Chapter 35 –

Ziva's pulse started beating louder and louder, and the hand by her side, unoccupied, clenched. Her fingers curled individually inward and tugged in apprehension at what little fabric of the near skin tight dress she could actually pull away from her body.

The walk around the corner and through the little alleyway seemed longer than it normally did. But it had been a long time – or, at least, it felt like it was a long time – since she had visited this building, or even this part of town.

The back room of a shabby little building that, honestly, Ziva did not know what it exhibited, was home to Scorpion for his work hours (and probably many of his other, unrelated hours, too. His income, while often made in small bills, was not in large sums. A fifty here or there was a blessing that he had often made sure not to take advantage of). It was tucked away and out of plain sight, and the path to it was certainly a path less travelled if she had ever seen one. The pavement beneath her feet was dark and dirty, there were stains on the concrete that she could not even guess the origin of, and occasionally she came across balled up and dried gum. They were in the exact same places that she remembered them to be, which said all there was to be said about maintenance.

Not very travelled though it may have been, she knew this path well. After all, she would walk down it to see him almost every night to see him either before or after she had done her work.

She remembered the first time she'd walked down it. It had not been unlike tonight. Mild in temperature, cloudy, and at dusk as the last hints of sun lingered over the horizon.

But tonight would be different.

Ziva reached for the rusted doorknob at the end of the alleyway, which had an old and faded sign nailed to it (which had also rusted). She rattled the knob but it did not budge.

"Locked," she muttered, knowing that Tony would hear her through the camera and microphone disguised as a broach that Baltimore PD had on loan from the Major Crime Response Team over at NCIS, the agency whom they were apparently rather chummy with.

"Dammit," Tony murmured in reply. "What do we –" He stopped asking his partner that question when he saw, through the camera, Ziva's hand, armed with a hairpin, fiddling a little too expertly with the lock. Ten seconds or so later, it swung open. He smiled, and was sure at that moment she wore a smug expression on her face. "I'm not sure if I want to know when or where you learned to do that."

Ziva placed her open palm on the door and pushed it further open. She was met with a familiar hallway, the decor of which was not really much better than outside. The first door on the left was the entryway to her destination. With careful footsteps, she placed her ear to the door. She was sure that she heard the clicking of keys but she could not be so sure over the rather loud metal music that was blaring from speakers that sounded like they were too small to handle the sound.

Three knocks later, the music stopped. "Yeah?" he called out, rather unceremoniously.

She took a breath and tried to remember how she used to be before everything changed. Before McGee's bachelor party and before Tony. The most important thing, she had decided, had been to please him. If he was happy, the cheques, though small, continued to float her way. That was the point of it all, really.

"Hello, Scorpion," she said softly, batting her lashes and stepping through the door.

The man almost fell out of his chair as he leapt up in surprise. The laptop in the centre of his desk and the document he had been creating were pushed from the forefront of his mind almost immediately at the sight of her.

"What are you doing here? Look, before you bring your boy in here to bust me, you've got nothing on me. I'm clean."

His voice was shaking, and so were his hands. Ziva smiled at the thought of a vulnerable, nervous Scorpion at her disposal, but she remembered that she was going to have to be the putty in his hands, and not the other way around. Her expression transformed to something unbelievably innocent.

"Oh, him? He's gone. He's been gone for a long time," she lied. "I'm alone."

"Then what do you want? I don't owe you any cheques if that's why you came here."

"No – that's not why I am here."

Scorpion was being hostile – which was understandable, to a point. She tilted her head upward and tried to remain solid regardless of what he said.

"Then what?" the scruffy-looking man hissed.

"I want back," she answered. "Back into all of this." She was sure she sounded certain, and to make a point she walked over to him and placed her fist on the desk, on the only spare bit of space she could find.

His eyes widened in shock, and he leaned towards her. He realised that he had acquired the upper hand in this conversation – he had the leverage. He was in control, and that was just how he liked it.

She was almost surprised at how he took her bait so easily. Then again, she had been one of his best dancers, and more dancers meant more money, and he would do whatever he could for that.

"Well, well, well," he started, crossing his arms. Ziva fought the urge to scoff at his sudden smugness, and furthermore, to slap him across the face. Hard. "You know it's not gonna be easy, right?"

"I know," she admitted, playing along. "I'll do whatever it takes. Those cops . . . they bored me out of my mind. It was all I could do not to crawl right back here and beg for your forgiveness."

Tony, on the other end of the line, coughed to suppress what he was sure was a gag.

"After all, nobody knows me like you do." She circled the desk to his side and pushed back his laptop so she could lean on the edge.

"You'll have to make it up to me," he baited. "Custody's not a fun place to be for somebody like me, so . . ." he trailed his hand up Ziva's mostly uncovered thigh, "accustomed to female affections."

His touch made Ziva want to feel sick but her face remained that of a playful young girl. "Just imagine if they had chosen a different verdict."

"You wouldn't have liked that, would you, sweetlips?" His voice was low now, and he took a step closer to her, so that his face was nearly touching hers, and his foul breath blew right onto Ziva's face.

"No," she whispered back, only whispering because her voice would not have been steady. She swallowed hard and tried to gather herself. "How did you get out of all of it?"

"It's a good story – maybe one day I'll tell it to you."

"How about today?" she pushed, tugging at the lapels of his dirty jacket. "I like a man who was rebellious."

In the van, McGee audibly spluttered at that, and Tony was caught totally by surprise. He'd been far too invested in what little he could see through the tiny camera, and the noises and dialogue he was hearing.

"What's so funny, McGee?" he snarled.

"Rebellious? Tony, she's dating you."

"So?"

"You're a cop – isn't that kind of the opposite of rebellious?"

At least the kid had been able to remind him that this was actually an act. She was remarkably good at it, too.

"Rebellious, huh?" Scorpion asked.

"Oh, yes," she insisted.

What followed was a surprisingly detailed description of some of his more illicit doings in his life, accompanied by over the top gasps from Ziva. At one point or another, his calloused fingers had slipped underneath her dress and his lips were pressed to her neck. Her heeled shoe had been lifted to rest on the edge of the desk, and while breathing hard as a motivator for him, she kicked the top drawer open, spotting what she had suspected to be in there: one awfully clichéd pair of pink, fluffy handcuffs. Excellent.

She made one final check with a real, smug smile across her face. "Did you get all that?" she whispered, talking to Tony through the mic.

"Oh yeah," Tony replied smugly. "You bet. Good job, baby."

At the sound of her voice, and having not heard what she said, Scorpion lifted his head. "Scorpion, you're under arrest."

She held up the handcuffs and pushed him away with a fierce shove. He landed in his chair and, before he could respond, she cuffed his wrists.

"Kinky, huh?" he said with an indulgent smile.

Ziva pulled the ear piece out of her ear and placed it in his. "Nope," she told him, looking sufficiently pleased with herself.

"This is Detective Anthony DiNozzo from the Baltimore Police Department. We have you on tape confessing your crimes to Miss David. You're under arrest."

Scorpion panicked, and leaped from his chair, violently struggling to get past Ziva. He swung for her face and she blocked it, but his second swing to the gut knocked her over and he darted past. She got to her feet almost instantly, but not without giving him a head start.

He came into the alleyway with Ziva right behind him, and night had enveloped the city. A flickering lamp and the light behind him was enough to clear his vision for the next five feet or so, and at the end of the alleyway, he spotted two men in suits with SIGs held high and right for his head (Tim's did not belong to him, of course, but he was trained and had been permitted one for self-defence on this mission).

"Do you really wanna run, Stephen?" Tony asked smugly, knowing that the man despised the use of his birth name. Oh, this was revenge of the sweetest kind.

Scorpion let out a cry, and fell to his knees, where Tony, swooping in, snapped the plastic cuffs with his fingers and replaced them with real ones. Then, he pulled out his cell phone and delivered short phrases into the speaker. "Price! Come get him. The alleyway. Yeah. See you soon."

Literally thirty seconds later, a Baltimore PD issue car pulled up on the side of the road, and two detectives got out and apprehended Scorpion. One of them was Danny, and the other was one of the other detectives who had been on Scorpion's original case.

Politely, though, Scorpion ignored the popular film habit of swearing revenge on all those present at his arrest. He simply got in the car and let the detectives drive him away. He was finally and truly done.

"Tony," Ziva sighed with relief, once they had gone. He raced over from the other side of the alley and hugged her tight. "It's over, right?"

One of his hands came up and rested between her shoulder blades. "Yeah. Of course. I promise I'll never make you do that again."

"It's okay," she replied, her voice muffled by his clothing. "I'm okay." And she buried her face in his shoulder.

McGee, who was still holding his gun, shifted awkwardly on the other side of the alley. "Uh . . . I'll just . . . bring the van around."

Tony laughed. Poor kid. This was too much drama for an IT gremlin.

"You did good," he assured her. "You'd make a pretty good cop."

"I think that tonight was enough law enforcement action for a lifetime," she replied, pulling away from him slightly, with a smile.

...

The silver-haired man, Agent Gibbs, was waiting with Danny, Tali and Major Raimey when they got back to the office.

"Duty calls," Tony said apologetically to Ziva when they walked in, hand in hand, and saw him. Tony parted from her and approached the federal agent. "Is there a lead I need to know about?" He was referring, of course, to their conjoined case, which had stretched on for some weeks.

"Nope. Case is closed. Your last lead took my team through to the end and we got our guy," Gibbs explained with a nod. He was sipping a coffee.

"So I was right about the –" he began excitedly, stopping when Gibbs shoved a manila file against his chest.

"You can read all about it."

Tony frowned, turning the rather thick case file over in his hands. "You came all this way to tell me I was right?"

Gibbs smirked. He was intuitive. The older man lifted his hand and gestured towards the doors with one finger. He wanted to speak in private.

...

"What's going on, Gibbs?" Tony asked, wondering what was so important (or drastic) that he drove all the way out here when he probably had more important things to do.

"The whole detective thing. How long have you been at it?" Gibbs asked, getting straight to the point, whatever that was.

"About five years, why?"

"Time for a change?"

"What?"

"I want you to come work for me. In D.C. There's a vacancy on my team and I want you to fill it."

Tony's eyes widened in utter surprise. "You want me to be a fed? At NCIS?"

Gibbs shrugged, as if the offer itself was not surprising in the least.

He was still struggling to form coherent sentences. "But I . . . why me? I'm just a plain ol' homicide detective."

"You're smart. You're observant. You're good at talking to people. You're good. Too good to be 'just a plain ol' homicide detective' if you ask me."

"Do I even have the credentials to work at NCIS?"

"Spoken to Director Morrow, he's read your file and he's approved you. The position's yours. If you want it, that is."

He was totally speechless. A big time job as a federal agent in the big city? It sounded exciting and he could only imagine the adventures he'd have, the new contacts he'd gain. Not to mention the pay raise.

His bubble, which had been growing increasingly lovely, was quickly burst by Gibbs. Or reality. He was not sure which.

"That girl in there – she yours?"

Tony's shoulders fell in dismay. "In a matter of speaking, yeah."

"You should talk to her."

"What do you want me to say, exactly?"

He shrugged again, and Tony couldn't help but be annoyed. Gibbs simply turned and began to walk away. "I'm here till tomorrow," he called over his shoulder.

"Special Agent DiNozzo," he tested out.

...

He bought her takeout on the way to her apartment. A hungry Ziva was usually not an agreeable Ziva.

He did not see her at first – he saw Tali, though, asleep on the sofa. He smiled at her affectionately.

"Ziva?" he called softly, not wanting to wake her up. Eventually, the woman in question surfaced from her bedroom.

"You bought food? Excellent, I am starving." She walked over to him in her deep purple robe. Her hair was wet and wrapped up in a towel, all her makeup was gone and she was removing the last bit of evidence from that night – one of her big hoop earrings. The clock on the microwave caught her eye as she went to heat it up. It was nearly midnight.

"What are you doing here so late? Aren't you tired? Not that I mind – you can stay if you like."

"Thanks, Ziva, but I kinda needed to talk to you about something."

"I am all ears." She folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the kitchen counter, watching the food spin in the microwave.

"You saw Agent Gibbs at the office earlier?" he asked, and she nodded.

"Oh yes, what was it he wanted to speak with you about?" she seemed curious, but not scared, which didn't seem right, or maybe that was just him.

"He . . . well, he offered me a job."

She turned to face him properly. "A job? Doing what?"

"NCIS Special Agent as part of their Major Crime Response Team. In Washington D.C."

"D.C.? That would be a . . . long commute."

"Well, I was thinking of moving."

"You're taking it?" She seemed genuinely surprised.

"How could I not? This is the chance of a lifetime, Ziva. You know how often feds offer detectives places on their major teams? Not very. He said I was good. I could make something of yourself."

"You already have," she said, almost pleadingly. She walked over to him and gripped his hands in her own.

"Ziva, please. I have to do this," he insisted.

There were tears in her eyes now. "So this is goodbye?"

He frowned, genuinely puzzled. "What? No! Of course not! You and Tali can come with me!"

"What?"

"Come with me," he repeated, softer, and closer to her lips. "We'll get a place."

"Tony, be serious."

"I've never been more serious."

"But Tali's school –"

"She doesn't like it there anyway."

"My job!" she tried.

"We'll find you another one."

"But we can't afford it."

"Did I mention the huge pay rise?"

Ziva swallowed, looking up at him, at those emerald eyes that had melted her heart so many times. "Are we really doing this?"

"I think we are." He rested his forehead against his. "I love you, okay?"

A grin spread across her face and her hands cupped his cheeks gently. "I love you too, Special Agent."

It was a fresh start for all of them. And if life could offer anything of value to them now, it was just that. A new life with old loves and new ones alike. A world where she would never have to worry about her. A world where they would all be safe. A world where they would share a whole house instead of a drawer and occasionally a sofa or a bed.

And it was a world where she would never have to dance again (except as a treat for him, of course).

A/N: So, wow! We've reached the end of the last chapter. There will be an epilogue, but seriously, thank you so much, all of you for taking the time to read this story. It's become something I never could have imagined and become such an amazing part of my day. I have to say, I'm really going to miss stripper!Ziva and the relationship between her, Tony and Tali. I sometimes wonder if I will ever venture back into the Hips-verse, if only for a one-shot or two, and I would say that it's a distinct possibilities. Thank you all for your alerts, favourites and feedback. It's been one hell of a ride. See you next time!