Disclaimer: I stopped wanting it when it stopped wanting me.
Spoilers: 11x02 "Past, Present, Future"; general Ziva-related NCIS.
Dedication: To Elsi, whose gifset gave me the idea - classydepablo . tumblr post/87902667115/tony-ziva-au-tony-discovers-he-has-a
Note: This isn't really my comeback; I'm just having a moment where I miss Tiva. Now that it's been so long since the incident, maybe I'll find it in me to write them now and then. Still, it won't be a regular thing. For now, anyway.
This fic has already had a practice run on Tumblr, so hopefully it'll have the same reception here. Enjoy; thank you for reading!
The air felt much the same as he remembered it.
Hot sun beat relentlessly upon his back, making sweat gather at the edges of his shirt; but when he inhaled deeply, the full, pungent smell of ripe citrus soothed his senses. This was a familiar place. He had been here before; walked a few miles down a dusty, isolated road before to stand in front of the lonely old house.
Childish laughter tickled the edges of his consciousness, jolting him out of his reverie. He turned his head reflexively, freezing with his heart in his throat at the sight of a little girl—of barely more than a year and a half, most likely—stretching and reaching to pick an orange she was only just tall enough for from one of the trees.
That was Ziva's child—there was no doubt about it. It was written into the curl of her hair, the curve of her lashes, and the slope of her nose. All at once, Tony felt like a fool. It had been a long time since he had last seen his former partner; how could he have hoped that she would not have married and had children by then? It was, after all, Ziva David. A wise man would have snagged her up the moment he saw her.
The wiser man obviously did.
He swallowed painfully and made to turn away, but not before wondering where the woman in question was. It would not be like her to leave her little girl alone. He scanned the rustle of trees—spotted her at the periphery of one, out of sight of the small child but still close enough for safety, a camera in her hands as she snapped candids of her own daughter. The toddler shrieked with laughter once more as she failed to reach another orange, and Ziva clamped a hand over her own mouth, as if to stop herself from laughing—that was when she looked up and away to see him standing at her gates.
"Tony," she uttered as she stood straight, stunned.
The child turned her way, confused. Ziva stepped out from the shadow of trees and up to her daughter, murmuring a few soft words that had the little girl reassured and once again engaged in orange-picking attempts before Ziva herself walked up to him.
"Tony," she said again, her tone laced with awe and joy.
His throat constricted. "Hey," he said, offering her a smile that probably looked more like a painful grimace.
"What are you doing here?"
He shrugged, suddenly awkward and at a loss for words. All he wanted to say was I missed you and I'm here to see if we can still give it a go, but he could only imagine how well that would go over with her family. "I'm visitin'," he said curtly instead. "Who's the kid?"
Her smile faltered a bit, and it made his heart literally ache. He had only ever caused her pain. "Her name is Aviva," Ziva said, her face not quite able to meet his now. "It means 'spring'."
"Yes," Ziva agreed. "I liked its symbolic nature."
"She looks like you," he offered.
That made her eyes sparkle and her lips curve up in a bit of a smile; Tony felt his heart unclench. "I should hope so," she answered. "I sat through twenty-two hours of labour alone for her."
Tony blinked, shocked by that information. "A-alone?" he stammered. "Where was her father?"
Ziva's eyes darted away. "Not here."
"And you were alone alone? Like, no mid-wives or doctors or nurses?"
The woman before him barked out an inadvertently laugh. "There were two mid-wives," she told him, "this isn't the Stone Age. But … they were not the same; not during my loneliest hours."
"I'm sorry," Tony whispered, and he was. He would have been there. He would have been there to hold her hand and sit behind her as she pushed and tell her she did a good job when the baby finally made its arrival. He would have been there to reassure her when she did not think she could do it because he knew she was the strongest woman he had ever seen. He would have been there because he loved her.
Ziva merely jerked a shoulder. "It is done," she said. "And Aviva is the light of my life. I do not regret what I had to go through."
She returned the polite smile he gave her, and they stood there—each unsure of what to say. It had been two years: They were no longer best friends. They were no longer people who worked and played and lived side-by-side every day. She could no longer be the hope that Tony clung to with every breath every time the emptiness of his life rang out loudly through his apartment.
Resigned, he hoisted his backpack higher onto his shoulder and scuffed a shoe against the grainy sand below his feet. "Well, I'd better go," he said. "I'm sure you don't want me to be interrupting your life like that. I … I wish you the best of luck. I hope you're happy, Ziva."
With a nod, he turned and strode down the driveway.
"Tony." Her voice stopped him.
He considered continuing on his journey, but her barely audible sniffle could not escape his notice. "What?" he asked flatly.
"She … she's yours," Ziva said thickly, and his heart lurched at the thought. He prayed that she did not mean what it sounded like she meant.
"My what?" he asked carefully.
"She's your daughter—Aviva," she clarified, "she's the product of the … the one night we had after we resigned."
"The one we pretended didn't happen," he concluded.
"Just because we pretended it didn't happen doesn't mean she pretended it didn't happen."
He turned slowly back to face Ziva. "I thought we were on protection that night," he said, realizing it was the wrong thing to say only when his former partner looked as if he had struck her.
"Forget it," she muttered, averting rapidly blinking eyes. "I … just thought you'd want to know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"It is not meant to be pressure," she spoke over him. "I know you were wondering about her father. I just thought you would want to know the truth; but you do not have to do anything, Tony. Aviva and I have been living alone for so long—"
"Because you didn't tell me about her, Ziva," he hissed, anger suddenly taking over his deliberately constructed nonchalance. This was his daughter, if Ziva was telling the truth. Aviva was his only daughter, and he had been kept from her for two years because of her mother's foolish mistakes. He ground his heels into the dust and made his way back to Ziva.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he snapped, only the child's nearby presence keeping him from yelling at Ziva. "Why did you hide it from me? Is she really mine, Ziva, or are you messing with me?"
Ziva's eyes filled with tears; just like that, Tony felt his anger fading away. No crying, enough crying; he had made her cry enough over the past ten years. He had made her cry too many times, and her crying once was already her crying one time too many. He sucked in a deep breath and stepped forwards, ignoring the fact that she seemed to want to back away from him, and wrapped his hands gently around her upper arms.
"I'm sorry," he murmured sincerely, and she nodded in tearful understanding.
"She is yours," Ziva mumbled. "I have no doubt about that. I have only been with one man since I returned to the US from burying my father."
They both remembered that fateful incident.
"I guess the protection must have failed," she continued. "I swear that I did not mean for it to happen, Tony. We both agreed that it was too soon, considering the circumstances both between us and around us, and I would not have done something so underhanded as to make the contraception fail on purpose."
"I know that, Ziva," he assured her, "I know that."
Her distress did not abate. "I did not know I was pregnant until a whole month after I left Deena's apartment, and that's what scares me the most. I could have harmed our baby while fighting those men who came after me; I could have lost it, and I wouldn't even have known. I couldn't tell you," she pleaded, "I could not tell you that I had gotten pregnant by you when we had agreed that the timing was not right for us. I could not tell you that I had almost put our child in harm's way. I could not ask you to stay when this isn't your home, and this isn't the life you would want to lead."
"Like hell this isn't the life I want," he answered hotly. "All I would've wanted was you and our baby, Ziva."
"But you could not want a baby you did not know you had," she parried, "and I could not take from you the option of walking away."
"I walked away because you told me to," he said fiercely. "I walked away because you said you needed to do this on your own when all I wanted to hear was 'I want you' and 'please don't leave me alone'. I walked away from you because I cared, so please don't make it sound like you did the noble thing by keeping my child from me."
"I'm sorry," she choked out. "I thought it was necessary."
He sighed, reluctant to accept her apology just yet. "So, where does that leave us?" he questioned.
Her gaze flicked away uncertainly. "I don't know," she admittedly. "I can honestly say I never thought about it. I did not think … you would ever want to see me again, Tony."
"And meanwhile, I spent two years pining for a ghost," he retorted bluntly. She flinched. "Look, I can't say I've had nine months of preparation time, so I've absolutely no idea what to do with this new information of yours—but I can say that I'm not letting this chance go. I want her, Ziva."
Ziva shifted on her feet, bobbing her lowered head. "You're … you're not going to take her away, right?"
"Take her away?" he asked blankly. "How do you mean?"
"Take her … away from me," she finished in a whisper.
"Take her away from you?" he repeated. Incredulity left him gaping at her; and then, suddenly, irritation lanced acutely through him. "You are unbelievable. First you accuse me of wanting nothing to do with her, and now you accuse me of wanting to be the only thing to do with her. The hell, Ziva?"
"You said you want her," she defended herself.
"Yeah, as in 'her and you'. You're a packaged deal, Ziva, you were always a packaged deal. That's what made it so hard to walk away—the fact that I was the American first but you ended up being my American Dream. I pictured myself with the stupid picket fence and two-point-five kids and goddamned dog, and there was not a single moment where the woman who was standing beside me wasn't you."
The curly-haired Israeli-American stared up at him, the multitude of emotions flicking though her eyes too fast for him to comprehend. "Are you sure?" she asked shakily. "I am no American Dream, not when I am not even in America. I am damaged. I have bloodied hands. My innocence goes only as far as my little girl does."
"And look how well she's doing," he said.
Away from them, only far enough for their words to be out of her earshot, Aviva tossed another tiny handful of leaves into the air. They rained down onto her head; the little girl squealed and clapped her chubby hands. Her uncontrollable laughter softened both of them.
"I wanna give her another parent," he said wistfully, "if she doesn't already have another one. I wanna be a part of your lives, Ziva. Please."
Ziva swallowed. "There has been no one but you," she promised.
"So, let me back," he pushed. "Let me stay here. We don't have to go back to America if you don't want to."
She studied him, scanning his face as if she could not quite believe his words. "Are you sure?" she finally asked again.
"Yes," he answered without pause, holding her gaze firmly. She pursed her lips and nodded decisively.
"Okay," she murmured, and then she looked away as her bravery waned. He took in her falling shoulders and pulled her into his embrace.
She stiffened for a moment, but he held on tightly; minutes passed, or maybe hours did, and she relaxed and sank into him. And then, just as abruptly as every emotion they had experienced that day, she burst into hysterical tears.
"I did not want to entertain the idea that there had been someone else for you," she cried into his neck, "but every night, I sat in front of the window after I had put Aviva to sleep and stared at the picture you gave me and wondered if you would still remember me—if you would know I still loved you—if you even understood it at all, the first time I said it. I'm sorry, Tony, I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
He shushed her gently, rocking her a bit. "Hey, hey, it's okay," he assured her, trying to quieten her sobs before Aviva noticed. "It's okay. I'm here. I'm still here, and I still love you, and I don't think we have to worry about me leaving for a long time, okay? Because I'm still here, and I have every intention of staying here until we're both old and grey—myself before you, of course."
Ziva choked out a laugh; his joke seemed to calm her just as suddenly as his embrace had broken her. She took in a deep breath and raised a teary face. Tony lifted a hand from her back to brush away her tears; it made her smile slightly as she turned a cheek into his palm. "I hope you know what you're saying," she said quietly.
He nuzzled his forehead into hers. "I do. S'long as I get to stay with both of you," he answered.
Her smile widened. She lifted her head and brushed away the last of her tears before she called out to their daughter. The little girl came toddling their way; Ziva scooped her up when she was within reach.
The words murmured into Aviva's ear were of Hebrew that went beyond Tony's limited ability, but he did not doubt by Ziva's smile that they were hopeful ones. The girl in her arms gave him a toothy grin, smacking a small palm against his face as if in greeting.
"S'om!" Aviva chirped amidst the backdrop of Ziva's laughter.
Tony grinned. "Shalom, Aviva," he answered, and there was no doubt about it. No matter how things would turn out, their little girl—with his smile—would have him wrapped around her little finger for a long time.