A/N: I never write baby!fic, as a rule; my Tony and Ziva head-canon has somehow never involved children. So it was a fascinating experience, trying to spin a baby!fic that wouldn't make me die inside, and for the most part I think I did okay, but of course, I can never know for sure, how good my story is. That is ultimately in your hands.
The reason for this unwilling foray into domestic life – my girl Jae turns 21 today.
Lovely Jae, you are the light of my life. It's actually a bit absurd, how much I adore you. A very happy 21st to you. I hope you like your gift. I know it starts kind of angsty, but it ends pretty sweet and fluffy, so that works? (Also – I lied to you. When I asked you about baby names, I was not working on a novel. Surprise! At least, I hope it is. If not, act surprised anyway.)
Anyway, I hope you all - and especially Jae - enjoy. xx
turn this chaos into light
Tony comes home late tonight, as usual.
Ziva knows she should forgive him for that – he's a special agent, it's not his fault, she's done the same for years herself – but it becomes hard to forgive him, sitting up late at night, waiting, watching the minutes crawl by.
The lock of their apartment door clicks softly, and weary human footsteps echo through the hall. She doesn't bother getting up. She hears him do the usual – dump his bag on the kitchen table with a gentle thud, pick up a glass from the cupboard and fill it with tap water. Then he arrives in the bedroom and stands in the doorway, leaning against the door frame, soft and tired.
The bedroom is dimly lit, the only source of illumination her bedside lamp; the small golden light gives him an impressive silhouette, casts shadows on his features, the lines in his face, the wrinkles in his well-worn suit. He glances to the left, at the white bassinet, almost glowing in the dark, where their daughter is fast asleep.
"So you finally got her to sleep?" he asks.
Ziva exhales slowly; it's almost like she's deflating. "Yes. Half an hour ago."
She's curled up on the bed in sweatpants and a tank top, her hair loosely gathered in a sloppy ponytail. Frankly, she looks terrible – she has bags under her eyes, and she's so pale, like all the life has been sucked out of her. Something inside him melts down to nothing, seeing her like that.
He crosses the room and sits down on the bed next to her feet, puts his hand on her waist and rubs slow circles into her hip with his thumb. He can feel the tension in her himself – but after a few seconds, her features smooth themselves out, her breathing slows. Slowly, slowly, then all at once, she allows herself to relax.
"Come here," he murmurs, taking her hands and gently pulling her up to a sitting position. She doesn't resist. He shifts her to his lap and begins giving her a shoulder rub, trying his best to ease the knots out of her – and there are so many knots. She moans slightly, her head lolling back against his shoulder as he works his way down her back. And when he gets all the way down to her hips, she surrenders completely, seems to melt against him, her scent like vanilla and sweat and milk and baby.
He wraps his arms around her waist and holds her there, and she whispers in his ear, "I've missed you."
"I know. I'm sorry." He sighs into her neck. "It's just...hard to get away sometimes. House-training a new team and all of that."
At the thought of it, he sounds almost as tired as she is. And she feels bad – she knows what an amazing opportunity this is for Tony – he has his own team now, something for which he has been ready a long time – and this was the agreement, when she became pregnant and he was offered the new job: Tony would go straight to work, Ziva would work as an active agent until her third trimester, have the baby, take three months maternity leave, then return to work as an active agent once more.
When it was all theoretical, and the baby was still a tadpole living inside her uterus, this sounded all right – perfect, even. But once Liora was born, the reality of motherhood dawned on Ziva, sharp and cold. The apartment got lonely sometimes, with the long days, and the short snatches of sleep, and the feedings, and the crying, the crying, all the crying, through the day and through the night, the baby's need unquenchable. Liora is a colicky child, endlessly fussy. Ziva has not slept more than three or four hours in one go. Sometimes, it feels like she has forgotten how to do so; even when she sleeps, she keeps waking with a start, certain that Liora is screaming again. Usually, she just wakes up to a silent room.
Liora starts up again now, her cries shattering the first comfortable silence the two have had in days. The baby makes those worried, hiccuping little sobs that Ziva know promise a storm to come. Instinctively, Ziva forces herself to her feet and comes to the bassinet, to Liora's pouting lip and tiny fists and kicking feet.
"Let me take her," says Tony, coming up behind her. "I haven't seen her all day."
"She probably needs a feed." Ziva is already unfastening her bra; wisely, she bought front-hooked bras a few weeks ago, anticipating this. But Tony puts his hand on hers, gently but firmly, and says, "I'm sure all she needs is a walk."
She is too tired to protest. She goes back to sit on the bed, her face in her hands, as Tony picks up Liora, smiling brightly at her as she begins to cry in earnest. "I'm here, daddy's here," he tells her as he holds her against his shoulder, rubs his hand up and down her little back. "I'm here."
He takes a few rounds through the apartment, up and down the hallway just outside the bedroom. She cries for a few minutes, but then they subside, and eventually fade away, as Tony keeps rubbing her back and walking with her. When she is quiet and docile, Tony takes her back to the bedroom, beaming at Ziva, who is simply bewildered.
"She needed a walk," says Tony, shifting Liora to his other shoulder. "There's our good girl." He kisses the top of her head, and she gives one of her baby grunts, her hands flailing.
"She was crying the entire evening," says Ziva. "I…I tried everything."
"Well – she's fine now." Tony sits beside Ziva, holds Liora in the crook of his arm. She's chewing on her fingers with her empty gums, looking interestedly around the room. He kisses her cheek, and smiles at Ziva, but Ziva isn't smiling back. She looks stricken, like he has just slapped her across the face.
"But…but I tried everything. And she wouldn't stop crying."
It is as though a flip has been switched. Her expression – pale, worn, but composed – suddenly crumples like a piece of paper crushed in a fist. Her eyes go shiny, welling up with tears.
All her life, it has never been okay to cry; as a rule, she does not, will not. But after the whole day, this whole excruciating month, she finally breaks. She buries her face in her hands and begins to cry.
At once, Tony is on his feet. He lays Liora safely on the bed and looks at his sobbing wife, confused and distressed and helpless. All these years he has known her, and he has never seen her cry. He doesn't even know how to handle it. Such an occurrence is unprecedented.
But she's crying for real now – the kind of crying with salt and snot and swollen eyes and wracked bestial sobs. The kind that rolls in like a bad storm, all thunderous shaking and inconsolable lightning heat. He tries to hug her, tries to reach her, but her arms are tight, her face firmly in her hands, and he realizes that as much as he loves her, he cannot reach her here.
A lifetime of poise and strict self-control has dissolved inside of her. After everything she has done, everything she has been through, the ten-pound child pounding her feet on the mattress has unraveled her. She sinks to the ground and curls her knees to her chest and cries.
He cannot reach her here, but he does his best. Heart hammering, breaking for her, he slides to the floor beside her and simply puts his arm around her, bringing her into him. He doesn't shush her, or give her a back rub, or coax her face out of her hands. He simply allows his arms to be a safe place for her to cry.
She subsides eventually, slowly. By some miracle, Liora is not crying; she is helpfully calm, lying placidly on the bed, cooing and gurgling, seemingly unaware of her mother's distress. At long last, Ziva emerges from behind her hands, her face red and wet, her eyes puffy, wisps of her hair sticking to her face. She gives him one look, then bursts into tears again – but this time, he takes off his suit jacket and hugs her tight and lets her sob into his shirt. She gathers the material up in her fists and buries herself in the cool white cotton.
"I'm sorry for ruining your shirt," she mumbles through her tears.
He kisses the top of her head and lingers there, in that soft vanilla scent of hers. "Don't worry about my shirt," he mutters into her hair.
But she stops crying now, and wipes the large spot of wetness on his chest. "No, no, I'll go put it in the washing machine."
She nods, tucks some of those flyaway strands of her hair behind her ears.
"Please talk to me, Ziva," he tells her, stroking her cheek the way he strokes Liora's sometimes – sweetly, tenderly, with only the one finger, as though he is afraid to push too hard and hurt her. He raises her chin with his index finger, light as air, and tucks a few more strands of hair behind her ears.
"It's...much harder than I expected," she admits.
"Look, I'm entitled to paternity leave, I checked. I'll take some time off."
"But your team–"
He is genuinely puzzled. "What about my team?"
"They need their leader. It has only been a few months since you began working with them."
Her words – spoken with such remarkable calm despite her frail, shivering state – are so absurd that he suddenly has the violent, inappropriate urge to laugh.
"Ziva, my brave, brave ninja, my beautiful wife – my team can function without me for a few weeks."
"I cannot ask you to do that."
"You won't have to, I'll do it anyway." He sighs, runs a hand through his hair. "I know that this has been hard. I'll take the time off. She's my daughter too."
"I'm so tired," she admits. She's hit rock bottom now anyway, reduced to a pathetic lump curled up against her husband, needy and seeking comfort; she might as well tell him what she really thinks.
He nods sadly. "I know. I know."
A pause. Then-
"Tony, I don't know how much more of this I can take."
The arm around her shoulder stiffens, instinctively pulls her in tighter, like somehow it'll protect her. "Ziva-"
"I'm serious." She wipes her eyes, because they are dangerously close to tears again. "I...I cannot do this. I want to be at work. Shoot things. Do something I know how to do."
"I'm not good at this," she continues, recklessly honest and desperate. "I'm not. She cries and I don't know what to do with her. And she just keeps crying." Her breath catches in her throat. "Sometimes I want to run away, but I can't, because she needs me. It is such a horrible thing to think about my own daughter."
He feels her shaking against him, like a leaf trembling against the wind, this close to being ripped away from its branch. And something ignites inside him then, something hard and fierce and tight and painful, something more powerful than life or logic. It swells in his chest, expands against his ribcage, like the climax of a tragic symphony filling up the music hall. Because she's hurting, and she's scared, and she needs him, but he is helpless. Speechless.
So he does the only thing he can do - brings her into his lap and hugs her, hugs her so tightly, as though if they sit here like this on the floor long enough, he can absorb her pain and her fear like a sponge, take it away so that she doesn't have to feel it anymore. But life doesn't work like that, and they know it, they know it. So he keeps hugging her and a few more tears spill out of her overflowing eyes. The reflex to stop her tears, like the reflex to stop her honesty, appears to have somehow switched off.
He knows that there are no words, not in his reach and not in this language, but he kisses her feverish neck and he tells her, "Ziva, I am here for you. I'm not going anywhere. I won't go to work tomorrow, okay? I'll call in sick, then take my paternity leave, and I'm going to stay with you. Do you hear me? I'm going to stay with you."
Her tears start up again; an animal howl wriggles its way free and explodes out of her mouth like a rocket into his sleeve. All he can do is hold her tighter, bury his face deeper into her neck, and repeat, "I'm here. I'm going to stay with you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." So many times, her name and the fact that he is sorry. Sorry for not seeing it sooner. Sorry for not being enough to take away her hurt.
"I am a horrible mother," she whispers - to him, to the room, to the baby on the bed, who doesn't understand what is happening, whose world is limited to the tips of her fingers and toes and the things she can see a few feet away from her face.
"It's cabin fever," he says into her hair. "You're bored, here by yourself. And you're sleep-deprived. Those are the things talking here, not you."
"I can't do this."
"You can. You can."
"What are we doing? What have we done?" She is dangerously close to hysteria.
He finds her hand and squeezes it. "Ziva, it's okay. It's okay."
For several minutes, she is overcome, delirious with exhaustion and anxiety. The tears take a long time to subside - but he is patient as the earth, holding her against his chest, kissing her hair and her ear and her neck and her cheek and her fingers and anything else he can reach. And after a while, she feels herself calming down a little, enough so that the tears stop and her breathing returns to normal and at least some of her composure returns to her. Her eyes are puffy and she has a wicked headache, but she relaxes, limp and tired in his arms.
He gives her another kiss on the cheek, then says, "Ziva, I love you." Like somehow it'll save her.
She cannot even muster the energy to smile or respond. She just nods, and he says it again, again, again, his breath hot on her ear, the rhythm of the words like a lullaby. He says it like an incantation, a talisman in the dark; he says it until he is sure she can hold onto it like a life raft when the panic next flares.
"Here's what we're going to do, okay? I'm going to call in sick tomorrow, and talk to the director about paternity leave. I'll take as long as they'll give me. I'll stay here with you and take over at night, so you can sleep." He squeezes her hand once more. "You still have a little over two months of maternity leave left, right?"
"Yes," she manages to mumble.
"With paternity leave and sick days, I can stay for as long as I can for those two months."
She pauses for a few moments, digesting this. Then she turns her head so that her red, swollen brown eyes face his wide hazel ones straight on, boring into him like construction drills. "Tony, I cannot be home for two more months. I cannot. I will lose my mind. I need to work, need to do things again."
"We can do that. It's a good idea. Maybe we'll both take two weeks off, hire someone to take care of her during the day, then go back to work?"
She hates herself for the shot of hope, and pleasure, this suggestion gives her. "Does that make me a horrible mother?" She says the words so quietly, so ashamedly, he almost misses them.
But as the sentence hangs in the air, and she awaits his judgment at this, the biggest fear she harbors, he gives her another one of his suffocating hugs, and says, "No. No, not at all."
She squeezes her eyes shut, a few more tears leaking down her tear-strained cheeks. "What kind of mother wants to get away from her own child?"
"The kind that knows she has to take care of herself too." He rests his chin on her shoulder, his hands still loosely holding hers. "You're going to go crazy if you stay stuck alone here."
"I haven't already done that?"
He smiles weakly. "You need purpose. You need to be busy. That doesn't make you a bad mother."
She exhales, slow and heavy. "I was never cut out for motherhood," she muses. "I took some...precautions, you know, in the Mossad days. I never anticipated a child. Especially a girl."
Her doctor, too, had been surprised, when she went in for her first visit. He admitted as much, that Liora's existence was something of a miracle. The doctor had warned a difficult pregnancy - full of backaches, morning sickness, high blood pressure, pain - and indeed, many of these symptoms did come to pass. For the first few months, Ziva feared a miscarriage; her body seemed quite averse to this new life taking residence inside her uterus as she ached and vomited away the first trimester. But, however uncomfortable she was, she never miscarried.
When she first felt the baby stirring inside of her, kicking its feet against her belly, announcing its presence, its undeniable existence, terror gripped her like an iron fist squeezing her spine. Her stomach swelled, day by day, and her body waged war against the baby's presence in the form of pain, heart problems, some pre-term contractions, but Liora was like her mother right from the start - a fighter. Sometimes, privately, when the night got late and Ziva couldn't sleep, she found herself terrified that maybe she could not love this child. That maybe she would be presented with the little bundle and she would get out of the bed and run as far as her feet would carry her, away from the tiny person who would need her more than anyone had ever needed her.
But labor was an astonishingly short, smooth process - only a couple of hours - and Ziva was handed a pink bundle containing her baby, a wriggling, screeching thing, purple and red and grubby and unbelievably delicate. Sweating and exhausted beyond all reason, Ziva accepted the child, held her gingerly in her arms, startled by this person that had her DNA in every cell of her body, who had moved so successfully from the theoretical into the utterly real.
And in those initial surreal moments, giving the baby her first feed right there in the hospital bed, Tony right beside her, as speechless as she - Ziva's fears proved to be unfounded. From Liora's first moments of life, Ziva felt the fierce, profound love flow instantly through her veins like an electric current. As the rest of the day unfolded, shaky and uncertain, that love was the only real thing she clung to. That, and Tony, so steady beside her through his own awe and fatigue and fear. Tony and Liora, the two that had stolen her heart and refused to give it back.
The two had looked through many baby name books during the pregnancy, but had decided to choose the name for sure once they had seen the baby. And that first night, lying on the hospital bed together with the baby sleeping between them, Ziva was the one to suggest Liora - "light" in Hebrew. Because from that first night, Tony and Ziva both knew though this baby would inevitably bring storms and turbulence, she was also their hope - the light of their lives.
The memories flash before her mind's eye, sharp as photographs - and as though from faraway, she hears Tony say, "Well, I think you've done well so far, Ziva. Honestly. Liora is healthy, and loved. You're doing all the right things."
Ziva gives a hollow chuckle. "I don't know anything."
"Me either," Tony reminds her.
"Isn't that a problem?" Her tone is light, but her eyes are serious.
He considers this. "No. I think we're doing all right."
She smiles for real at that one. It's a small, new-flower-bud kind of a smile, but it's hopeful, and lovely, and there. She's so tired. His words, though difficult to believe outright, ring with some kind of truth. "Maybe we are." She catches his gaze and sees that his eyes are as shiny and soft as hers are.
From the bed, Liora only now begins to fuss. Ziva wipes away the last of her tear residue and rises to her feet, using Tony's shoulder for support. Once she stands, so does he, and Ziva picks up Liora, holds the baby up and kisses her stomach. The baby gurgles, seemingly placated. Ziva takes a quick walk around the room, to calm her all the way down, then brings her back to the bed, lays her down on the mattress.
Tony settles in beside her, lying on his side and holding himself up by his elbow. Ziva does the same on the other side, so that Liora squirms between both of her parents. She is remarkably content, cooing and grasping at the air above her face and gnawing at her fingers. She's already a little over a month old, an infant rather than a newborn – she looks more like a baby now, and less like the alien that Tony and Ziva brought home from the hospital.
She has Ziva's complexion but Tony's eyes, a lovely hazel, more green than brown – and she has a shock of toffee-colored hair, curly like Ziva's. Tony has decided to reserve judgment until she is older, but Ziva has the idea that she looks most like Tony – she can see him in the arch of Liora's eyebrows, her delicate chin, the shape of her nose. At this moment, it's like the entire day of colic and diapers has evaporated: Liora is the most beautiful creature that has ever been born.
Tony leans in and plants kisses all over the baby's stomach, her soft flesh giving against his mouth beneath her little yellow onesie, the one Abby bought for her. And just then, Liora's tiny face breaks into a wide, lovely smile – her very first. It is toothless and wet and so unbelievable; Ziva gasps, whacks Tony on the shoulder to get his attention, and Tony can only stare, his mouth open and slack with astonishment.
"Aren't you a good girl!" In celebration, Tony blows into Liora's stomach and makes her screech. And Ziva can only beam at the two of them, her insides warm and light, as though a candle has been lit and is sending golden light all through her body.
They both lay in silence like this for several minutes, watching the baby squirm and breathe and kick on the mattress, drinking in the sight of her, marveling at the miracle of her existence. Ziva strokes her cheek with her index finger, then lets Liora's little fist wrap around the finger, admiring her small, perfect fingers, the nubs of her fingernails, trimmed only yesterday.
After a while, Liora stops squirming and begins to drift off to sleep. For Ziva, who is living on very little sleep today, the sight is desperately welcome. Gently, gently, Tony takes his baby girl and sets her back down inside her bassinet. She wriggles a little, but stays asleep, her eyelashes long and lovely in the golden lamplight of the room.
"If she wakes up in the night, I'll get her," Tony whispers. "You sleep."
Ziva gets up from the bed and gets up on her toes so that she is equal in height to Tony, able to look him right in the eye, then throw her arms around his shoulders and put her face into his neck. "Thank you."
"No need to thank me." He wraps his arms around the small of her back, lost in her hair. "Hey, you think the shower being on would wake her?"
"I don't know."
"Because I need a shower. Desperately."
She smiles into his shoulder, takes an experimental sniff. "Yes, you do."
"Want to join me?" She can't see his face, but she can hear the mischief in his voice.
In spite of herself, she chuckles, and finds herself saying, "Actually, I would."
He releases her from the hug and ambles off to the bathroom to start the water. In the silence of the apartment, the sound of the rushing water behind the walls is deafening. But mercifully, Liora doesn't stir in her bassinet.
It's been such a long time, since Ziva has felt anything resembling a sex drive. The pregnancy, then the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, was simply too much for her. But for the first time in months, she feels something hot and fizzy and exciting ignite in her stomach. Instead of feeling primarily like a mother – her body a giant vomit-rag and milk-making machine – she feels like a woman again. Tony, and his homey smell, and his beautiful smile, the one that lights up the whole room – besides her baby, she has never loved anyone or anything so much in her entire life. It almost hurts, loving him so much, wanting to gobble him up all of a sudden – feel the weight of his body and the heat of his kisses, taste his want as he put his tongue in her mouth.
And he feels it too, seeing some of that life and energy come back to her pale face. He feels her desire radiating off of her like heat, and it seeps into his pores, and heats him up from the inside out. She is his wife, the mother of his child; she is his whole world.
They are both so tired – a lot has changed in the past year – but tonight they feel a little bit alive again, for a change. Tony kisses Ziva - a deep, exquisite kiss that warms her to her marrow, and lifts her up by her waist and spins her around, like they are stupid teenagers. He feels her smile in her kiss, and smiles right back, until they break their kiss and just stand on the bathroom floor, foreheads touching, their intermingled breath warm in the tiny space between their mouths.
Steam is rising from the shower; the water is already hot. She unbuttons his shirt; he pulls down her sweatpants, lets them pool around her ankles until she kicks them off. She raises her arms and he takes the tank top off of her; then she gets started on his belt, and he kicks off his own pants. He unfastens her front-hook bra and she pulls down his boxers and they step into the shower, instantly assaulted by the hot water – which is suddenly the most exotic thing they have ever encountered. It takes a lot not to scream; they don't want to risk waking up the baby.
They shiver at first, as they get used to the water temperature. Then he kisses her again, his tongue an old friend reacquainting with hers. Her breasts have been bigger lately, swollen with milk, and tonight is the first time she is grateful for it. Carefully, because she has been tender since the pregnancy, he cups her breasts in his palms, and feeling him feel her up is ecstasy. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed this – the touching, the mad desire, the selfish joy in fulfilling her physical desires, in feeling, well, beautiful.
Though the fire sends sparks through her gut, smoke through her veins, it never goes farther than this - the touching, the tasting, the exploring. It doesn't need to, not tonight. Tonight, they kiss, and rub the soap all over their bodies like crayon, and try not to laugh too loudly when they drop it, or when the water gets in Ziva's eyes, or when Tony slips on the water and tumbles to the floor of the tub, bringing Ziva and the shower curtain with him. And it's like all of a sudden, something shifts, falls into place, letting Ziva be herself again.
She is light, and open, and freer than she's been since she got pregnant. For these few minutes out of time, her exhaustion and her endless list of worries are not bothering her - she's just a woman, making a beard for her husband out of the soap lather, laughing and laughing and loving him. When the water washes his beard away, and the giddiness cools down a little, Ziva buries her face in Tony's neck and stands there for a few minutes, hugging him under the relentless stream of water falling on her head.
She loves him. She needs him. She wants to do what he said - use his paternity leave to stay home together for two weeks, then go back to work with him, back to real life. And as he hugs her back, cocooning her in this safe place against his body, she knows he understands all of these things.
When the hot water starts to run out, and cool water terrorizes their overheated skin, they step outside the shower. Shivering violently, they wrap themselves in their towels, their fingers and toes puny from the water. Tony takes one look at Ziva, her wet stringy hair and her chattering teeth, and bravely ventures out to find them fresh pajamas from the dresser. By some miracle, Liora is still asleep.
Feeling better than she has in months and months, Ziva gets dressed right beside Tony, then the two of them crawl into bed, grateful for the warm covers and the body heat of the other. Ziva curls up beside Tony, her hair wet and freezing against his thin t-shirt, and is asleep almost instantly. She is so full of color now, nothing at all like the flat, pale person he found in bed when he came home from work. He kisses her cheek and she doesn't even move. Even though her hair is frigid, he puts his arm around her and lets her cuddle into his shoulder.
He braces himself, for the extremely fragmented sleep he will get tonight. He's sleepy just thinking about it, but he is determined to give Ziva a sorely needed full night of sleep. He is determined to take care of both of them, the women he loves most.
He kisses Ziva's wet hair and closes his eyes.
A/N: So I hope this worked out, then. Let me know either way. And of course, once again, happy birthday, Jae. xx