I found this while searching around for an assignment the other night. I have so many things sitting on my hard drive that I will hopefully get together for you one of these days.
It's a different kind of thing than I normally do, but I posted it over on tumblr and thought I'd put it up here for those of you that don't gather over on that side of the interwebs.
They've just reached the sevens in her multiplication flashcards when she throws herself dramatically onto the floor, her honeyed curls flying in all directions.
"Can we please stop?" Her whine is muffled against the pillow she's pressing her face into and through the halo of hair that's settled around her head. She peeks out at her mother from behind the curtain of curls, who is silently chuckling and shaking her head at her antics.
"How about a snack?" She concedes gently, reaching over from where she leans against the couch to expose her daughter's face, combing through her soft curls delicately. "You need to finish the rest before your father gets home if you wish to go to the park before it gets dark."
She heaves an epic sigh that would have put even her father to shame, struggling to untangle her legs to stand up and run off toward the kitchen with a grin, and her mother watches her with patient eyes and a kind smile, shuffling the stack of multiplication flash cards neatly against one another and placing them carefully on the coffee table. She gets to her feet gracefully, her shoulder only aching in the dull way it had been for years; the year before Tony was stationed in San Diego and she'd let go of the badge for good, after taking a round in her right shoulder. Their daughter had been just about two years old then, and it had been close enough of a call to make her finally walk away from the job she'd crossed an ocean and renounced a country for.
But she carries no regret from the day she tendered her resignation.
She'd simply found a job she loved even more.
She runs into the kitchen with her mother on her heels, and even though winter in Southern California isn't anything like winter in the Northeast, Ziva finds herself sticking to the traditions of the season regardless and sets about preparing two mugs for hot chocolate. She smiles as she pulls out the young girl's favored mug, an old NIS mug that she'd come to inherit in the weeks after returning from Somalia, when Gibbs had taken her in as she began the process of picking up the broken pieces of her life and mend it back together. She sets it carefully on the counter as her daughter climbs up onto barstool at the kitchen island, and goes about heating the kettle while rummaging the cabinets as the girl chatters on animatedly about her christmas list and the holidays coming up, and the play her class is putting on and why she wanted to be the angel and not a gingerbread man.
Tony walks in the door while they're topping their mugs with whip cream, their daughter grinning cheekily with whip cream smeared across her nose, and Ziva's eyes snap toward him as he untangles his backpack and greets their daughter's warm welcome.
"You're home!" She scrambles off her chair and goes to tug at his jacket. "We can go to the park now?"
She doesn't notice how the mood suddenly grows heavy between her parents, or how the smile slides quickly from her mother's face.
"You are home early," Ziva's eyes flit to the clock above the stove, then rake over his face and body that radiate tension. "Tony, what -"
The young girl looks up at her mother then, her carefully controlled tone catching her attention. She's never heard her talk like that before, nor seen her face darken in such a way.
"Hey princess," her father interrupts, looking down at her and motioning his head toward the other room. "Why don't you go get cleaned up while I talk to your mom for a minute."
He gives her what is meant to be a reassuring smile, and she frowns, looking between her parents as her hand falls from her father's side. When they each nod encouragingly, she nods in imitation, obeying, before slowly going out to the living room.
She's making her way toward the hall that leads to the bathroom when she finally hears the muffled sob.
His face finally breaks as soon as their daughter exits the room, and Ziva's at his side in an instant.
"Who?" Her tone is demanding, and her eyes flash in a way he hasn't seen in so very long. It's been another lifetime since tragedy or fear had been a part of their life, and for the second time that day, his throat tightens and his eyes start to burn.
"Abs called me earlier." He pauses, and Ziva searches his face impatiently.
"It's Gibbs." She goes still, and he reaches out a hand to tighten around her arm.
"No," Ziva says quickly, shaking her head. "He has not been in the field in years, he cannot -"
"It wasn't," He cuts her off, "He had a heart attack, Ziva. He's not… He's not good.'"
Ziva can't help it; her eyes betray her and she does nothing to stop the tears that track swiftly down her face.
Tony runs a hand over his face, rubbing his eyes tiredly that do nothing to help the way they're already reddening.
"Not long." He grits out, his gaze scanning the kitchen for anything else to focus on. "He wants to see her. See us. Before -"
"Of course," Ziva says quickly while finally wiping the tears from her cheeks with agitated hands. "What were we thinking, moving her out here, away from everyone…"
"We had to think about our own family, Ziva." He reminds her, and she falls effortlessly into his embrace as he tugs her against him.
"They are our family," Ziva's voice comes out muffled into his chest. "The last time they saw us, she was two."
Tony says nothing; he knows how long it has been, and remembers just how much they struggled with the decision to move cross-country, away from everything and everyone they knew. The team had understood, had sent cards, exchanged weekly phone calls, and then monthly calls, that which turned into whenever there was a free opportunity, as lives got busier and families grew and multiplied.
"I booked our tickets before I left the office. Wheels up at zero-five hundred." He knows it doesn't make this better, or make her any less right, but she gives him a forgiving nod against his chest, and the cotton of his shirt grows damp as he blinks away his own tears, burying his face in her curls.
As tired as she had been when her mother woke her gently before the sun was up, and when her father had helped her into and out of their car, then carried her through the airport, she found herself unable to sleep as their plane took off and she settled comfortably into her mother's lap. She gazes up at her mother's face as her hand runs absently through her curls; a habit Ziva had cultivated that calmed both of them, ever since she was an young toddler.
She frowns up at her mother's face; her expression tight and painful since last night. She doesn't remember much about who they dub her Uncle Gibbs, or the family she received birthday and holiday cards from every year or occasionally exchange shy hellos with on the phone. But she's old enough to notice the way her mother's face lights up when they're on the phone together, and the smile she has whenever she recalls stories that involve him.
The palm she places on her cheek causes Ziva to look down concerned, and Tony glances up from the magazine in his lap.
"What is it, tatehleh?"
She touches the skin under her mother's eye, tracing the shadows that appeared there over night.
"He's like your dad."
Ziva's forehead tightens, and she brings her hand to touch her own on her cheek, frowning in confusion.
Off her look, she sits up, and Ziva moves her arm to accompany her more in her lap.
"He's like your dad," she repeats once more, and leans forward to hug Ziva around her neck, pressing her face against her skin. "You love him like I love daddy."
Ziva doesn't say anything, but pulls her closer to hug her tighter, meeting Tony's empty and tired gaze.
"It's freezing." She exclaims, shocked, and it's the first time she's seen her parents truly crack a smile the entire day.
"Welcome to the Northeast, princess." Her dad laughs, kneeling before her to tighten the hood on her new coat, and she huddles in on herself as another gust of icy wind blows outside their gates pick up station.
She turns to bury herself in her mother's legs, and Ziva runs a comforting hand up and down on her back, attempting to warm her up.
"Is Tim…" her mother begins, just as she hears her father's booming voice exclaim, "McGoo!"
She turns her face to see the man she recognizes from an abundance of pictures back at home, and shuffles quickly to hide behind Ziva's legs. The two men embrace in a gruff hug, and although the man's eyes look much like her parents; tired with even deeper shadows, he still manages a real smile at the sight of them.
"It's been too long, guys." He grins, and she stumbles a little as her mother moves suddenly to embrace his outstretched arms. She steps fast to keep up with her, clinging to her long coat that falls below her knees and staying back when her mother stops and he kisses the side of her cheek.
"You look great, Ziva."
She gives him a radiant smile, stepping back and resting her hands on his shoulders.
"And you," she says sincerely, though her eyes narrow as she takes in his face. "You are slimming out. Is Delilah feeding you?"
His head falls to the side affectionately, sharing a smirk with Tony.
"Thinning out," he corrects. "Some things never change."
Her father's eyes fall to her as he chuckles, shaking his head, and she shuffles more behind her mother.
"Munchkin, you gonna say hello to your Uncle Tim?"
She shuffles closer to her mother in reply, tightening her grip on Ziva's coat.
Her uncle gives her an easy smile and wave, amusement filling his eyes.
"Hard to believe any kid of yours would be shy, DiNozzo."
She feels her mother's hand rest on the top of her head.
"She is tired, Tim." She tells him apologetically. "We all are."
He nods, and that tired look falls across his face once more.
"I understand," He leans forward to take Ziva's bag by her side, and nods toward the parking lot. "Lets get you all settled in."
They nod, giving a start to follow their friend, but Ziva's stopped abruptly by a tug on her jacket.
She looks down at her daughter, a question poised on the tip of her tongue.
"Where are we staying?"
Tony turns around to look at them, and she catches his eyes quickly before returning her gaze toward their daughter, and her voice sounds so very far away.