Written in honor of Ziva's (and Cote's) birthday, which is today, November 12.
Just so you know- I haven't watched a full episode of NCIS since PPF, so this isn't going to mesh with current canon, I'm sure. But I don't care. This is my happy Tiva land, and I am the queen.
Anyway. Here you go.
At 23:56, Ziva finishes another chapter of The Kite Runner and, with a yawn and a glance at the clock, decides to call it a night. She sets the book aside and walks across her tiny apartment to the even tinier bathroom. There, she washes her face (it does not take as long as it used to- she barely wears any makeup now), winds her hair into a low braid, brushes her teeth. Before she leaves, she looks into the mirror and forces a smile and asks herself, as she does every night, whether she looks happy yet.
Give it time.
At 23:58, she strips out of her blouse and skirt. She shuffles through her dresser for a minute, cold in nothing but her undergarments, until she locates the sweatpants and tank top she wears to bed. Quickly, she pulls them on.
At midnight, she crawls under her covers.
She lies on her back.
Stares at the ceiling.
It is quiet, so quiet, and she is lonely. So lonely.
"Yom hu'ledet sameach," she whispers to herself.
The buzzing of her cell phone on the nightstand breaks the silence in the room and startles her. She rolls over to grab it, puzzled- but as soon as she sees the caller ID, she feels stupid. Who else would it be?
"Happy birthday," says Tony.
Ziva settles back into the bed, tugging her comforter up to her chest. A smile forms on her lips. "Thank you."
"I wasn't sure whether you'd be up."
"I am. Aren't you still at work, though? I sincerely hope Gibbs doesn't come through and hear you making personal phone calls."
"Actually, no. Case open and shut, got to leave early." He clears his throat. "I'm at our bar."
She tries to ignore the twinge in her chest as she remembers the little joint they began referring to as their bar just a couple years ago, when the two of them were starting to spend more and more time together outside of work. Many drinks, stories, and laughs were shared in the back corner booth of Brantley's. It is one of the places she misses most in Washington.
Admittedly, that probably has less to do with the bar itself and more to do with the fact that Tony always accompanied her there. And Tony… she misses him most of all.
"How is it?" she asks him, trying to keep her tone light. "Are they managing to get by without my business?"
"I heard they're not selling too many mojitos these days," he jokes. Then he adds, "Actually, Todd- you know, the bartender? He was wondering about you just a while ago."
Ziva bites her bottom lip. How often does Tony have to answer questions about her? She hates that she has put him in that position. Especially because she knows he was hurt by her decision to stay in Israel. Reliving it cannot be easy for him. "What did you say?" she asks carefully.
"Said you're taking care of some stuff back home. That's my default answer."
There is a short pause. "For what?"
A lump forms in her throat. "For supporting me." Her voice breaks. Just a bit, but she knows that he notices. "For going home and… and speaking on my behalf. For having my back, just like always. I appreciate it, Tony. I appreciate everything you have done."
"Well," he says, "that's what partners are for."
She opens her mouth to say that they are not partners anymore, but stops short when she realizes that they are. Tony is her partner, and she is his, and that is one of the few things she knows for certain in her upside-down world. "I could not ask for a better one."
"Neither could I," he says softly. Nobody else speaks for several seconds. Ziva closes her eyes, listens to the sound of him breathing in her ear, and pretends that he is here with her.
Then he coughs. The spell is broken.
"So are you doing anything today?" he asks.
It takes a moment for her to remember why he called in the first place. She is thirty-one now.
Thirty-one, and what does she have to show for it?
"Lunch with Aunt Nettie," she says. "Shmeil might stop by, too. I have not seen either of them since I returned; I am looking forward to it."
And this is the truth. But it is also true that the two people she just mentioned are the only loved ones she has left in her native country. Their presence in Tel Aviv does not make up for the fact that she is thirty-one, sleeps alone, and has given her heart to a man on the other side of the world.
"Glad to hear it," Tony says. "Tell Shmeil I said shalom. And, uh… tell your Aunt Nettie that I'm still really sorry about that whole misunderstanding with the mahjong partner."
At that, Ziva chuckles. "You know, I think she is over it. She found it funny. And she also finds you to be a very interesting topic of conversation."
"Oh, yes. She always wants to know how my husband is doing."
"She actually thinks I'm your husband?"
"She knows you are not. But she still refers to you that way."
"This woman has been going around calling me your husband for, what, like, six years now, and you never told me? I have a reputation to protect, you know. That's the kind of rumor that could damage a guy."
Ziva laughs out loud and quickly claps a hand over her mouth. Across the continents and waters that separate them, Tony laughs, too. "I apologize for any inconvenience that may have caused you," she says. "I will discuss the matter with Aunt Nettie when I see her."
"As you well should."
They are quiet once more. The purpose of the phone call has presumably been achieved, but Ziva does not want to hang up just yet, and she suspects that Tony doesn't either. She picks at a loose thread on her pillowcase, wishes he were here, wishes she were there.
"Tony?" she asks finally, so quietly that she is not sure he heard.
But he did. "Yeah?"
"Do you mind, um… talking to me until I fall asleep?"
"Sure," he says so tenderly her eyes well up. "Sure, ninja."
She puts the phone on speaker and sets it down on the bed beside her, then rolls onto her side and curls into her blanket. Tony talks about anything, everything- how much everybody likes McGee's new girlfriend; the meltdown Abby had last week because the Caf-Pow machine was out of order; how he saw Kayla and Jared Vance and they seemed to be doing okay. He tells her that he and McGee don't let anybody sit at her desk; he thanks her for giving him her Star of David necklace, because it gets him through those days when he misses her the most.
Ziva is drifting somewhere between dreamland and consciousness when he calls her name. She hums in response.
"You about asleep?" he asks.
"Ken," she mumbles.
"I'm gonna hang up now, sweet cheeks, alright? I'll talk to you soon."
She reaches her hand out, searching blindly for the phone. When she finds it, she brings it up to her mouth. "G'night, Tony."
"Night. Have a good birthday tomorrow."
"Ani ohevet ot'cha."
His response is completely lost on her, but she is still awake enough to have one final thought before she succumbs to sleep.
On her birthday next year, she decides, she will be in his arms.