have a family here."
He feels her nod against him. As he moves her back and forth he catches Tony's concerned gaze several feet away; he nods his head toward Ziva, a question in his eyes. Gibbs shakes his head, silently communicating he had it covered.
Ziva's voice is more controlled when she speaks again.
"I know I do. I just ... wonder what would be, if my father were here."
Gibbs tightens his grip around her, leaning close to whisper softly against her ear. "I'm here, Ziva."
Your father's here.
He gives her a kiss on her cheek, and the song ends then. Ziva pulls back to look at him, and the two share a smile. The moment doesn't last long, however, For Piper is beside them within seconds.
"Momma," she implores, taking her hand that's let go of Gibbs. "With Daddy now." Tony appears beside them, chucking in amusement, and offers his hand toward Ziva. Gibbs smirks, pushing her toward her partner, and reaches down to pick up his granddaughter.
"How 'bout I hold you this time, munchkin?"
Ziva and Tony chuckle as Gibbs carries her away.
Tony's already humming along to the song when he pulls her close, and there's an affectionate look in his eyes and a secret smile pulling at his mouth. The song is familiar, and she finds herself humming along without realizing it.
"Remember this song?" She shivers as his lips brush her ear. Her hand travels to the back of his neck, and she plays with the soft hairs there, thinking thoughtfully.
"It is familiar. I like it," Ziva shrugs, as he continues to lead her in a steady dance.
Tony leaned back to smile down at her.
"It's the one we danced to on our own day," he winked, more amused than hurt by her lack of memory.
Her mouth forms an "O" in surprise and he chuckles deeply before pulling her close enough to speak near her ear.
"So greeting the bride went smoothly," he began, and Ziva nodded in agreement.
"Yes," she answered easily, "She was not unfriendly. I feel sorry that I can not remember her, however."
Tony's laughter reverberated through her body.
"Well, like I said, you guys weren't exactly lunch buddies. You two could probably kick some serious ass together though."
Ziva smiled, turning her slightly to look at him.
"We both seem to have pretty good taste too, yes?" She says softly, before giving him a brief kiss on his jaw. He smiles warmly, before twirling her around and succeeding at making her laugh.
"Damn good taste," he affirms, and they settle back dancing closer together.
They're quiet for several moments, and Ziva's grip on his waist tightens.
"I do not know how I would have done today without you," she murmurs into his neck quietly. "Any of you. And not just today. I do not know how I would have done this if it had been only Eli in my life." She casts her gaze up to find him searching her own, and his thumb is already swiping at her eye before she realizes they're filling.
"We're your family, Ziva." He tells her sincerely, stroking her cheek with his thumb, "We're always going to be here for you. Permanently, you got that?" She nods wordlessly, and he leans down to plant a much needed kiss against her mouth. He lingers at her lips for several moments too long to be polite in present company, but in a room full of people celebrating love, it wasn't scrutinized.
Ziva brings her arms up to wrap around his neck and hold him close.
"I love you," she murmurs under his jaw.
Tony smiles as he presses a kiss to her head.
"I love you too, Ziva. We'll get through this. One day at a time."