A/N: Although the summary mentions a McGee baby, there is actually no McGee or baby in this. So if you're like me and usually run a mile from baby fics, don't panic. If you run towards baby fics, you might not end up with what you're looking for. Hopefully I've struck a balance between the two.
When she finds him she is going to kill him. Assuming, of course, that he is not already dead.
She has spent the last two hours of her evening looking for him. His presence is required in the maternity ward of Mercy Hospital in Maryland, but the uncle-to-be has gone to ground. In normal circumstances this type of irresponsible behavior would be enough to divert the attention of an ex-Marine, an ex-Mossad operative, a tech whiz and a world-renowned forensic scientist to track him down and visit unholy hell upon the person responsible. No one puts Baby in a corner, and no one puts a member of Team Gibbs in jeopardy without being on the receiving end of a solid shellacking. But tonight Team Gibbs is otherwise focused on ensuring the safe delivery into the world of the next generation of crime-fighting superheroes (or, more accurately, underpaid and armed Government employees). McGee-to-be has been sending out warning signals to his or her pending arrival all night, and Father-to-be-McGee has made it clear that he expects his team to be in attendance to keep him from curling into the fetal position himself.
Team McGee (as they are known today) came running from all corners of the D.C. area when the call went out at 2300. All except one: Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo's cell phone went unanswered when Gibbs called. He had tried Ziva next, and met her claim that DiNozzo was not in her company with the deafening silence of doubt. Seeing no point in pleading her innocent and solitary position further, Ziva had taken up the cause of tracking her partner down and dragging him (potentially bleeding and bruised) to the hospital. She had assumed that this would be an easy task. She had been wrong. And now she is torn between sickening worry and eye-popping anger.
Rule number three: Never be unreachable.
She has made seven calls to his cell phone, one trip to his apartment, visits to his first through fourth favorite bars and a check of the NCIS building. He remains stubbornly elusive, and she is unsure whether she is so irritated simply because she is worried what might have happened, or because the little so-and-so seems to have outplayed her without even trying. As she drives back to his apartment for a second time—this time she will use her key to enter and then search every inch of the place—she assures herself that he has only managed this feat because she is tired. Bone tired. Five-hours'-sleep-in-three-days tired. Just like the rest of them, she has barely left the bullpen all week. All of them are sleep-deprived (and she spares a moment's thought for poor McGee who is unlikely to find time to catch up for another three or four years), and she realizes this is probably the reason that she is considering calling in military favors over her AWOL partner. And why McGee is so terrified. And why Gibbs is so grumpy.
Perhaps not the last two.
She does not see Tony's Mustang in its usual spot on the street outside his apartment. Nor does she see it in any other spot on the street. She bites back worry as she cruises around the block looking for a free parking space, and eventually finds one around the back of the next street…right behind his goddamn Mustang.
Her scowl could crush metal.
She grumbles an expletive at the shiny blue sedan as she pulls herself out of her Mini. The chill of the early winter's night is like a slap of rebuttal, but she resists the urge to retaliate with a swift kick to the car's body. The pain of Tony's moaning and whining about the dent will not be worth the three seconds of joy she will receive from making it. Instead, she takes her frustration out on the sidewalk as she stomps off in the direction of his apartment. If he is not already bleeding and in distress, she will rectify that.
When she reaches his apartment door she knocks loudly, but does not wait for him to answer before she sorts through her keys for the two that grant access to Casa DiNozzo. Inside she is met with darkness, quiet and inviting warmth. More importantly, his presence is heavy in the air. He is definitely at home, although apparently not in a position to either acknowledge or respond to knocks on the door and ringing cell phones. She refers to her mental map of his floor plan and furniture to deliver her to his bedroom unscathed, and the light falling into the room from the streetlights outside helps her eyes adjust to the scene.
As far as she can tell her partner is in perfect health. He is bundled under the covers in a bed that looks so goddamn inviting to her tired bones that she decides right then and there that she deserves a nap before they spend the rest of the night at the hospital. She is too tired right now to break his leg for making her worry, so when she heads to the bed she leaves her thoughts of retribution by the door. She will pick them up again when she leaves.
Tony's slow, deep breaths catch and speed up only when her weight makes the mattress dip. She would admonish him for being so slow to note an intruder, but cuts him slack. She thinks he may have had even less sleep than her this week, and it is not as though she poses a threat to his safety (fantasies of breaking his legs aside). She settles onto the unbelievably comfortable mattress on her side, facing him, just as his head pops up off his pillow.
"Tony," she sighs with exasperation she is sure he won't pick up on.
"Ziva?" His voice is weak and confused, and he is lucky he guessed the female bed intruder correctly. Not that she has any claim to his bed. Officially.
She burrows into his second pillow and it takes her only moments to find a comfortable position. "I have been looking everywhere for you," she grouses.
Unsurprisingly, he does not understand her mood. "What? I've been right here," he says sleepily. "What's going on?"
"You did not answer your door when I came by earlier," she informs him, and the indignation in her voice starts to disappear in direct correlation to the level of comfort her body finds. God, she has always found his bed more comfortable than her own. "You have not been answering your phone. And you were not at the Navy Yard or any of the bars you usually go to or…"
"I'm right here," he repeats, sounding far more awake now. His expression suggests he currently holds the opinion that she might be insane. She is vaguely offended, and if he had aimed the expression at her a minute ago at his front door she thinks she may have yelled (at a minimum). But now that she is lying on a big warm bed that smells like him (she may be annoyed but she still has a large, Tony-shaped soft spot within her), she decides that ignoring it will make the next few hours of her life easier.
"Holly has gone into labor," she says, filling him in on the reason behind her search for America's Next Top NCIS Agent Who Doesn't Know How to Keep His Goddamn Cell Phone On. "We are about to become aunt and uncle."
He draws a sharp breath of excitement and props himself up on his elbow to look down at her. "That's great!" he exclaims, remaining consistent in the unabashed and somewhat unexpected joy for the growing McGee clan he has displayed since the first day he learned of McJellybean. He pushes back his blankets and gets to his feet. "We've got to go."
That's the point of why she came, but now that she has laid down her bones she doesn't want to get up again. Not yet. She watches him as he looks around the room and tries to get a handle on what he should do now. "Why did you not answer your phone?" she asks.
Tony frowns and turns to pick up his phone from his bedside table. His thumbs flick across the screen and then he looks at her with an apologetic wince. "I knocked it onto silent. Sorry."
She grunts at him with displeasure, but he smiles at her teasingly in response.
"You were worried about me."
"Yes," she replies honestly, daring him to continue to tease her. "If I were not more interested in your bed right now I would be beating you about the head with a shovel."
"I don't have a shovel," he tells her.
"Do not tempt me to find one," she warns him.
He throws her a contrite smile. "Sorry."
She grunts and closes her eyes. "I am angry with you," she states, although her voice lacks any of the anger she speaks of.
She listens to him move across to his closet as he prepares to change into his street clothes. But before she can give that too much thought her cell phone beeps and vibrates. She plucks it out of the back pocket of her jeans and accesses the alert.
"It's Abby," she tells him as he strips off the long-sleeved t-shirt he was wearing in bed. "Holly is at seven centimeters. Still a few hours to go."
"What does that mean?"
She flicks her eyes over to him with a smirk, and takes the time to appreciate his bare chest right before he pulls a new t-shirt over it. "Dilation."
He makes a face as he realizes he didn't actually want to know that. "Oh."
She reads out her response as she types it and he swaps his PJ pants for jeans. "Thanks. Found Tony. He's OK. Be there in a while."
"You don't want to go now?" he asks.
"It will still be a few hours," she reminds him, and returns her phone to her back pocket. "And I have not slept in days."
Tony returns to the other side of the bed and looks down at her. "Yeah? None of us have."
She sighs, closes her eyes and points at herself in the hope of directing his mercy. "Yes, but the woman who lives next door to me has a new boyfriend. She has been screaming a lot. All hours of the night. Including tonight, so I did not even have an hour's rest before Gibbs called to say that you were not answering your phone and that I had to come and find you."
He ignores the blatant guilt trip and addresses the more interesting part of the story. "Your neighbor's a lucky woman."
"And I am an unlucky one," Ziva rejoins. "We share a bedroom wall. I do not have a clue what her boyfriend is doing to her. Sometimes it sounds as if she is being murdered, but I am almost certain that she is enjoying it."
Tony chuckles, enjoying the tale as she knew he would, and then she hears him moving again. A moment later she feels him lift her foot, unzip her boot and tug it off. Then he does the other. She smiles into the pillow, and she would like to think that if she had the energy she would have hugged him for the gesture. But lord, this bed is heaven to her right now and her limbs feel too heavy to move.
"Thank you," she murmurs, right before her cell phone beeps and vibrates again. She groans before lifting a leaden arm to retrieve Abby's next message, but Tony's fingers brush her butt as he reaches into her pocket before her. She can think of no reason to fight him for it.
"Abby says good, but what are you and Tony doing that will take a few hours?"
Ziva smiles and holds her arm out behind her to receive her phone. But Tony doesn't hand it over. He composes his own response on her behalf but at least has the courtesy to read it aloud for her.
"I'm busy gazing at his hotness," he says, deadpan. "Will sleep with him before driving over. Ex-oh, ex-oh."
Because she is so tired and her defenses are so weak, her smile easily turns into a chuckle. She does not bother with the rebuke that she would normally deliver and that he expects. She laughs simply because she is amused. Tony returns to his side of the bed (actually, the whole bed is his side of the bed) and lies down beside her. Before he has settled Ziva's phone beeps again. It is still in his hand, so he reads Abby's reply.
"No need to be sarcastic," he reads, and pauses to laugh. "See you later." She smiles at Abby's rejection of a scenario she most likely gave up on years ago. Tony reaches over and slides the phone back into her pocket. "Another hour or two, huh?"
They lie quietly for a few moments until she hears him move and feels him draw closer.
"I'm sorry I worried you," he says.
She opens her eyes but she is so tired that she cannot even find it within her to be embarrassed by the blatant affection she feels color her smile. "You are lucky you are all right," she admonishes gently, but then realizes that is not exactly what she meant. "I mean, your kidnapper is lucky you are all right."
"There was no kidnapper."
She is too tired for this. Her ability to express her thoughts has finally left her, and frankly she thinks it is a miracle that she has not reverted to Hebrew. "Shut up, DiNozzo," she manages.
"You always talk like that to men whose beds you commandeer?" Both his insistence on talking and the amusement in his voice grate on her serenity.
"You do not want to know how I speak to them." Did that make sense? She thinks so, but now she cannot remember what she said, so she can't run it through her head again to make sure.
"I could be convinced, sweetcheeks."
It is only his loaded tone that alerts her to his cautious attempt to hit on her. She thinks he might be serious, but is passing it off as a joke to cover his ass. If it were any other night—such as one where she has enjoyed both sleep and a nourishing meal—she might be tempted to push things further to see where they end up. But not even her partner's enticing smile and warm body lying a foot from hers will be enough to get her to play with him.
"Not tonight, honey," she murmurs. "I am too tired."
Tony breathes out a laugh and does not appear to take offence at her exhausted rejection. "We'll try again tomorrow," he replies lightly, and she grunts without approval or refusal. "You went to all my hangouts?"
Why must he insist on talking? "Yes."
There is a moment of heavy silence, and then he lifts his hand to rest his palm on her cheek and his thumb against her lips. Even through half-open eyes she can tell that he wants to say something that will surely turn her to mush. She knows he won't get there, and in the end he doesn't. But the look is enough. Usually it is Tony who frets about everyone else, hiding his genuine soft heart and fondness for his kin behind loud complaints and ridicule. Often he greets any return of concern with dismissal and more ridicule. But sometimes, if the time is right and he is inhabiting Tony's skin instead of that of his Very Special Agent alter ego, he will allow you an audience with his authentic appreciation.
She smiles under his thumb because she knows that her (irritated, worried, angry) quest tonight for his safe presence has made him feel cared for. He smiles back, lets his fingers ghost across her cheek in a nervous imitation of a caress, and then pulls his hand back. Her eyes close with the weight of a job well done, and the next thing she knows he is tugging a blanket out from under her feet and pulling it up to her chin to cover her. She murmurs her thanks and has but a moment to register that the smell makes her feel like she is surrounded by a welcome cocoon of DiNozzo before she surrenders to sleep.
When she wakes she feels like she is stoned. The vibrations of her cell phone against her butt have pulled her out of a dead sleep, and for several long moments she cannot work out where she is, what is going on, or what the vibrations mean. She feels like she has been weighted down with concrete, and although her brain finally understands that the vibrations signal a new text message, and that she must move her arm from wherever it is (she cannot feel any of her appendages) to reach for her phone in her back pocket, she simply cannot make the signal from her brain control her limbs. Fleetingly, she wonders if this is what it feels like to be paralyzed.
"Is that Abby?" Tony asks sleepily and from very, very close by.
"I don't know," she tries to respond, but all that comes out of her mouth is a moan. And some drool. She's pretty sure she's drooling into the pillow.
She hears a joint in Tony's body crack before he rolls closer and brings welcome warmth with him. His hand gropes her butt for a moment, but she could not care less. He is saving her from moving for a few more precious seconds.
"Holly's at nine centimeters," he eventually says with a yawn. "It's close. We gotta go, Sleeping Ninja."
"Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Ninja," she murmurs, although she has no idea why. It is enough to make Tony chuckle deeply into his chest, though, before he rolls away and takes his warmth with him.
"Are you going to move?" he asks.
"Yes," she replies, but not a single muscle below her neck complies. She manages to crack her eyes open and then makes a noise that is embarrassingly akin to a squeal when the light from the bedside lamp assaults her eyes. She is positive she hears Tony chuckle again, but he is too far away and she is too tired to punch him in the face.
Tony takes a seat on the end of the bed to put on his shoes, and glances over his shoulder at her. "It won't be so bad once you get moving," he cajoles.
She groans angrily back at him, trusting that her tone alone will be enough to tell him to shut up. Having Tony lecture her like a father would does not sit well with her. He seems to take the hint, and so she takes over the role of motivating herself.
"Get up," she whispers to herself. "Get. Up."
Her body remains unresponsive. Although her words are not aimed at him, Tony is spurred into action. He tugs on the blanket covering her until Ziva loosens her grip, and then he lifts her foot and tries to wrestle her boot back on. The pain is not severe, but enough to bring her around. She slowly pushes herself into a sitting position as Tony gets the first boot on and zipped up, and the second goes on much easier with her help. As he grabs a jacket from the chair in the corner, she rubs her face and tries to find the energy to move from her sitting position to a standing position.
"Let's go," Tony says to her.
"Yes," she says.
Tony does not wait for her to move on her own. This time he comes over to stoop beside her, put his arm around her back and lift her to her feet. She allows it only because she has doubts that she would make it upright at all if left to her own devices.
"You need to have more movement to fulfill the 'going' part, Ziva."
"I am very tired."
"I noticed that."
"You should drive."
He gives her back a nudge and it is enough momentum to start her walking—or a loose, zombie-like approximation of the act—out of his bedroom. She can feel herself becoming more alert, but she still feels so strange and heavy.
"Do I look stupid?" she asks him. It is not a question she would usually entrust her partner with, but she acknowledges that she is not making the best decisions right now.
"Is that a trick question?" Tony asks as he passes her en route to the door.
Ziva runs her hands through her hair and smoothes down her clothes before wiping the last bits of drool from the corner of her mouth. "I feel crumpled."
"I think you mean rumpled," he corrects, and grabs his keys and wallet from the table beside the door. "You look fine. Are you going to be warm enough in that?"
She has to look down at herself to remember what she is wearing. Jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. No, she is not going to be warm enough. "I have a coat in my car."
Tony crosses back to gently take her elbow and steer her towards the door. "Why aren't you wearing it?"
It is a good question, and she has to think about it. She recalls that when she got out of her car she was supremely annoyed with him and was more interested in kicking his car in retaliation than keeping herself warm. "It is your fault."
Tony glances at her but seems neither offended nor apologetic. "Okay," he just says, accepting it.
He leads her to the elevator, and once they're inside she gives away her pride to use him and the back wall as leaning posts. Her eyes are closed when he puts a warm arm around her shoulders, and she thinks that if the ride to the ground floor were longer than seven seconds she would have easily fallen asleep standing up.
When they step out of his building they are hit with a gust of icy wind. In the hour she has been inside it has gotten noticeably colder (although upon her arrival she was partially warmed by her bad mood), and she curses loudly into his shoulder in protest. Tony has the gall to chuckle as he drags her down to the sidewalk.
"Where's your car, Princess Grace?"
"Well, that's convenient," he says, and steers her down the sidewalk.
Ziva remembers some more of her anger and worry from earlier in the night, and decides that now is the time to state her position. "You were not parked in your normal spot," she says.
"You were not parked in your normal spot," she repeats, and then trips slightly over the toe of her shoe. Tony keeps her upright. "I came by earlier in the night to look for you but you were not parked in your normal spot, and so I thought you were not home."
"Someone else got it," he says, and squeezes her tighter as she trips again. "Ziva, you got to lift your feet…" There is a pause. "Will you open your damn eyes? No wonder you're tripping over."
She lets out a groan that should leave him with no doubt that she thinks he is being completely insufferable, but forces her eyes open all the same. "I feel like I weigh 300 pounds."
His response suggests that he believes her reflexes are too slow to land a really good blow on him. "Yeah, I've been meaning to say something for a while."
She would stomp on his foot if only he would hold still for five seconds. Instead, she tries to commit that to memory to punish him for later, and turns her present ire on those responsible for her having to be awake and moving right now. "Who has a baby at 0400?"
"People do," he replies unnecessarily.
"People are rude."
His face turns to hers, and she feels the warmth from it against her temple and cheek. "You're aware that you're badmouthing a kid so young it hasn't even come out of the oven yet, right?"
Yes, she is aware. And she feels badly. So she does not offer a suggestion that Holly just clench and hold it in for another few hours.
"I need coffee."
"Hospital brew awaits," he tells her as they turn the corner and start down the street to their cars. "Where are your keys?"
She wedges her hand into the front pocket of her jeans and drags them out. She is not offering them to him but Tony takes them all the same and points the clicker at her car. The Mini's blinkers flash as they approach, and then he leans her against the side of the car before he opens the driver's door, stretches his upper body inside and gropes around for the coat she said she had in there. Ziva uses the time to stare unapologetically at his ass. It is not as though he would not do the same thing to her.
He emerges a few seconds later with bright blue wool between his fingers. "Here. Put this on," he says, and holds the coat open for her.
She turns her back to him and they fight each other to get her arms into the holes. When she's all bundled in he slams the door, locks the car, takes her elbow and guides her to his Mustang.
"The next few weeks will be worse," she tells him. "With McGee on leave. It will just be me, you and Gibbs."
"Yeah, he's being pretty selfish," Tony says.
She hears the eye roll in his voice, and wonders when it was that they two of them swapped positions. Historically, she is the one with the ability to conjure good manners and warmth when required, and he is the one who makes the inappropriate comments. If they had been playing their usual roles tonight she would have hissed his name in rebuke half a dozen times already. That he is yet to repeat her name as if it were a curse suggests that he will always possess far more patience than she can ever hope to replicate.
"Still, I'd rather be a man down than have to deal with a replacement," Tony goes on. "That's what we'll have to do when you have a baby." He punctuates the comment by shoving her keys into her coat pocket and tossing her a smile that is meant to tease.
Ziva snorts in response. The concept of conceiving seems so unlikely to her at this point in time. "I would not worry about that, if I were you."
She walks around to the passenger side of the Mustang under her own momentum, and she is so pleased with herself that she almost misses the fact that Tony is watching her over the roof of the car. She stops with her fingers on the door handle and lifts a questioning eyebrow. Her partner is wearing an expression that her conscious brain cannot quite understand, but which makes her chest grow warm and her heart pound.
"What?" she asks, and then mentally curses herself when her voice falters.
He rests an elbow against the roof of the car and leans forward. "Why are you so grumpy?" He has the gall to smirk at her as he asks, and it is another reminder to her that she is supposed to be angry with him.
"Why are you so excited?" she returns.
His expression suggests that he thinks she might be a sociopath. "Why am I excited about our good friend having a baby?"
She sighs pointedly at what she tells herself must be his deliberate attempt to have fun at her tired expense. "I know why you are excited." She tries to add a qualifier to explain herself. "But why are you…Abby excited?"
She watches as his smile gets away from him and his eyes are drawn to the heavens. It is rare to see him so genuinely flustered, and she would like to take the time to enjoy it. But she is too distracted by the sounds her gut is making. He is taking longer than is necessary to answer the question, particularly when she is sure he already knows the answer, and this deviation from his normal character makes her wary.
His eyes find her again just before the chill in the air makes her lose her patience, and he throws her a self-conscious smile that looks out of place on his face. It is clear to her that the next words he delivers will be served with honesty. "Because he made it happen, Ziva," he says thickly. "He broke the Team Gibbs curse."
It is an unfortunate time for her to shiver, but her body is more interested in saving her from hypothermia than protecting her pride. She mutters her own curse and gestures for him to join her in the car where the temperature hovers just above freezing instead of just below. Tony starts the engine and turns the heat to high, but the car remains in park.
"Did someone curse us?" she asks seriously.
Tony rolls his eyes and bangs the back of his head against the headrest. "No, Ziva."
She frowns. "Then what are you talking about?"
He reaches to the dashboard to flip the driver's air vent towards her, and then sighs in the way he always does when he is mildly frustrated with her and trying to find patience. She thinks she hears it about five times every week. "I'm talking about the Team Gibbs Two Cups Curse. The one that befalls all who commit themselves to our silver-haired skipper. Including him."
He still makes no sense to her, although she is not sure whether that is because she is still too tired to participate in conversation about curses, or simply because he is Tony. The day he starts making complete sense to her will be the day she knows she has lost her mind. "Tony," she begins tiredly, but he has already anticipated that she has not followed him and makes another attempt at explaining himself.
"Two cups, Sleeping Ninja." That nickname had better not stick. "Work cup and home cup. Wise men say that the key to a happy existence is to fill each cup in complementary amounts so that they balance the way you need them to. Until recently, no one on Team Gibbs managed to do it. Not Gibbs, not Abby, not Ducky, not you and certainly not me. But now our little Timmy looks like he's gotten it right."
Pride, sadness and longing go to war in his eyes, and she begins to understand. "You feel that if McGee can break the curse, then so can you."
The self-conscious smile is back. "I don't know," he admits. "But I hope so."
The affection she feels for him in that moment presents as a lump in her throat that seems intent on strangling her from within. She is as aware of his desire to settle down as she is of the reasons he has not done so, and she meets the thought with an exhausting mix of guilt and hope. Her desire to reassure him is as strong as her earlier desire to kick him, but before she can devise a plan for how to achieve that without making impulsive vows, Tony throws more honesty in her face.
"I love this job and I want to keep doing it until the day I die," he tells her as his eyes struggle to meet hers. "But it weighs me down. I just want something, someone, to help be carry everything. To help me balance the cups. So I'm excited about this because McGee is proving that it can be done."
A hard swallow frees her tongue, but it is not enough to shake words befitting his honesty onto her lips. "Yes," is all she manages, and she immediately wishes to turn her boot on her own shin.
But Tony does not share her scorn. On a night like this he is not keen to provide his worries with a patient audience, and so he marches them off the stage and replaces them with his enthusiasm over Baby McGee. "Also, I'm about to become an uncle," he points out, and flashes her a smile that immediately infects her mood. "And that adds just a little bit more to the home cup."
She can feel the intense affection on her face when she smiles back at him. Perhaps it is too brazen for their current relationship, but tonight it feels appropriate. "I understand," she tells him. "But I do not believe you are cursed."
He chuckles and turns from her to reach for his seatbelt. "Maybe not by anyone else," he tells her as he clicks the seatbelt into place. "A lot of it is definitely my own doing."
She secures her seatbelt as well. "We are all our own worst enemy."
He looks at her warily. "Stop being deep, Ziva. It makes me nervous."
"You were just being deep!" she argues back.
Tony shakes his head firmly. "No, you weren't listening. I was talking about how shallow I am."
She knows he is deliberately trying to confuse her for his own amusement and that she should not engage him in combat. But she has never been able to resist and will make no exception tonight. "You were being deep about being shallow," she says with narrowed eyes.
"I think that's an oxymoron."
Her response is to groan at the roof.
"You're back to being grumpy."
"I am not grumpy," she grumbles. "I am excited because I am about to become an aunt, and because that will help to fill my home cup."
"Are you plagiarizing my mid-life crisis?"
She ignores his attempt at flippancy and rolls her head to the side to look at him. "You are not shallow."
He meets her eyes with unexpected adoration that steals her breath, and for one drawn out moment she is sure that a confession is imminent. And it is; just not the one she was expecting.
"I want to do this family thing one day, Ziva."
In her heart she knows he is stating his preference for her direct participation in the cause, but understands why he has kept the statement ambiguous. He wants her to know, and is perhaps staking a claim. But that will come in the future, after they have both prepared themselves for the significant impact their family thing will have on their work thing.
But that doesn't make her heartbeat slow down or her stomach stop knotting or her eyes stop burning in the present. The ambiguous statement heralds the biggest step they have taken towards each other in years, and although it is unexpected and terrifying and dangerous, she cannot help that it also turns her to mush. She bites her lip as if that will help keep her emotions under control (why must he do this to her now while she is so tired and unusually tender?) and Tony watches her with trepidation.
Don't leave me hanging, his face says, unless you're not in this with me.
She draws a shallow breath through a tight throat. "Me too," she pushes out, reassuring him through complementary ambiguity.
His eyes soften with the vague agreement. She knows that in the future he will ask for more from her, but tonight he appears satisfied with what she has offered him. It is the limit for what they can discuss without delving into certainties and direct promises, and so he moves to end the conversation.
"One day," he affirms, as if the thought is comfort enough for tonight. And it is.
She nods, and now that the future is sorted they can return their focus to the present. They are supposed to be at the hospital right now and overseeing the safe delivery of their niece or nephew. Tony puts the car in gear, but before he releases the handbrake he makes a final, fleeting statement of commitment and reaches over to squeeze her hand. She grips his fingers between hers in agreement before he pulls away again, but the promise in the action remains.
END. That means no more chapters. But I hope you enjoyed it anyway.