This is it, everyone. Thank you to everyone who has been so kind with their reviews- on both the stories. I love you all. There may be short follow- ups in the future, but for now, this is it. Extra special thanks and love to Mechabeira, who is always ready with keen editing skills and bottomless wisdom and love.
Be on the lookout for a new, unrelated story soon- It's really important to me, and I hope you'll check it out when its posted.
XOxoXO and thank you, again.
"But love the one you hold
And I'll be your goal
To have and to hold
A lover of the light"
Mumford and Sons, "Lover of the Light."
It was different this time around. It still hurt, but it wasn't an unfamiliar nurse who held her hand and wiped her face with a cool compress, but her husband. Tony's sure, steady gaze kept her calm and centered as she rode out waves of pain. There was no shame, no snarls or punishments, and sweet, quiet Tali wasn't in the waiting room. Perhaps she was in the sunshine that peeked through the curtains.
Sometimes when she closed her eyes she felt like she was back in Tel Aviv, sixteen and utterly alone, but she knew she could open them to find Tony smiling down at her in admiration. Tony. He held her when she cried, assured her that she did not actually look like a swollen whale. He talked to the baby and painted the nursery a sunny yellow while she napped. He made her real.
Another contraction tore through her.
"Breathe through it." He murmured into her hair.
Dr. Saunders hands were cold between her legs. "Ten centimeters. It's time, Ziva."
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Yes. I'm ready."
Tony smiled down at her and kissed her brow. "I love you." He whispered.
Another contraction tightened her smile. "I love you too."
Ziva wouldn't remember the pain, or how she gripped Tony's hand so hard she almost sprained it. She wouldn't remember the defeat and exhaustion because when it was all over there was her beautiful baby girl, wailing and screaming and utterly alive.
The nurse placed her on her chest and for a moment Ziva thought she was going to faint; Liora was so perfect and tiny and warm and hers. Tears streamed down both her and Tony's faces as they marveled over her perfect features-the best of both of them-her ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, and her head of dark, curly hair. They couldn't stop kissing her soft skin and burying their faces in the crook of her neck to breath in that perfect baby smell.
As she lay against Tony's chest and kissed her daughters precious features, all her troubles seemed far, far away. She was where she was supposed to be. Perhaps how she'd gotten to this hospital room with her husband and daughter hadn't been ideal, but she wouldn't change a moment of it. Perhaps, she mused, she was the luckiest unlucky girl in the world.
Ziva watched nervously as Tony tried to fasten the straps of the infant diaper with big, clumsy hands. She put a hand over his and smirked at him with laughing eyes.
"It is on backwards." She said, reaching around him to adjust the diaper. Smiley faces grinned up at her. "The straps come around the front, not the back." She explained, placing a kiss to her daughters forehead. Liora was calm, hands balled up at her head, little legs extending and retracting, extending and retracting.
Tony nodded his thanks and began to dress Liora with extreme caution in her going home outfit- a beautiful lavender onsie with small sunflowers printed all over it. They both cooed at the same time- she looked adorable. Liora had Ziva's narrow features and widows peak, but her mouth and eyes- green, even at birth, were all Tony.
"I'm gonna bring the car around- you ready?" He asked, rubbing a hand over her back. Ziva gulped and carefully picked Liora up so her neck was properly supported. Was she ready? Yes. She'd waited years to be able to bring her daughter home.
"Yes. I am exhausted and ready to rest in our bed." She decided, leaning into his touch, just as nurse Leah came in with a wheelchair.
"We'll meet you outside, Romeo." She joked. Tony held Liora while Ziva moved slowly from the bed to the wheelchair. She was achy and sore and tired, but happy. Tony gave Liora back to Ziva and blew kisses as he jogged out of the room to beat them downstairs.
Ziva held tightly to her daughter as she was wheeled through the maternity ward and into the elevator. Liora blinked at her and stuck her perfect little tongue out of her perfect little mouth.
Tony was waiting for them when they got outside, and they thanked Leah before heading to the car. Ziva climbed into the back seat next to Liora as Tony deposited her in her top of the line car seat- a generous gift from McGee.
She began to cry and Tony shushed her, laying his cheek on hers. Ziva's lip quivered as she watched her husband become a father.
"Lets hit the road." He declared, hopping in the front seat.
Ziva smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you." She whispered.
He understood and reached around to kiss her.
"Thank you." He countered. "Now lets go home."
"Home." She echoed, gazing down at Liora, who was dozing off.
Ziva opened her eyes and moaned as she heard Liora begin to wail. She was exhausted. Liora didn't sleep more than two hours at a time, and the sleep deprivation , combined with regaining the strength she lost during those long months of bed rest and labor were taking their toll. She moved to get up but she felt the bed dip and Tony was up rushing to the bassinet, hair rumpled and shirtless.
"Baby," he cooed, lifting Liora into his arms, "what's the matter?" Liora sniffled and settled into her fathers arms, and she saw his face light up.
"Did you just want to be held?" He asked, mock scolding, but then he went quiet. "I know ema does this most of the time since she has the good stuff, but I love holding you. You're my special thing."
He was quiet for a long time and Ziva watched, moved, as he paced around the bedroom, his eyes locked with Liora's.
"I love you so much, sweet pea." He whispered, his voice cracking. "I can't get enough of you. Remind me I said that when you're sixteen and raising hell, ok?"
Ziva smiled and heaved herself out of bed to wrap her arms around Tony. "You are an amazing father." She whispered in his ear, and he shivered.
"I had no idea loving her would feel like this." He admitted, watching as Liora blinked lazily. "She's only three days old and already has me wrapped around her tiny little finger. I... Can't compute loosing her, going through what you did with Sarah..." He trailed off, overtaken by emotion. Ziva shushed him and smoothed her daughters curls.
"You won't loose us." She assured him, as he had so many times in the past few months. "We're forever." As Ziva said those words, they finally became real.