You waited. I have finally delivered.
. . . .
I'm taken by a nursery rhyme.
-"Gotta Have You." The Weepies.
. . . .
Tony pulled the front door closed and waved at Gibbs through the glass. Goodnight. Sleep tight. He stepped off the porch and shivered when the cooling night air hit his neck. Ziva waited, one hand under her belly, the other stretched out to him. He took it, laced their fingers.
"Helluva party, huh?"
They started the slow trek back home. "Yes," she sighed. "One week at summer camp and five friends at her birthday party."
She didn't seem to hear him. "And she did everything right—used her manners, took a break when she needed it. I am really proud of her."
He brushed a mosquito from his arm. Fireflies blinked above the grass. Summer was in full swing. The coming weekend would bring out the lawn warriors and charcoal grills. He'd like to buy a little chiminea for their balcony. Could he cut out early two days in a row?
"I am in labor," Ziva said abruptly.
He stopped walking. She swung on the pivot of his shoulder and snapped around to look at him. "Early labor. The midwife came at noon and said I was two centimeters dilated."
"And you're telling me now?"
She shrugged. "You were at work, and then I wanted you to enjoy Sara's celebration without pressure. So yes, I suppose I am telling you now."
He swallowed. The whole summer night was squishing him like a bug. "You're having contractions?"
"Yes. They are a bit closer together now. It is early labor, Tony. We may not see her for another day."
"And you're just walking around and going to Sar's birthday shindig like it's no big deal?"
She blinked. "What else am I to do? I cleaned the house and washed the clothes and blankets you had hidden everywhere. The midwife said she will come when active labor begins."
"And take you to the hospital."
"I will deliver her at home."
He damn near fainted. "You'll what? Hell no, Ziva! Babies are born in hospitals so that doctors can take care of them if something goes wrong!"
She kept walking. "My blood pressure is fine. Little Almond's heart rate is normal. She is not under any stress. Susan does not anticipate any problems. If something changes then we will go to the hospital."
He had to jog a few steps to catch up. "What if it's an emergency?"
"Then we will call an ambulance."
"What if...Ziva just...what if?!"
She paused on the steps of their building and turned to look at him. "I want her birth to be an empowering experience for all of us, Tony."
And he shut his stupid mouth. "Ok. Ok. Fine." He unlocked the door. "Will I get to catch?"
"If you stop arguing with me. If you do not, then I will lock you in the hall closet for the duration."
"With my phone so I can watch the NHL draft?"
She punched him, unlocked her door, called the elevator. "I will put you...on ice, yes?—should you be staring at your phone when our child enters the world." She stopped, winced, inhaled and exhaled. "The contractions are still very short."
Leave it to his kid to take her sweet time. He put his hands over Ziva's belly and lowered his mouth to her shirt. "No rush kid, but let's not torture Mom, ok?" He rubbed his shoulder where Ziva punched him. "And she owes me an apology."
She unlocked their door. "For what?"
"Lashing out. You should have taken a break."
She rolled her eyes and kicked off her sandals. They left red marks on her swollen feet. "You deserved it."
Tony glanced at the closed nursery door. "Think I should build the crib?"
She stretched out on the sofa. "No, but you can set up the air mattress for Doda and put together the co-sleeper," she said, eyes closed.
He eased the door open and flicked on a small lamp. The soft reef-green paint was perfect, the dresser stocked and organized, with all his stashed clothes in the drawers and a changing station on top. He ran his hand over the basket of diapers, the wipe-warmer (a purchase they'd fought over), a framed photo of the lavender fields at the winery, Little Almond's first sonogram picture. He brought it close to his face, but it didn't help. What do you really look like, Princess?
He found the co-sleeper still in the box. The frame snapped together like a toy and he smoothed the pink sheet over the thin mattress. This was supposed to hold their daughter? A tag sewn to the upholstered side rail said Safe to 20lbs or until child can push up on hands and knees.
"That goes on my side of the bed," Ziva called from the couch.
He inched it out the door without scratching his precious paint. Sweat beaded at his hairline. "Are you sure this thing can hold a kid?"
She was sitting up, one hand pressed over her left hip. "Not a kid—a newborn. Unroll the upholstery on the low side and slide it under the mattress."
She blew out a breath. "That was a much harder contraction."
"Should we call?"
"No, not yet."
He carried the co-sleeper into their bedroom and set it up next to her side of the bed. Her nightstand was cleared of the usual books and hairbrush and moisturizer. The duvet was folded back, too. He got an odd, tingling feeling in his fingers when the floor creaked.
She was pacing, face flush. "Perhaps we should call," she conceded. "I believe I have progressed."
Tony fumbled, dialing Susan-The-Midwife's number with clumsy fingers. She picked up on the first ring. "Things are getting more intense," he burst. "You should come."
She had a warm, resonant voice. "How far apart are the contractions?"
He looked at Ziva. She shrugged. "They are painful now."
"She's hurting!" he nearly shouted. Could Susan hear him over his pounding heart?
"Tell her to get in the tub," Susan said evenly. "I'll be there as quickly as I can."
He hung up. "Take a bath. She's on her way."
Ziva waddled off and then water ran. The pipes groaned. Tony started the coffee pot and followed her path to the master bathroom.
She was in the tub, water thundering at her feet. He took her hand. "Doing ok?"
She smiled. "Fine."
He cranked the taps closed. Water lapped around her scarred shins. "She's really coming."
Ziva closed her eyes. "Yes."
Her grip tightened. She pressed her chin to her chest, breathed slowly, and relaxed. He checked his watch—forty seconds. Susan was on her way, right? "Moving right along."
She leaned her head back, looked at him sideways. Active labor and still smiling. "I want to name her for my mother."
"Isn't there some Jewish rule about that?"
"Rivka," she clarified. "I want to name Little Almond after her. She...she did the best she could, Tony. I want to honor that."
She searched his face. "Do you like it?"
The smile returned. "I called Dod and Doda this morning. She changed her flight. Romi cannot come until Monday."
Ayelet meant help. And food. And her steady, cheerful presence for their baby girl. "Good," he breathed. "Good. Great."
She pulled the plug with her toe. "I need to walk."
Tony put out his arm. Ziva used it to lever her big body out of the tub, held on while she toweled off, and let him support her while she dressed and walked a path around the whole apartment. Bedroom, living room, around the sofa, back to the bedroom. The coffeepot bubbled and beeped—ready.
She clutched the counter while he made a cup with milk and sugar. "I did not expect this to go so fast."
Maybe Little Almond wasn't going to take her sweet time after all. "Would our kid be anything but a freight train, Zi?"
She laughed, groaned, clutched her belly. "Shut up."
A knock. He let Susan in and pointed at Ziva. "It's happening."
Susan smiled, put her arm around Ziva's waist. "How far apart?"
"Eight minutes. Forty seconds each. But it was nothing until we called you—cramps, some twinges."
"Your little one is impatient. Want to lie down?" Tony held up his mug in a silent offer. Susan nodded. "Black, please. And some water for Ziva."
They disappeared into the bedroom while he prepared their drinks. He heard beeping and the rip of Velcro, the pump of a sphygmomanometer. Ziva lay on her left side in the bed, having yet another contraction.
"Slide down, please," Susan requested, and she rolled to her back, let her legs fall open. Tony had to look away. "Seven centimeters, fully effaced. She's coming fast, Ziva. Are there any last-minute things to take care of?"
Ziva rolled back onto her left side. "No. Everything is ready."
"Do you want to deliver on the bed?"
Then why don't you take a short walk while I get everything ready?"
She got up. Tony offered his arm, then water, but she declined with a smile. "Ok."
"I'll put the sheets in the wash. Are your blankets ready?"
She found another pair of flat sandals in the closet. "Tony, there are swaddling blankets and a hat in the top drawer in the nursery. Can you bring them, please?"
He went on autopilot back to the nursery. The blankets were like lace, the little cap no bigger than his palm. All pink. He brought them back to the room like a ring bearer at a wedding.
Susan smiled. "I love that brand—all organic, and the muslin washes so nicely. Great for summer."
"Yeah," he agreed, having no idea what she was talking about. "Um, Ziva picked them out."
"Oh, these weren't from the hidden stash?"
He heard the toilet flush. "Uh, no. I got mostly clothes and diapers. Lots of diapers. Lots."
Susan laughed. "She'll go through ten a day in the first weeks, so be prepared to buy more."
"Or twelve. Or more. It's a good sign—it means her kidneys are working."
Kidneys. Little Almond had kidneys. "Oh yeah," he agreed. "Totally. Working those kidneys for sure."
Ziva opened the bathroom door and took his hand. "Around the block?"
And out they went again, down the elevator, into the cool summer night. Crickets. Parked cars. "Did we buy a stroller?"
She clutched his hand. "Not yet. I will wear her for the first weeks and do research."
Wear her. Of course. "A car seat?"
"You picked it out, Tony—remember the fight we had about the pink one? It is installed in my car already."
"You sure it's right? I don't want to—"
"Gibbs did it."
Well then. "Then it's there forever."
"She will outgrow it. Susan said she is probably a big baby."
"How big? What if we have to pull her out? Maybe we should go to the hospital."
"Not that big."
They passed the closed coffee shop and toy store. "You did good, Zee-vah."
She looked almost surprised. "Thank you."
They stopped while she breathed through another contraction. He got antsy when he couldn't read his watch in the low light. "Back?"
"One more lap."
He didn't like the look on her face. "I can't carry you if—"
"Then we will call Susan and deliver her right on the sidewalk."
"She has many, many years of experience. It would be fine."
He shook his head. "I don't care if she has been delivering babies since the dawn of time, she is not delivering our perfect little princess on a street corner."
They lapsed into silence, passing the coffee shop and toy store again. Ziva finally looked up when he unlocked the door. "The pressure is growing, Tony. This is...this is fast."
He hustled her into the elevator, down the hall, through the front door. Susan smiled. "And?"
Ziva demonstrated with another contraction and cried out softly. Tony's chest tightened—had he forgotten that labor was painful?
"I need to push now," she said, eyes wide. "Now."
Susan looked happy. "Can you make it to the bedroom?"
She nodded and latched on to Tony. "Come with me, motek, please."
He grew ten feet in ten seconds and arched his body around hers. "Let's go," he urged. "Let's go have our baby."
Susan turned the bedroom lights down to a soft glow. Ziva got on the bed, humming softly. The protective sheet crackled beneath her. Susan got down to check her progress and this time Tony did not flinch.
"Wow, you're ready to go," she congratulated.
"Was it too fast?" Ziva worried. "Is she ok?"
She put some kind of wiry-belt-thing around Ziva's big belly. "She's descending and perfect. Do you feel pressure on your pubic bone?"
"Yes," Ziva said quietly. She had withdrawn and focused, eyes big and dark in her flush face. "I need to push."
Tony took her hand. Susan nodded. "When you're ready."
It wasn't like the movies—no screaming, no swearing, no promises to castrate him. Ziva pushed silently while Susan counted, and lay back when the contraction passed, humming softly.
He held her hand. "Do you still want to marry me?"
"Good," he said. "Good."
And she pushed again, quiet. Even peaceful. Susan counted. Ziva lay back, sighing. "It is a relief to bear down."
"You are pushing hard, Ziva. Do you feel like you could slow down? I do not want you to tear."
"No," she said flatly. "She is coming and I cannot stop it. Can you stitch me?"
"Of course, but that's a longer recovery."
"Doda is coming," Ziva said, as though it somehow mattered, and pushed again.
Susan gasped. "There she is—feel her head, Ziva."
She reached down. Tony chanced it and looked. It wasn't at all icky. Well, maybe a little. "Hair!" he exclaimed. "She has hair! A ton of it. Damn."
"I am sure you will style it for her."
Another push. More humming. Susan patted Ziva's knee. "Whoa, whoa, cowgirl. Her head's out. Slow down."
Ziva inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. Tony mopped her brow, kissed it. "I love you," he breathed.
She could only smile. Another contraction and Susan lifted their slimy daughter on to Ziva's belly. Tony's breath left him. His whole body tightened, his vision swam. He clutched Ziva's hand until she pulled it away to bring Little Almond to her chest. The baby squealed once and nursed.
Then it was like surfacing—Tony sucked in air, face wet, and collapsed, propping himself with his hands on his knees. "Holy—"
"It is," Susan agreed. "Latching already—great work, Ziva."
Ziva studied the baby without responding. Tony slid onto the mattress next to her, counted ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. She had reddish-brown skin and black hair and a greedy little mouth clamped over Ziva's breast. "She's perfect," he said quietly.
Ziva looked up at him. She put her hand on his cheek, wiped his tears with the pad of her thumb. There were dark rings under her eyes and a serene look on her sweaty face. "She is."
Susan rose, knees creaking. "You're all cleaned up, Ziva. Can we weigh and measure her?"
"Oh," she sighed. "Already?"
"Yes. How do you feel?"
She looked at the baby for a long time. Tony drew one of the lacy blankets over both of them. "Peaceful," she said finally.
Susan dragged over a baby scale and measuring tape. Ziva lay the baby on it. She grew angry instantly and writhed. Tony's whole body reached for her. Susan put up a hand. "Seven pounds, six ounces. Nineteen inches long. Swaddle her and I'll measure her head before we put her hat on."
Tony scooped her up. She was a dense baby. Heavier than she looked. He swaddled her perfectly, having practiced on the cat while Ziva napped one afternoon. "There," he cooed. She blinked blearly blue eyes at him. He melted. Melted. "Hi, baby," he said through tears. "I'm your dad."
"She knows," Susan whispered, and put a measuring tape around her head. "Good jug."
Ziva held her hands out, but Tony couldn't let go. What if she disappeared? "I just—"
"Sit, Tony." He sat. She leaned on him and whispered. "Maya."
He sniffed. "Maya. Hi, Maya. We made you."
Ziva giggled tearfully. "We did."
"You are amazing," he said, but to whom he wasn't sure.
Ziva sighed. The baby sighed. Her watery eyes closed. Tony eased back against the headboard and simply watched.
"What time is it?" Ziva asked.
The bedside clock was missing. So was Susan. "Dunno."
"Oh. Did I tear?"
Shit, he hadn't even asked. "Dunno."
"Maya," he sighed. "Maya Rivka."
"Maya Rivka DiNozzo."
He teared up again. "She's here."
"She was here all along, Tony."
He smiled, drifted. He could hear someone in the living room, the clatter of dishes in the kitchen. Shadows moved on the walls. A lamp clicked off and he jumped.
Susan put her hand over his. "Try to rest for now. She will want to nurse soon."
"Her name is Maya."
"Maya will want to nurse soon."
He was caught in the waves again—this one gratitude. "Thank you."
She nodded. "It is my pleasure."
. . . .
A squeak woke him. Maya was still in his arms, head turned, mouth open. He passed her to Ziva, who settled her to nurse. That antsy feeling returned and he got up, shook out his hands. "You ok? Can I—"
She gave a sleepy smile. "Fine. Go, Tony."
He shuffled out to the living room. Ayelet smiled from behind the sofa. "Mazal tov."
Tony folded her into a hug. "She's here."
"I know. You did wonderfully."
"Ziva is amazing."
"I know. Are you hungry?"
"I got in at five and made a frittata and some coffee. Come sit."
He slumped in a dining chair. "Time is it?"
Susan put a plate in front of him. "You all woke twice to feed Maya—you don't remember?"
He ate. Did he? Had Maya made that sound more than once? "Maybe?"
She grinned. "Post-birth euphoria. Don't worry—you're doing great."
"Oh yes. She's fantastic. I did not have to stitch her."
He stuffed more egg and mushroom in his mouth. "It was so fast, Doda. You have no idea."
"Is that because of her...history?" she asked Susan.
Susan shrugged. "I want to think about her strength, not her pain. The baby is beautiful."
"I need to see her," Ayelet jabbed, looking at Tony.
He jumped up from his chair. "Let me show you."
They crept into the dim bedroom. Ziva looked up and smiled—she'd changed the baby's diaper. Maya lay calmly on her pink blanket, limbs curled, eyes open and blinking.
Ayelet gasped and clasped her hands. "She is perfect! Mashallah! Are you waiting until the Torah—"
"Maya," Ziva interrupted. "Maya Rivka."
"Maya," Ayelet repeated. "Sweet Maya. May I?"
Ziva swaddled the baby and nodded. Tony tucked her little hat back on. Ayelet lifted her expertly and grinned and grinned. "Mashallah. She is so perfect. So perfect. APGARs?"
"Ten and ten," Ziva said.
A Perfect Ten.
Ayelet rocked the baby. "Hungry, Zivaleh?"
"Starving." He helped her off the bed. Susan had cleared away all the mess. Only the crinkly plastic-backed sheet remained. "Did I smell frittata?"
"Yes. Come sit and eat. You have run ten marathons."
They were a little family parade across the living room. Ziva sat, wincing in a dining chair and Susan pushed a plate of frittata and salad in front of her. "Eat. Where are your clean sheets?"
Tony expected an argument. Instead, she pointed at the linen closet with her fork. "There. Thank you."
Susan winked at Tony and disappeared. Ayelet swayed, still standing, with Maya in her arms. "Has she latched?"
Ziva nodded. "She was hungry immediately."
"Hardly a surprise."
She ate more and more frittata. "Did you bring labane, Ima?"
"Your father is. I did not have time to go to the market before my flight."
"No apologies, Zivaleh. Tony, did you have enough to eat?"
He could eat the whole world. "Sure."
She gave Maya to him. "Here. I will get you more food."
He took her, but shook his head. "No. Just...can you just sit with us for a minute? Please? I just want... " Tears closed his throat.
She sat, put her hand over the baby's hat. "Motek, I am here. Are you overwhelmed?"
Maya was beautifully heavy in his tired arms. "Yeah."
"It is normal. Take a deep breath. Your daughter is not going anywhere without you."
He peered at Maya's tiny red face. Her lips were a little pouty, her nose small and round. Would she get that widow's peak? His love of film?
And then it dawned on him, as sure as the sun came through the wood-slat blinds. "She looks like my mother."
"She looks like you," Ziva whispered.
He couldn't tear his gaze from his daughter's face. Arched eyebrows. Black hair beneath her pink cap. Long fingers beneath her muslin swaddler. "She's part of me," he whispered back, and looked up after a long silence. "She...we made her, Ziva."
Tony crumbled, clutching his tiny baby to his big chest, and sobbed. Ziva slid forward, guided his big, hot head to her shoulder. She was humming again, just as she had when Maya had entered the world with her tiny squeaks and rooting mouth.
Laila, laila. Itzmi et enayich.
Laila, laila. Baderech elayich.
The horsemen are coming, my child.