Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS.
Spoilers: Major 10x11 "Shabbat Shalom," the tiniest hint of spoiler to the unaired episode 10x15 "Hereafter" (though I don't think it resembles the long version of the press release enough to be a spoiler, anyway), and hints of episodes throughout the series, up to 10x13 "Hit and Run." Don't worry. If you haven't watched any of the episodes apart from"Shabbat Shalom," you wouldn't be able to tell they were spoilers :P
So this is a little unedited in comparison to my other fics, because I'm supposed to be in bed right now :P but this was inspired by the press release to "Hereafter." I hope you enjoy. Please review!
Of That Left Behind
They all knew Valentine's Day had never mattered much in the Vance family.
They all knew nineteenth day of the February month had always mattered more, because that had been the date of Leon and Jackie Vance's winter wedding. It had been more than a decade before Leon became Director of NCIS, so the details of the wedding were of course not known to them, but it didn't escape them that apart from a week-long break Vance took each summer to go on vacation with his family, February 19 was the only day he took off work every year to spend with his wife.
This year, Leon Vance hadn't taken the day off. This year, Jackie Vance was dead, and there was a loss to mourn but no anniversary to celebrate. This year, the director—apparently unable to sit still in his office—had walked around the headquarters for the entire day with a pinched face and barely a nod at anyone who greeted him. It wasn't until early in the evening, after he had barked out an order at the Major Case Response Team to close the case they were investigating already, that he'd finally ascended the stairs which led to the highest floor of the building.
In that moment, Ziva David's eyes had met Tony DiNozzo's across the bullpen, and the partners had come to a silent understanding of two things: One, that Leon Vance's grief affected them both, and two, that the stricken expression Ziva did not doubt was on her face meant she wasn't as "fine" as she claimed to be.
"It was my father and myself who put Vance and his family in danger," she told Tony at the end of the workday. He'd slammed on the elevator brakes as soon as the silver doors had closed to permit the elevator to take them to the parking garage, and was now turning around to face her. "Our mistake."
Her partner shrugged, muttering an untelling, "Yeah," and she bristled.
"Do not talk to me like that. I have considered quitting this job, but I love it too-… too much to—"
"Wait, why are you considering quitting this job?" Tony, whose demeanour had changed from indifferent to concerned at her mention of leaving NCIS, stared hard at her now.
"Because I killed Jackie Vance, Tony!"
"Killed Ja —it's not like you put the bullets in her, Ziva!"
"No, but I might as well have! It was my oversight, to have been so involved in the argument with my father, so keen on reporting him to Gibbs, that I missed a shooter driving byright before my eyes."
"It's understandable, Ziv—"
"The last time I spoke about my father before his death, it was to tell someone—Gibbs, no less—that he had killed another person. The last time I spoke to my father before his death, it was to tell him that I couldn't forgive him because his sins were too great." She stopped, breathing hard as she glared at Tony. "And that is my sin. I condemned a man for his actions, and now that the man is dead, I can no longer tell him that I loved him despite all the condemnation."
Her partner lifted and dropped his hands, asking, "So, is this about Jackie Vance or your father?"
And just like that, all the fight went out of her. Uncertainty replaced anger, and she rubbed the bridge of her nose to keep the tears that burnt the back of her eyelids from falling down her cheeks.
"I do not know," she replied eventually, her voice not quite as steady as she would've preferred it. "Perhaps both. I want to quit for reasons purely unrelated to Eli David, Tony, but I would be lying if I said that I did not miss my father more than I miss Director Vance's wife. Does that make me selfish?"
"'Course not," Tony answered softly. "You're a mourning daughter."
She swallowed to clear the lump in her throat which threatened to choke her. "Jackie Vance was a very good woman."
"There had never been any question about it, unlike there had been with my abba."
"Well, y'know, your dad … he was a good guy at times, too."
She nodded and took a deep breath, attempting to pull her scattered emotions back together before she reached for the brake. Flip went the switch, and she tensed her jaw, putting on her poker face as she waited out the elevator ride to its intended destination.
"Thank you for your kind words, Tony, but they are not necessary," she announced perfunctorily as soon as the elevator had dinged its arrival. "I know you had no great love for my father."
And then her boots were clicking away in the direction of her car before he had even replied.
Her doorbell was spot-on in the predictability of its timing.
An hour after she left the Navy Yard—enough time for him to head home, order takeout, shower, pick up takeout, and drive to her place—it rang loudly throughout her apartment, and she wondered as she got up to answer the door what it meant that she'd been expecting him to turn up at that moment even though going to the other's place to offer comfort was something they'd never done before.
He greeted her with, "Wish you wouldn't push me out each time you felt your masks going down, David," and it brought a weak smile to her face.
"Wish you wouldn't try to worm your way in each time you felt me pushing you out, DiNozzo," she countered dryly, and she could tell by his chuckle that he knew her words lacked sting. She sighed and leant against the door, pushing it open wider. "Come in."
"I got Chinese," he added as he entered her apartment, holding up their food and toeing off his shoes.
"I can see that." She shut the door and turned around to find him looking at her rather intensely. "What?"
"Just for the record, I tolerated your father for his great daughter."
She didn't know whether his statement made her feel more guilty or pleasantly embarrassed. "I know," she admitted awkwardly.
"Now, how are you doing?"
"I am fine."
"C'mon, Ziva. How are you, really?"
She pressed her lips together and lowered her eyes, unable to stand his gaze. "Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night to see my father's bullet-hole-ridden body floating before my eyes."
"Oh," he answered quietly.
"But most of the time, I am fine," she amended quickly. "Really, Tony. I am getting through life just as I always have."
And it was the truth.
He heaved a breath and reached towards her, his thumb brushing her cheekbone as a lock of hair was tucked behind her ear. "You should take a break from work. Use the time to rest up, maybe."
"You know better than anyone that I would find activity more healing than inactivity," she pointed out.
"I know." His gaze was heavy on her. "But you're walkin' around thinking you killed Jackie Vance now, and I don't really know what to do about that."
"I don't … think I killed her with my own hands," Ziva answered, her voice breaking. "But whenever Vance shoots me this … very venomous look, I can't help but to feel like I am responsible for all of this."
"Zi, he's looking at everyone venomously. I don't think he realizes it, y'know? He's in mourning. He's just trying to come to terms with what happened. And anniversaries … y'know, they're especially hard."
She sniffled back her tears. "Their wedding anniversary. Why … why did this have to take place so close to their wedding anniversary, Tony?"
His shoulders made the same small movement as they previously had in the elevator. "It just did," he said to her.
"That does not comfort me."
"I know." He sighed. "But some truths, Ziva, are just meant to be accepted."
"Okay," she whispered. Jerking her head towards the bag in his hand, she cleared her throat and said, "The food is getting cold; perhaps we should eat before it becomes too disgusting to be eaten."
"This affected you, too," she spoke up eventually. They were seated on the couch, side by side and watching a car chase on television; their food cartons lay before them on the coffee table, dinner long finished.
"What?" he asked, even though she knew he'd understood what she'd meant.
"This affected you, too," she repeated, and met his gaze. "I saw it in your eyes earlier this evening. Do you want to tell me why?"
His brows furrowed. "Not really."
Something flashed across his face just then, and he looked away quickly. "Just thinking about wedding anniversaries," he admitted softly.
She blinked at his unexpected train of thought. "Perhaps … you should busy yourself with thinking about weddings, first?" she suggested helpfully.
His Adam's apple bobbed up and down once. "Do you think they're still worth the shot, after this?"
"Yes," she answered firmly, sensing that this was important to him despite her not knowing why. And she didn't lie—she did believe in marriage and happily-ever-afters, at the end of the day, because that was just how she was made to be. Ever-hopeful.
She knew she'd convinced him when he looked at her. "Why d'you say so?" he asked.
"Because not every marriage ends so tragically," she answered, considering. "And … because maybe this is wishful thinking for someone like me, but I would like to know what it'd be like—to be married for fifty years; to have your partner, your soul mate, beside you for that period of time … maybe even longer."
"Huh," he said.
His ambiguous remark made a bark of laughter spill from her lips; she turned away her head and let a curtain of hair fall over her shoulder, hoping that she wasn't blushing furiously and that, if she were, he wouldn't be able to see it. "Of course, that is nowhere near happening right now, but a girl can hope," she deemed it prudent to conclude.
It caught her off-guard when his hand landed on her far shoulder, but she didn't complain. And then his arm wrapped around hers and drew her closer to his body, and she felt him drop a gentle kiss to the top of her head.
"Yeah," was all he said, and it was entirely strange that her dream didn't seem all as ridiculous as it had been five seconds ago.
"Don't quit," he said abruptly at the end of their movie, and he turned a lovely shade of pink when she looked up at him. He elaborated, "I mean, I dunno what I'd do if you quit. You're my kickass, gorgeous ninja partner; it'd be hard to find a probie to break in who'd be as good as you."
"That is really why you don't want me to quit?" she asked sceptically. She had completely no idea where he was coming from, but she did know that she mattered to him more than that.
"Um … I mean, no." His answer sounded almost desperate and puzzled her deeply. Stretching up, she touched his jaw lightly; it clenched.
She withdrew her fingers. "What is really going through your head?" she asked.
He breathed out. "Just … we're partners, you and me. Well, you're the brains and the muscle in this partnership, and I'm not even sure what I really—"
"It'd suck big time if you weren't there with me."
She paused, startled. "Oh."
"Yeah." He didn't comment on her 'Oh,' but he did rub his face with a single hand before looking at her earnestly. "Don't quit, Ziva. Seriously. 'Cause I'd like you to be … fifty years by my side, still working with me. Not that we'd be working—"
"You do realize that a work partnership is quite different from a marriage?" she interrupted carefully, and his expression turned crestfallen.
She waited, but he didn't say any more. So, eventually, she piped up, "And which did you want it to be?"
His head turned towards her so fast that his neck gave a sharp crack. "I get to choose?" he squawked incredulously, and she laughed softly.
"I just want to know what you really meant."
He bit on his lower lip, evidently trying to decide whether he wanted to tell her. And then, he did. "Maybe that I can't let you go either way," he said, and it was no surprise to her that her heart skipped a beat or three.
"Okay," she murmured. She didn't know at all how such a confession was supposed to make her feel, but it didn't escape her notice that he'd now slid a tentative hand over hers to entwine their fingers, and that she loved it.
She was uncertain of how long they both sat there, lost in their respective thoughts, but it was half to midnight before she finally checked the time.
"I should go," he mumbled with something that sounded like reluctance, standing up. She nodded and tailed him into the entryway of her apartment; her front door had already been thrown open before she found the courage to speak.
"I won't quit."
She wondered if he found her words as significant as she'd meant them to be.
Judging by his grin, he found them to be even more so.
"You won't?" he asked, a hopeful lilt to his voice.
She shook her head. "I do not know whether Vance will fire me—"
"He won't." Tony's reply surprised her with its certainty until he continued, "If he wanted to fire you, he would've done it already. And you're doing such a good job; you're just as much of an agent as you have always been. He has no reason to fire you at all."
"Are totally irrelevant to him," Tony finished. "Look, Vance is … a bit of a bastard, like Gibbs, but no one would ever accuse him of having a personal vendetta against any of his employees. He's just not cut to be that way."
"I suppose so." She wanted to point out that having played an indirect part in the Jackie's death might mean something different, but that was an unfair accusation upon the director when she didn't know that it would, and she did not wish to worry Tony, anyway.
So, she simply swung out her hand to curl her fingers around her partner's once more, tugging him to her. "I will see you tomorrow at the office, then?"
His beam was blinding in its happiness. "You promise?"
"Upon my life." She tightened her hold on his hand and, hesitantly, stood up on tiptoe, giving in to her urge to press a kiss on his stubbly jaw—to take in the musky scent of his skin. It made the corners of her lips curl upwards as she wished him a good night.
And it wasn't until he had stammered out a red-faced, uncharacteristically shy response that they understood the bridging of that chasm between them.
They were on the same wavelength, finally. The same page.
It felt wonderful.