A/N: You guys, this is it. This is the fic I've wanted to write since forever. This is my answer to those two eternal, essential Tiva questions, marriage and babies. This is my marriage-and-baby manifesto. I've finally found the story I want to tell. If I was a show-runner, this is how I would pitch it.
Now I'm going to shut up and let you read it.
Truly – I hope you like this.
Gonna get drunk on a bottle of wine
No better way to pass the time
Forever by your side
But I don't want to be a bride
Apologies to each other
I want to be your girl and spend this life with you
But I don't want to wear white
You know it's too late for that
But can we keep the ever after
Oh, could it be, just you and me?
- Vanessa Carlton, "I Don't Want to be a Bride"
It happened so fast, in the midst of such chaos, that it almost didn't even register in anyone's head. The relentless gunfire, the smoke, the brilliant, blinding sunshine overhead – no matter how many times they were in this situation, it never became less overwhelming. But they were so used to surviving it that it never occurred to Tony, Ziva or McGee that death was even an option. Not until the gunfire subsided, the smoke dissipated, a passing clump of clouds momentarily turned off the sun, that the team looked around, noticed that one among their number had fallen.
Gibbs, the seemingly immortal Leroy Jethro Gibbs, had taken three to the chest and one to the head. He fell backward like any ordinary man and he lay still on the asphalt, mouth slightly open in surprise, oblivious to the shouts of his team.
Admittedly, the fire fight had been intense, and Gibbs wasn't quite as young as he used to be, and he had definitely gone the way he would have wanted to go, in the line of duty – but after everything he had gone through, everything he had done, it felt wrong to see those steely blue eyes of his blank, facing the sky, staring at nothing.
The universe lost all meaning as Tony, Ziva and McGee just looked at each other, wondering what to do with the body, with the case, with anything. There didn't seem to be words important enough to break that awful silence. But Tony seamlessly switched from senior field agent to temporary team leader, calling Ducky and telling Ziva and McGee to secure the scene. With eyes almost as dead as their boss's, the three waited for Ducky, and the inevitable questions, so many questions, about how Leroy Jethro Gibbs…died.
They all took it hard, but unsurprisingly, Abby took it hardest. It took her two days to be able to utter a single word. She locked the door of her lab and curled up in obscure corners of it, crying silently on and off. She didn't play any music at all for weeks. The silence was scarier than any funeral blues or roaring death metal would have been.
Ducky did the autopsy and Gibbs got a hero's funeral and all five of them spoke, all five of them cried. Abby's grief finally broke and she sobbed all over McGee's shoulder. A thin stream of tears ran continuously down McGee and Ziva's cheeks as people gave their speeches. Tony was stoic and in control all through the office enquiries and the funeral, because someone had to be, but that night after the funeral, he downed an entire bottle of bourbon and buried his face in his hands, shaking, beyond tears.
The unthinkable had happened. Gibbs was gone. The center of their little NCIS family was empty and no one knew how to bridge the chasm, like a black hole between them. How the Earth still managed to turn, go on, was anybody's guess.
It was a tricky business for Vance, deciding what to do next. Ducky chose to stay on and worked until he died a year later, and was succeeded by Jimmy Palmer. McGee got a job heading a cyber operations unit in Langley. Tony was offered his own team in North Carolina. Abby could have stayed behind with Ducky and Palmer, but she chose to take a CIA job near McGee because she couldn't fathom working in that lab without Gibbs arriving whenever she had something. Ziva was originally set to join another team in their same building, beginning shortly after McGee, then Tony, left.
But the night before Tony was set to go to North Carolina, Tony and Ziva went out for a drink, and Tony ended up far drunker than was perhaps wise. And maybe it was the too-warm September night, maybe it was the pervasive remaining grief over Gibbs, or maybe it was just all of this unwanted change in the air, violently jolting his whole comfortable little corner of the universe – but Tony ended up completely smashed and he told her. Told her everything.
It came out like a flood bursting through a dam that had been growing weaker and weaker of late but finally gave under the strain. It was a scene out of a bad movie – the whole drunken confession shtick had been done way too often – but life could be a funny thing, far more absurd than anything the human mind could devise, and that night, it all came out.
How he'd wanted to get into her pants since the first day she waltzed into his life, wanting to speak to Agent Gibbs. How he had been captivated by her ever since, even when she puzzled and frustrated him, even when he didn't know it was captivation bubbling in his belly when he was with her. How he would have slept with her that night in Paris if they hadn't been who they were then. How that thing he'd had a glimpse of with Jeanne Benoit – the emotional intimacy, the sweet kisses that had nothing to do with sex, the moving in together, the commitment – was something he kind of wanted. With her.
He couldn't remember much of this, as he had been pretty out of it, but Ziva said later that these things tumbled out of his mouth alongside the entire contents of his stomach, and he had then passed out, hopelessly unconscious.
And it was this night, this alcohol-fueled revelation, that changed everything.
When Tony was informed that another agent would soon be assigned to his team, his first reaction was irritation. He had spent several weeks getting to know Agent Bartlett and Agent Simmons, trying to adjust to this new leadership role away from his little family in Washington, and adding a new person to the mix would just throw him off completely. But the director insisted and Tony had no choice in the matter.
But when Ziva David sauntered into the office on a cloudy Monday morning, her smile coy and so blissfully familiar – "astonished" was an understatement. Tony was thrown so completely that he simply stood there and blinked for a few seconds.
"Surprised?" she said over his shoulder as they hugged.
"Yeah. I thought you were in Washington."
"I was. But there was an opening here, and after some…delicate negotiations with the director, I got transferred here." Her eyes glittered with mischief. "So where is my desk?"
He just grinned and grinned. Bartlett and Simmons were amused; they had never seen their boss smile that much. Ziva winked, sat at the desk he pointed to, and got comfortable.
Her first night in North Carolina, Tony took her on a tour of the city and brought her home for coffee, maybe a movie. She was tempted by the movie, but refrained. Over coffee, she told him the real reason why she fought so hard to get transferred here. They spent most of the night at his kitchen table talking, talking.
She asked him, seriously, as the clock chimed three AM, if he had meant what he said. About loving her. Before the clock stopped chiming, he told her yes and she kissed him – a real one this time, sweet and honest, with no audience or an ulterior motive.
She felt like she could fly. He felt like he already was.
Fortunately, NCIS had no real rules about agents dating, but the memory of Rule Twelve hung over them for a long time, even as they shyly made their relationship public knowledge.
Never date a coworker. Gibbs most likely would not have approved. But Tony wasn't Gibbs and he was happier with Ziva than he had been with anyone. Waking up beside her never lost that strange, wondrous, magical quality it had the first time.
A few weeks into their relationship, they decided to move in together. Ziva moved into Tony's place and just like that, a new set of things were soon spread out around the apartment – her coffee mug in the cupboard, her blanket on the couch, her pictures on the walls, her toothbrush in his cup, her towel on the hook, her scent in every room, every hallway, every corner of this space they now shared.
It wasn't always easy. Things got intense at work sometimes, and they did frequently disagree, and their words could be like well-aimed bullets, sharp and hard and painful in their soft flesh. They were two evasive, lonely people who had been hurt terribly before, so of course they were nervous about this, how long it would last.
But a month went by, then two and three and four and five, and they still woke up together, some part of them always touching. She captivated him and he captivated her and that was the one part that never changed.
It was on a rainy Wednesday night two years later that he shyly broached the subject that had quietly consumed both of them for some time. After watching The Graduate, they were talking about marriage, and Ziva said something about marriage being complicated, and that was when Tony took a leap of faith into precarious winds, asked her, "Would you ever marry me?"
"I said, would you ever marry me? Hypothetically?"
She bit her lip. "Tony…"
"It's a legitimate question. Something we should talk about. We've lived together for two years. We're adults. We care about each other. This is working, whatever this is. Would you ever want…more?"
She took her time answering that one, her eyes on the carpet, the slightly worn coffee table they bought together on sale one sunny Saturday afternoon. "What I've always wanted, more than anything else, is to settle down. And this – this, to me, feels settled. Maybe we don't have the same last name, but we do have a place together, a life together. I like that."
"Have you ever wanted to make it official? Have the two point five kids, the white picket fence?"
"Is that what you want?"
He disappeared into his bedroom for a minute, rooted around in his underwear drawer, a place Ziva didn't touch if she could help it. He emerged a minute later with a tiny velvet box, and Ziva audibly gasped, her brown eyes round with surprise. Tony sat beside her on the couch, opened the box to show her a simple silver ring with a sizable diamond glinting in the dim light of the living room.
"What is this?"
"I've had it for a couple of weeks now, and now…now feels like as good a time as any to ask." He cleared his throat. "I'm not trying to propose or anything, if that's not what you want, Ziva. But I want you to have this. Because whether or not it's in the state records, I am committed to you and I want every would-be Casanova in the street who checks you out to know it too."
Bizarrely, she felt close to tears. "Tony…"
It escaped her lips like a slippery bar of soap sliding through her grasping fingers – "I love you," she said. And it was like a revelation, because she'd felt it for a long time, but that night was the first time she'd said it out loud, unprompted, just because.
His smile was shy, achingly sweet. "You too."
He took the ring out of the box and slipped it on her finger. It fit snugly, perfectly, the weight of it friendly and warm. It shone brighter than anything in the room that night, brighter than the slim crescent moon outside, peeking through their window. And her returning smile – it would have eclipsed the sun if the sun had happened to be out at that moment.
A few days later, Ziva presented Tony with a ring box of his very own, containing a simple gold band. She slipped it on his finger and squeezed his hand tight, fingers interlocking, their rings rubbing together like a gold and silver infinity sign.
At first, Ziva thought it was just a stomach bug. Tony had been feeling adventurous and insisted upon take-out from a sketchy little restaurant in Chinatown and both of them had to take a week off of work. So she paid little mind to the vomiting and the shaking and the aches.
But then she missed her period and that was when she started to worry.
The two of them bought a pregnancy test and sat in the living room, waiting for the test to deliver the results. And they were positive. Positive. Oh God, she was having a baby. Their baby.
For a few minutes, neither of them could speak. They just looked at each other, mouths half open. They weren't prepared for this. Perhaps they should have seen it coming, after all these nights they had spent together, but the fact remained that the little plus sign still staring at them from the floor where she had dropped it – it changed everything, everything.
Ziva ran her hand through her hair and wished her mother was around, because this was the kind of thing women talked to their mothers about. Tony started looking up prenatal doctors in the area and kept staring at the ceiling, as though it would somehow explain to him how to not screw this up.
They spent all night like that, sitting on the couch together, trying to figure out what to do. Because neither of them had a clue.
Sometimes, as the days and weeks progressed, Tony would look at Ziva and forget that there was a tiny life struggling to grow inside of her. And sometimes, even Ziva would forget, as life inevitably went on. But he would catch her eye and she would catch his and they would both glance down at her stomach, and she would remember, and the pure terror from the first night came rushing back in full force.
In the early years, she had taken certain…precautions, and had never expected pregnancy to be an option. She had never allowed herself to even think about it. And now here it was, the unexpected, the impossible, staring her in the face. The baby that beat the odds. She kept unconsciously rubbing her stomach, her concentration slipping from whatever she was doing as she tried to imagine all those little cells, multiplying over and over, making arms and legs and a brain and a heart. Her DNA and his, interlaced in every one of those little cells, giving them instructions, giving them life.
One day after work, she bought one of those "What to Expect When You're Expecting" books and read it late into the night. She told herself that this was going to be her future. She laid a gentle hand on her flat stomach and tried to smile.
Tony bought the book of baby names four weeks into the pregnancy. They started playing this game every night, where they would each pick a name they liked for the baby – he did the boy one, she did the girl one – and they would come up with all the possible nicknames for it, to make sure the kid would get teased minimally in elementary school.
He asked her, five weeks in, whose last name the baby should take. She suggested a hyphen so that the baby could have both. They started adding the hyphenated last name to their baby names, to hear how it would sound.
Those were the moments when this felt the most real and exciting. Lying there in bed with Tony, watching him warm up to the idea of being a father night after night, seeing his teeth glinting in the dark in a perpetual smile, the baby felt like an unexpected gift.
Maybe they could do this, the two of them. They wouldn't make the mistakes their parents had made. Maybe this was what was meant to happen. It was hard to believe anything else when Tony smiled the way he did, bright and honest and optimistic.
He kissed her and she let herself breathe a bit easier.
An ache. A heaviness. A distinct and desperate need to urinate. Then an almighty crunch of pain, as a small solid something forced itself out from between her legs. She groaned aloud in the tiny bathroom stall at work, and all she could see was red.
She knew, in the way a woman just does, that her precautions had indeed worked, and no baby of hers would ever make it out of her alive.
Flushing the toilet and walking stiffly back to the squad room was one of the hardest things she ever had to do. Even as the stomach pain began to fade, a deep and overwhelming sadness began to set in.
Because inside of her fear, her dread, her nausea was an intermingled love, for this little person she was making, whom she had already begun to love. Whom she would now never get to meet.
Telling Tony was almost as hard as losing the baby. They went to a doctor to be sure, but Ziva's instincts had been right. Two point five kids were just not in their cards.
A month after the miscarriage, Tony and Ziva pooled their vacation time and went to Venice for two weeks. The blazing sun, vivid greenery and frequent trips to the coast did them good, and they returned home tanned, relaxed. And from then on, it became their thing; every year, they took two weeks together and went some place. One year, they did Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Another year, they took a road trip all over Western Europe.
They worked countless cases. They watched too many movies over take-out. They went running on cool evenings as twilight fell. They drank too much and went dancing. They visited Abby and McGee in Virginia every few months, and watched their two little boys grow up. Sometimes they fought, sometimes they argued, but mostly they enjoyed the other's company, because it was the most natural thing in the world, being together. They lived their lives and loved each other, had each other's back.
And when he was with her, it was like all the songs finally made sense. Clichés rang with a glimmer of truth because now he knew what it was like, being with someone who made him feel like he was home. When he was with her, it was mostly comfortable and easy and he found himself wanting to kiss her for no reason, tell her things he normally kept to himself. He was afraid, of course, because that was just who he was – he never trusted good things to last – but when he saw her smile, or chew crossly on a strand of her hair, or yawn hugely, her nose crinkling, her mouth wide open, the fear dissipated a little bit. Because he cared about her, and despite the years, they were still just fine, and he never wanted to imagine a scenario in which good-bye was permanent.
And when she was with him, she felt all of her expert defenses melt slowly but steadily. She found herself telling him her secrets, letting him into her memories, even the scary ones, even the hard ones. She never said much at one time, but like little beads on a string, building up one by one to make a necklace, she told him things. Because he looked at her with those eyes of his, such an intense, earnest hazel, and she wanted him to know.
This was not a feeling she was accustomed to, but she was learning.
One afternoon a few days before he was set to retire officially from NCIS, Tony went through the deepest bowels of his desk and happened upon a crumpled piece of paper upon which he had written his bucket list, all those years ago. Fascinated, he began to read and reread it, remembering when he wrote those heartfelt words, shaken by that mission in Afghanistan.
He found he hadn't actually done most of these. He had never caught a shark, dated a Bond girl, developed a catch phrase or wrote a memoir. But then he realized that he had done things he never knew he had wanted then.
He had been with Ziva for about twenty years. He had traveled most of the globe. He had almost become a father. He had learned to speak clumsy French. It wasn't quite a shark, but when scuba diving with Ziva in Australia, he had somehow managed to catch a jellyfish, which he thought was pretty impressive. Once, he and Ziva tried to climb a mountain, but that one hadn't quite worked out. He had lived a long, full life with few regrets.
He took the list home to show Ziva that night. She chuckled, frowned, raised her eyebrows at him and said, "Really, Tony?" But when she got to the end, she asked, "What does that one mean, tell her?"
That made him blush, because he had hoped she wouldn't ask. He took the list from her, smoothed it out and laid it on the coffee table. "I wanted to tell…you."
"Tell me what?"
She smiled, stroked the side of his face. "Well, that is one thing you did do." Then she leaned in and kissed his cheek. "And I'm glad you did."
Tony went first, at the age of seventy-eight. One night, he kissed her goodnight and went to sleep; the next morning, he never woke up. Ziva was glad it was quick and easy and painless, but she missed him terribly, from the first moment she noticed he wasn't waking to the last moment, when she breathed her own final breath just two weeks later.
They had done good, though. This much they had agreed upon all through their lives, over meals and cases and laughter and sunsets in the exotic places they visited. The night before he died, he whispered in her ear, "I love you," and she said, "I love you too," and maybe it was because it was late and things always mean more in the dark, but those felt like the truest words either of them had ever spoken.
They rested, at last, beneath a freshly rained-on patch of earth under an autumn sun, side by side. It was picture-perfect, like in an expertly-shot ending of a poignant movie.
Tony would probably have liked that.
For me it's a glance and the smile on your face
The touch of your hands
And an honest embrace
For where I lay it's you I keep
This changing world I fall asleep
With you all I know is I'm coming home
- Vanessa Carlton, "Home"
A/N: Any and all feedback is enormously appreciated.