A/N: Hey guys! I know the new reviewing system is a little odd and sometimes I wish they'd stop changing things, but if you're leaving a comment anonymously (as Guest), could you include whatever name you usually use in your review somewhere? I just like to know who is who even if I can't reply to those who aren't signed in. Thanks again for all the support. I'll be really relieved when this is all over, but for now I'm just glad to have such loyal readers! ~ Love always, Aliyah
PS. Almost 1am counts as tomorrow, right? :P One less thing to do when I get up in the morning.
PPS. To any fellow Canadian readers - Happy Canada Day weekend! To everyone else, I hope you get to enjoy the lovely summer weather and hopefully a break from work tomorrow. Thanks for reading!
When they got off the elevator, Tony grinned to see everyone gathered in the squadroom to welcome Ziva back. Abby was especially happy to see her and ran over with pigtails flying and arms outstretched. Ziva received her friend's embrace with a smile and gratefully accepted the hugs from Gibbs, Ducky and McGee and even a short, awkward one from Jimmy. With great flourish Tony strode over to Ziva's desk and removed the 'Reserved' sign.
"Good to have you back, partner." He kissed her cheek. "You're a lot nicer to look at." They shared a smile and a look before he cleared his throat and held up his backpack.
"We come bearing gifts!"
Abby's eyes lit up. "Presents?"
Tony opened the zipper and handed Abby hers first. "Just a little thank you for everything you guys have done for us over the last couple of months."
Ziva took part of the pile and started giving out the small, wrapped packages. To Gibbs, because he already had a picture of himself with Chaya, she gave the photo of them on her wedding day. "You will always be my Abba," she whispered and got a rare smile in return.
Abby squealed when she tore the paper off hers and saw the moment she'd first held her niece. She grinned like mad and flung herself at Tony. Ducky mentioned clearing a spot on his desk to show off the little girl for whom he would be a second grandfather. Jimmy said he wanted to show Breena his, because she'd never met Chaya.
Tim smiled fondly at the picture of himself and the little pink bundle as he set it in front of his keyboard. "In a couple months I'll put another one right beside this." When Abby heard him, she kissed his cheek and moved his hand to her bump.
Gibbs cleared his throat and pointed at Tony and Ziva. "You two, with me. The rest of you, back to work!" Everyone jumped to obey while Tony and Ziva exchanged nervous glances and trailed after their boss to the elevator. Once they were inside and the switch had been flipped, Gibbs crossed his arms.
"One of you will leave every day at five-thirty unless it's an extreme emergency. In that case Celeste has offered to babysit or you can set up a playpen in the Ballistics Lab. Once a month you will each take a day off to spend with your daughter, as well as one long weekend now and then to be a family. And keep the married stuff out of my bullpen!" He stared them down. "Any questions?"
Mutely Tony and Ziva shook their heads and Gibbs turned the elevator back on. They made their way to their desks where Matt was waiting, looking a little awkward with a box at his feet. "Welcome back Ziva." He nodded at McGee and Tony. "It's been good working with you guys." Holding out his hand to Gibbs, he tried to look hopeful. "If you ever want me back..."
Gibbs nodded. "You're okay Collins. Carter's getting a good agent."
Matt grinned. "Thank you Agent Gibbs." Then he picked up his things and walked to the elevator. Agent Carter's team was based one floor down.
The doors slid open and he was surprised to see Tami standing there. "Hey." He stepped in quickly and pushed the button, then flicked the emergency stop switch, figuring he'd been on Gibbs' team long enough to utilize the elevator as office space just once. "Everything okay Tam?"
She twisted her fingers together. "I wanted to see how you were doing."
They'd talked last night about him switching teams and Tami knew he didn't feel great about it. Even though he'd known it was only a maternity leave position, Matt hadn't expected to get so attached to the team when he had spent all six months of his time with them as an outsider. So despite what he knew, he still felt shafted somehow and he was struggling with the sense that the team had turned their backs on him, even if that wasn't quite the case.
He sighed. "I knew right away that no one could replace Ziva for them. But I really liked these guys." Matt shrugged. "I didn't expect it to feel like this."
She gave him a sympathetic look. "I thought maybe you could use a hug."
Matt dropped his box and pulled her into his arms, the tightness in his chest loosening almost immediately. He was honestly surprised at how comfortable they'd become with each other after only two weeks of dating, but so far things were great.
Tami moved back a little and looked up at him. "Will I still see you at lunch?"
Matt tugged the end of her ponytail. "I hope so. I guess it'll depend on how Agent Carter does things. I'll text you if I can't make it." He leaned, pressing his lips gently to hers. "Thanks Tam, I needed this."
Her palm found his face and she kissed him again, almost shyly because this was still so new. "I'm glad it helped." She stepped away. "Now go meet your new team, I don't want to make you late."
Flipping the switch back on, Matt smiled at her and waited for the ding. "See you ."
"Good luck." Tami touched the button for the lab and wrapped her arms around herself. When it came to change, she was almost as bad as Abby.
The forensic scientist didn't even bother turning around when she heard the elevator ding. "I can smell your coffee all the way over here," she announced from her desk as Gibbs walked in. He set a blue and white cup on her desk and Abby picked it up and turned it thoughtfully, but didn't drink from the straw. "Come down to ask me about tonight?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Just because Ziva's back doesn't mean our deal has changed."
"No," Abby agreed, "but you could use the extra time for working on Tony's project, right?" He nodded, but didn't feel the need to state the obvious out loud. Crossing her arms, the Goth sighed. "I suppose I won't feel too ignored if we hang out on Tuesday or Thursday for awhile instead." Her eyes lit up. "Can we work on my baby furniture again?" They'd started that three weeks ago and Abby had been thrilled with what he was making for her and felt infinitely special because he was allowing her to help.
"Don't see why not."
Abby clapped her hands, then put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "You need to use more words." Gibbs raised one eyebrow, wondering where that came from. "You don't even use full sentences. I mean, I know that girls speak twice the amount of words per day that guys have to use, but you don't even use a fraction of them."
He kept it simple and just signed instead. Problem?
Her eyes narrowed. So I bring it up and you decide to say nothing at all?
Can't argue with you Abs, Gibbs confided, kissing the top of her head. Thank you. Love you.
The shorthand sign for the declaration made her smile and Abby shook her head at his retreating figure. The man was never going to change. But that was good, because she liked him this way and if he ever did suddenly start talking more, they'd likely all drop to the floor in a dead faint, unable to handle the upset to their little world. She nodded. Yes, best to let Gibbs be Gibbs and they'd handle him just like they always did. Sometimes it was nice to know what to expect. In certain cases, change could be a very bad thing.
When things quieted down a bit and after Gibbs went to see Abby and Tony left for a coffee break, McGee pulled a package out of his desk drawer and walked over to Ziva's desk. She had thirteen weeks of cases and reports to read and catch up on and he had to clear his throat to get her attention.
Ziva looked up and smiled, rather than jumping as she might have done months earlier. "Did you need something McGee?"
He shook his head. "No. Uh, here." Tim held out his gift. "This is for you. It's a welcome back present."
Delighted, she peeled the paper back and ran her fingers over the cover. "Your new book." It was dark coloured with a lighter shadowy section in the middle showing the form of a person kneeling on the floor, head down and hands tied behind them. "Abandoned." Ziva swallowed and her gaze flickered to him for clarification.
McGee slid his hands in his pocket. "I told our story this time - losing you, getting you back, the events that lead up to both. It's not all true," he hastened to explain when her eyes widened, "I took my share of creative license. But anyone who was apart of that time will recognize the similarities." Tim swallowed. "Look inside."
Ziva opened the book and flipped a few pages, stopping at the dedication. She read it out loud. "'To Amy, who inspires me always.' I am sure Abby appreciated that."
"Yeah," he grinned, "and she didn't mind sharing either."
Looking back at the words, Ziva continued reading. "'To a dear friend (she knows who she is). Radiance is that which shines so bright that the darkness cannot subdue it, no matter how hard it tries. Thank you for returning to be our light. You are the missing piece that can never be replaced. - Thom.'" She blinked and swallowed, touching her Star of David necklace and traced the words. "Ziva means radiance."
McGee nodded. "I know."
She threw her arms around him, still holding the book and Tim hugged her firmly, like that first time in her apartment when she asked him to be the brother she missed. "Thank you," Ziva whispered.
It was awhile before he let go as they both remembered Africa, then McGee grew serious. "I don't expect you to read it. You were there, you know what happened, even more than I do. But I just wanted you to have a copy."
Ziva kissed his cheek, cherishing his sensitivity. "You are a good friend Tim."
The moment broke when the other members of their team returned and the hours sped by until finally it was lunchtime. Knowing his wife would be spending the hour with Chaya, Tony invited McGee to join him in the breakroom to eat and watched his wife head downstairs. Ziva had been anxious all morning, calling Aria twice to check on her baby. Gibbs and Tony tried to tell her it was going to be fine, that Chaya was in good hands, but being so far away did not sit well with the new mom. She showed her badge at the window and Michelle the receptionist let her in.
Making her way down to the first baby room, Ziva knocked softly and slowly opened the door. Chaya was awake in Aria's arms and the girl quickly handed the baby to her mother. "Hello tsiporkatan, did you miss me? Ima is not used to being away from you." She reached into the diaper bag for a blanket and toy and smiled at Aria. "We will be back."
Returning to the entrance hall where the Mommy and Me room was located, Ziva stepped inside and settled into the rocking chair. Chaya was already rooting on the front of her shirt. She quickly unhooked her nursing bra so Chaya could latch on. Even though she'd pumped earlier at the same time she would usually feed her baby, Ziva still felt relief from the pressure as Chaya sucked now.
They spent the time rocking slowly and Ziva sang quietly as her daughter enjoyed her lunch. Chaya had just turned away from the nipple when the door opened and Tony slipped in. Ziva's momentary concern vanished and she handed him the baby. "Hi princess, how's my girl? Bet you missed Mommy's milk earlier, huh? Or at least you probably missed Mommy being there while you had your milk." He walked around the room with her as he waited for Chaya to burp, rubbing her back and breathing her in.
When she was ready to be changed, Tony laid her down, smiling this thanks at Ziva for already getting out a clean diaper and wipes. Tony talked to his baby the whole time while his wife watched and they spent a few precious minutes playing with their daughter before it was time to leave.
"I will take her back Tony," Ziva volunteered, "you go."
"Okay." He kissed them both and slipped an energy bar in her pocket. "You'll have to eat lunch later. See you upstairs."
Ziva reluctantly returned Chaya to Aria and left, climbing the steps slowly as she thought about the change this day had brought. She was so absorbed in herself that she didn't realize she'd forgotten to replace the breast pads in her nursing bra. She was still thinking about her daughter when she returned to the squadroom and Tony looked up to smile at her but his expression dropped and his eyes widened. He was in front of her in seconds, shielding her from the others. Confused, she opened her mouth to ask but followed his gaze to the front of her shirt.
She closed her eyes in embarrassment at the wet spots darkening on her chest. Tony gave her a half-grin but declined to share his thoughts, probably for the best. Instead he turned her gently so her back faced the room and dug around in the bottom drawer of his desk, returning with a dark grey t-shirt and pointing her towards the restrooms.
Ziva smiled her thanks, grabbed extra breast pads from her bag, and hurried to change. Stripping off her shirt in front of the mirror, she placed dry pads in her bra, donned Tony's too-large one and twisted the bottom into a curl at her waist to make it look better, using an extra hair elastic to secure the material. Then she faced her reflection, immediately noticing the scars visible on her forearms. For a long time she stood there, debating with herself whether or not she could face them like this. But then she thought of how Tony had faith in her, how he was proud of her and she pulled open the door and returned to her team.
Tim was the first to notice the scars and to his credit he didn't let his shock show. Instead he caught her hand before she could walk by his desk and gave her a small smile. "You're braver than me Ziva."
She blinked back tears at his simple words. "You were brave when you needed to be McGee." Ziva laid her hand on his cheek. "Thank you for not letting him go alone."
Gibbs was next to stand and wrap his hands around her wrists. "Badges of honour Ziver," he told her, touching her rings and bracelet briefly and glancing towards his senior field agent. "Look what you have overcome."
When she got to his desk, Tony hugged her close, whispering in her ear the words she knew were coming. "I'm so proud of you." Ziva pulled back and rolled her eyes as she watched him check her out wearing his shirt.
"Stop drooling," she commanded, laughing when Tony's hand automatically went to his mouth to check before he realized she was teasing.
He tugged her ponytail. "Nice to have you back Probette," he quipped, but the look in his eyes said so much more. She was back, she really was. This was where she belonged, with the people who loved her and would fight for her. In that moment Ziva truly believed that some day, maybe someday soon, everything was going to be okay.
As she sat down, Ziva noticed the new frames on her desk and couldn't contain her smile. Tony had furnished her with pictures of them and Chaya from the newborn photoshoot, one the day of their wedding, and the last was Ziva laying down on the bed with Chaya beside her, her hair falling over her shoulder as she smiled at the baby who stared up at her.
Gratitude welled up in her and she looked across the squadroom at her husband, smiling in a way that was for him and only him. Tony leaned back in his chair with a satisfied grin on his face and undisguised love shining from his eyes. He would do anything to see that smile on her face every day for the rest of their lives. It was worth everything.
Much to Tony's relief and Ziva's disappointment, they didn't get a case that day. Gibbs watched her slowly get more and more fidgety as time went on and she had nothing more to do than read old files. Finally he rolled his eyes. "Ziva, shooting range. Get some practice in."
She looked up in relief and grabbed her gun. Tony stood too and Gibbs glared. "Sit! You're married, not attached at the hip. She can go by herself."
Ziva gave him a sympathetic smile and took off while Tony looked longingly after her and finally returned to the cold case he was working on. For Ziva, the ability to do something meant a lot. She felt useless sitting at her desk and needed the outlet. Positioning herself at an empty station, Ziva put on the earmuffs and shifted her gun from hand to hand.
Not since she'd broken her arm at fifteen had she gone so long without shooting. And even then Eli had just made her learn to use her other hand, so it wasn't really the same. The weight hadn't changed, the gun was as familiar as her own name and as she took her stance and lined the barrel up with the target, Ziva smiled. Despite the nervousness, despite leaving her daughter in daycare, despite not feeling exactly like herself yet, it was still good to be back. This was home.
Near the end of the day Tim had run out of ways to pretend to be busy and made his way down to the lab. He stood in the doorway watching his wife work. After a minute Abby glanced up smirked. "Timmy, no lurking without a permit."
McGee remembered the last time she'd said that. The case held bittersweet memories because though they'd spent a lot of time together, he had also come very close to losing her more than once. Pulling out his wallet, he held up a small, laminated card. "I have one this time."
Abby frowned. "Let me see." She lifted it to the light and examined the signature he'd copied off an evidence log. She wrinkled her nose and gave the permit back. "I think it's forged. But you can stay as long as both Baby Beta and I get a kiss."
Tim grinned and obeyed, leaning down to kiss the top of her belly before pulling Abby close and capturing her lips. "That price I'm willing to pay even more than once." Abby slid her arms around his neck and tilted her head. Their lips met softly, the give and take of the kiss intensifying until they broke for air.
She giggled. "It's a good thing my assistant isn't here right now, that would've made her blush."
McGee was in no hurry to move away. "Where is she?"
Abby shrugged. "Taking a coffee break with Matt, Sammy's with her."
"How're they doing?" He wasn't one to pry but the assistant and the temporary agent were friends after the weeks they'd spent together and he cared what was going on.
Abby leaned back and sighed. "I think moving to a different team has been harder for Matt than he let on. Tami is trying to be there for him, but this is only the first day and things have already changed. Agent Carter doesn't run his team like Gibbs does."
"Think they'll make it?" Tim asked, twirling one of her pigtails.
Abby grinned. "I think I've seen that look on another agent's face before and if we're doing perfectly fine, I think they'll make it as far as they want to go."
McGee kissed her again. "So Gibbs sent Ziva down to the range. Let's hack the camera and see how many targets she's killed."
"Timmy, I like the way you think." Abby's fingers flew across the keyboard while he looked over her shoulder. This was really his favourite place to be.
When the clock hit 1730, Tony and Ziva locked eyes and she nodded. "You go. I am meeting Duke as soon as Gibbs tells us to leave."
He stood and collected his things, stopping to kiss her on the way out. Tony took the elevator downstairs and after checking his badge, Michelle let him in and he went in search of his daughter. Aria met him at the door and gestured to the sleeping baby in her carseat.
"I let her nap in there after her bottle, since I knew you guys would be leaving soon."
"Thanks." Tony crouched down to get a better look and turned to the girl. "How was she?"
"A little fussy after Ziva left," she replied honestly, "but she was too tired to cry for very long. Chaya's been fine since then."
He slung the diaper bag over one shoulder and lifted Chaya's seat with both hands. "Thanks Aria, I guess we'll see you tomorrow."
Feeling a bit loaded down, Tony made a mental note to bring the stroller next time as he signed Chaya out and headed for the elevator. Once he got her buckled in the car, he realized something else they'd forgotten about. Pulling out his phone, he texted Ziva that she'd have to take a work car home tonight and they'd drive two cars the next time they left separately.
The first thing he did at home was get changed and start supper. He went simple with a casserole that required prep but wasn't hard to put together and would be good warmed up, then dropped onto the couch and put on Air Force One while Chaya slept. It was weird to have her all to himself and be alone without Ziva, but so far, so good.
Half an hour after Tony left, Ziva was almost giddy with excitement when Gibbs gave the order to go home. She ran to the woman's room to change and then signed a car out for the night so she could go to Ops. Ziva walked in the door at six-thirty, tying her hair up in a tight ponytail. She dropped her stuff in the locker room and Duke met her in an empty studio.
"Welcome back Ziva."
She smiled. "I have been looking forward to this." Ziva glanced down at herself. "It will be good to get my body back into shape. I have never been so idle as these past several months."
Duke crossed his arms. "For the next month ground rules apply. There's still limitations until the hormones are gone." He held up his fingers. "1 - you will only come Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 2 - you will spend no more than an hour and a half in my gym. 3 - you will do as I tell you without pushing the boundaries until we do an assessment in four weeks. Is that clear?"
She rolled her eyes. "Stop acting like my big brother, I know I need to be careful." Ziva settled into fighting position with her hands up but Duke shook his head and pointed to the treadmill.
"Warm up. And no sparing until after three months post-partum." Because of the attitude in her eyes, he pushed her hard on cardio equipment and floor work, going easier with weights while her joints were still looser than normal. He wanted Ziva to hit a wall, to know her limitations and what she could do now.
But stubborn person that she was, the Israeli refused to give up and when the clock hit ninety minutes, she got up from the mats and managed a smile. "You will have to do better than that."
Duke raised an eyebrow. "Never challenge a Marine David, you might not like the consequences."
She shrugged him off and went to shower. "It is not punishment if I enjoy it."
Duke narrowed his eyes but quickly gave up, deciding to pick his battles carefully. Ziva DiNozzo was a handful and he'd never been more tested as a trainer, but she also inspired him and Duke was glad to have her for a friend. That Ziva could still smile after what she'd gone through was simply amazing.
It was shortly after eight pm when Ziva returned home to be greeted by the sight of Tony and Chaya laying on the couch, a Disney movie playing in the background as he stroked her back slowly. Ziva set her stuff down and walked over to sit on the arm. "Is she asleep?"
Tony peeked at the baby. "Nope, just chilling out."
Ziva kissed Chaya's hair and smiled. "I will get my nursing pillow."
The baby was more than happy to take Mommy's breast for her next feeding and started crying as soon as she was moved away when she finished. Sighing, Ziva tried again to see if Chaya was still hungry but the infant didn't eat, she just wanted to be close. Sitting back against the cushions, Ziva pressed play and watched the colourful characters dance across the screen. When Chaya was asleep, she slowly took the baby off her breast and lay Chaya on her lap, carefully maneuvering her out of the checkered onesie she wore. Then Ziva opened her shirt and rested the mostly naked infant on her bare skin, realizing how much she enjoyed the contact with her baby after being away from her all day.
Tony returned from the bathroom and leaned against the wall, watching his wife and daughter. Ziva kissed Chaya's soft head and whispered in her ear, one hand running from the baby's neck to her ankles and back up. He went to the stove and dished up a bowl of casserole for Ziva, heating it in the microwave. Tony brought it over and sat down beside them, basking in Ziva's smile and the way she closed her eyes and leaned her head back when he skated his fingers lightly over her collarbone and shoulder. He bent to kiss the exposed skin on her neck and blew lightly on the spot until she shivered.
Grinning, Tony held out his hands. "Food for baby?"
She eyed him lazily. "That is a tough bargain, and you would have to take your shirt off or she will wake up."
Laughing, he complied and tossed his t-shirt on the arm of the couch. "Come see Daddy princess. I bet Mommy's pretty hungry after all that hard work." Tony flipped up the footrest and leaned back, his hands holding Chaya to his chest. The baby shifted, lifting her head briefly and then relaxed, her fingers curling around a handful of Tony's chest hair.
He winced and loosened her grip a bit, then began a soothing rhythm with his fingers over her spine. Tony looked at his wife eagerly digging into her meal. "How was your first day back?"
She shrugged and swallowed. "Not as exciting as I hoped and I hate leaving Chaya, though Aria is very nice. I am looking forward to working a case with you again." Chewing thoughtfully, she thought about her afternoon. "I am glad Gibbs let me use my gun. It has been too long and I needed to feel confident about my abilities again."
Tony stroked her knee. "I've never had any doubts about your abilities." She shook her head slightly as if he was a little too gullible but he completely ignored her. "And the gym?"
Ziva looked smug. "Duke has rules until I am three months after baby, but he underestimated how much I want this."
His expression was a little leery. "You didn't hurt him, did you?" He would hate to have to explain that one.
She rolled her eyes. "No fighting yet."
"I feel badly for Matt," Ziva said after awhile. "He was just getting settled with the team and now I am back, like I am taking his spot."
Tony shook his head. "No. Matt was just holding your spot Zi, he knew that. Just because we're so lovable and he got attached doesn't mean you don't belong here."
She sighed. "I know." Finishing the last bite, Ziva smiled at him. "Thank you for making dinner and taking care of Chaya."
Tony kissed her hand. "Na'im me'od sweetheart. My pleasure. We're supposed to share all this stuff, right?"
She leaned over and kissed him slowly, her fingers sliding through his hair with a teasing touch. "Yes, but not all husbands are like you. I do not want you to feel unappreciated." Ziva caressed his lips with her thumb. "There has been too long in your life when no one told you that you are a good man. I am hoping to change that now."
Kissing him quickly, Ziva headed for the kitchen and started running water for dishes, leaving Tony absolutely stunned. With her words she had reached right into his heart, touching the abandoned little boy, the misunderstood adolescent, the shallow adult he'd been while trying not to feel the hurt of a lifetime of being pushed aside.
Feeling Chaya's tiny heart beating and hearing her soft breaths, Tony swallowed and cradled her in his arms. All this time he'd been focused on helping Ziva heal, never realizing or even expecting that she might do the same for him. The rewards that came from loving her never ceased to amaze him. Having Ziva in his life was more than he'd ever imagined. These days all his wildest dreams were coming true and Tony was still trying to catch his breath.