FFN seems to be having some hiccups today. My apologies.
The partners watch from where they stand several yards away, hesitant.
For two who are familiar with the pain of loss, the sting of death, and the void it leaves behind, they feel ill-prepared with how to face it this time.
But this time is different from any instance before.
They hadn't planned for their daughter to introduced to loss so soon.
Several weeks had passed since they'd said goodbye for the final time to the father who was ten times more the man than each of theirs respectively. The hole that their leader, their boss, their true father had left behind did not feel any less gaping and empty than it had all those weeks ago.
If you had asked, they would have sworn on his rule book that a bullet would stop him long before father time came to collect. But that wasn't what fate had planned.
At least they could feel some relief that he'd passed peacefully.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs had many rules. But one always stood out in stark contrast among the rest at times such as these.
Rule Number Eight: Never take anything for granted.
The park here was one that he and their daughter frequented together often. They weren't aware it had been the very park he'd brought Kelly to until their daughter mentioned it off-handedly one day they'd brought her there themselves.
"You can sit in Kelly's swing, daddy."
He'd looked at his wife then, the same look of surprise and sadness on her face that he was sure he mirrored.
She had skipped ahead of them along the winding path, such as young children do. They watched as she paused at the bridge that went over the stream Gibbs had often spent with her at, catching minnows and tad-pools and picking flowers that he would name with it's properties and significance. He was knowledgeable in more ways than just guns and crime procedure and woodworking.
The two watch as she stops, whether to wait for them, or for another reason of her own, they can't be sure, and she leans along the rail to overlook the steady rivets of water that continues to flow below her feet.
The same drawn, sad expression that's marred her youthful face so frequently as of late makes an appearance again, and the partners slow in their walk toward her.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."
She knows he's berating himself, and not the both of them. She's used to him jumping to take the blame for himself.
As she so often does in these circumstances, she acts to reassure him, not fuel his need to harbor beration and blame.
"She is okay, Tony. She just needs some time. This place holds happy memories for her, we should not let her forget that." They don't often hold hands, but he finds hers now as they continue down the path. He squeezes her hand beneath his briefly, and with it she knows the feeling of pain they both feel is mutual.
They pause when there's less ground between them and their little girl, and Tony looks over at his partner's glassy expression.
She's more familiar with this particular feeling of loss than he is.
Ziva meets her partner's soft, all too knowing expression.
She knows she's better equipped out of them both to handle this situation. He knows just how much it costs her to be that one.
All they've both ever wanted to do was protect their daughter from loss the way they'd suffered from it.
But you would never meet a mother more committed to protecting her daughter from the world than Ziva David.
One more squeeze, and she nods to him.
"Give us a moment."
He nods, and as she starts to break away, he pulls her hand to bring her back to him.
A kiss on the cheek, and she turns with squared shoulders back towards the bridge.
It was hard to imagine a time where Gibbs and the team weren't her whole life, her whole world as they are now.
What did she fill her mind and days with before Tony and their daughter?
She didn't care enough to ponder long.
These days her world was whole, save for recently.
Her daughter had lost her grandfather.
The team has lost their leader.
She had lost a father.
She'd been through this before.
But then again, not really.
Not quite like this.
A lifetime had passed since the word father invoked the memory of one Eli David.
Gibbs had too long taken that place in her heart.
And now, that's where he'd only ever be.
She crouches down besides her daughter, and her head shifts from where it rests atop her arms to face her. Familiar brown eyes gaze to take her in, and she's suddenly hit with awareness of why Tony so often said he only had to look at her to know what she felt.
Was this how hard it was to look herself in the eyes? Did her pain show so starkly in her own as they did in her daughter's?
"Talk to me, my love."
The young girl stares back silently, until Ziva reaches out rub her arm softly.
"It is okay to be sad. I miss him very much too."
She catches the little girl's tear with a finger before it makes it's way down her cheek. She turns her head to look away, hiding her face. Ziva loves seeing the qualities they share become more pronounced as she grows, but she wishes that this determination to act so strong and brave was one they didn't share.
They settle into silence, and several moments pass before she turns to her mother again.
"You sad too?" She asks, her voice small and her eyes are bright, but another tear doesn't escape.
Ziva smiled sadly, and she feels her own pain beginning to pool in her eyes.
Their daughter has always been perceptive, taking after the pair of investigators. And so it's no surprise when her eyes shift from sadness to understanding that's far beyond her years. She reaches out to touch her mother's cheek.
"You can cry too momma, he was your daddy." Her gaze travels past her mother, to where she knows Tony stand watching. She's got that look Tony gets, when he's thinking and trying to word what he wants to say. "We still gots my daddy." She finally settles on an answer.
Ziva gives a tearful chuckle, running her hand through the little's girl soft hair.
"He is a very good daddy, yes?"
She nods, revealing her first smile of the day.
She'd never get tired of that smile.
"Mhm. Like grampa?"
She feels Tony drawing closer, and she smiles wistfully.
"Yes, your grandfather was a very good daddy too."
She gets up from her crouched position beside her daughter, just as Tony appears next to her. He looks between them both, taking his daughter's hand and looking near the end of the bridge.
"Wanna pick some flowers for grandpa, munchkin?" He nods to where they grow wildly along the path.
She pulls him along, nodding.
"Mhm. Momma, you pick." She points to the cluster of different colors and petals.
Ziva follows after, rolling up her sleeves as she crouches down again besides their daughter.
She points at several from the purple cluster.
"Do you like these, tatehleh?"
The little girl's lips curl into a secret smile.
"Grampa likes these flowers. He calls dem Kelly's flowers." Her parents exchange a look above her head as she crouches down to select only the prettiest ones. Small, careful hands pluck them from the earth, and she hands each to her mother to hold.
"We take some for her too?"
Ziva holds them delicately, feeling her partner's grip tighten on her shoulder.
"Ken, tatehleh. That is a very thoughtful idea. Your grandfather would like that very much."
She smiles sweetly again, and the partners share a loaded glance.
As much as she was theirs, Gibbs would forever be a part of her.
Just as he was of them.