New chapter! So soon, I know; I have much more time on my hands.

But here you go, and hope you enjoy; it might be a bit heartbreaking, just a warning.

But this is not the end. There will be more, though this story will be over soon.


Gibbs briskly paces into their hospital room, and the pain is hidden under his brown jacket, under layers of callouses and promises that he would protect this woman, this daughter of his that no one else would care for. Ziva.

It's obvious Tony loves her, that she loves him back; and their looks scream that they're in love.

It's amazing how much they've matured.

Years ago, he would've whacked them both on the head and sent them home. If they dared to do anything like it again, he'd fire one of them.

Now, as he observes them-hands clenched together, sitting up in (separate) hospital beds, smiling and laughing (most likely at something his Senior Field Agent has said) though she will be gone the next morning and Gibbs knows Tony will fall down-he's happy.

"Never thought they'd end up so good together. Thought it'd last a month or two, then once the lust was gone they'd separate and you'd have to break up one of the best teams of the Navy." Vance strides up from behind him, hands folded behind his back. The signature toothpick is gone (has been, for a while now, he knows) and with its absence comes a twitching frown. "Thought that's why you had that rule. But now…"

Gibbs sighs wearily. "You having second thoughts, Leon?"

"Not a doubt, Gibbs. It's just...such a shame." He nods, evidently deep in his thoughts on Eli David and his forsaken daughter.

"Maybe you should think of that the next time you take someone out of my team."

"And yet you agreed." He turns to face Gibbs, daring him to say something, to say that Vance is wrong.

But he knows.

Ziva hasn't been herself.

Not since the hailing of bullets and the guilt and the stubbornness and the lack of forgiveness. It's written so clearly on her face, no matter how much she tries to hide it; just like Tony when her body was thrown into an ocean, drowned, lost at sea.

Now that it's over, that Ilan is dead, now what? (He remembers that night, that night where Tony held a gun playing the piano; he remembers it strongly, though he wishes he didn't. He knows if Ziva had really died, if Saleem had been killed and Tony got his revenge, he wouldn't live for long afterwards. They're the same, his two agents. He notices because they've become more like his children than ever.)

Another exasperated sigh escapes from his lips, and he walks heavily into the hospital room (Vance following him, he's sure), his heart full and yet hollow.


"You'll drink this, then Gibbs will extract you from the mortuary. From there, he'll brief you on your cover story and check ups, which Gibbs and DiNozzo will conduct. It will look like the bullet wounds were too much for you," Vance explains, mixing a liquid from a syringe into a cup of water. He looks from left to right, from Gibbs to DiNozzo. "The only people with this knowledge is us. No one else. Even the rest of the team."

He puts the cup down and places the syringe into his coat. Chocolate eyes meet with Ziva's, and he says, in an informal, vulnerable voice that isn't his own, "I am sorry."

Tony observes this in a fashion one watches a movie. It's the only way he'll stay sane as Ziva holds the cup in her hand, rolls it around, observing the liquid; finally looking up in reply. "I am sorry as well, Director."

He reads her so well, so when she looks so composed as Director Vance nods to the room, swallowing, his Adam's apple bobbing like a fish out of water, he doesn't believe her straight face, her accepting mouth in a straight line. Her eyes scream that she's afraid and her eyebrows tell him that no, she is not at all fine.

His hand acts of its own volition, and finds her fingers, clenching them.

"Ziva," a tender voice says; and it takes Tony a second to recognize it as Gibbs.

He steps forward, and his hand caresses her cheek, strokes her temple, kisses her forehead, like when she first woke up, like so many times Tony will never know.

He holds tighter as she silently cries into her father's chest (her true father) and whispers, "Thank you, Gibbs. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done….for me."

Tony wants to look away. The moment is too private; so he focuses at their fingers threaded silently together, held tightly into white knuckles as he hears his boss say, "I will see you later, Ziva."

She laughs with relief. "Of course. You're extracting me, after all."

Gibbs walks outside, and the room echoes of his footsteps.

A silence.

This is the last time…they will ever talk. For who knows how long.

Suddenly, he can't breathe; like he's been taken into some higher air pressure, and everything is exerting their force into him; and he can't breathe.

"Tony."

It's her voice, after all, that breaks him out of his reverie and yet breaks him even more entirely; for it was her first who stole him out of his imagination of Kate, naked in the bullpen, it's her voice that jerks him awake with, "Jean-Paul...my little furry bear." Her voice coaxes him into reality while stoking him into another world of memories and fantasies and what could have been and what it is now.

He has no idea how to live without it. He's tried. He couldn't.

He prayed, that when he found it again, he would never have to learn to live without it.

And yet. The moment arrives.

"Tony."

Again, reality; hitting him hard on the ground and slapping him into his last chance.

Or maybe it's her palm, and not the concrete, that touches him, grounds him; or maybe it's her voice, not the echoing of gunshots, that he hears; or maybe it's her lips, not the blood, he tastes.

He finds that he's hungry for it, for her touch, her voice, her lips; and he turns to her, eyes full of concern, tears, fear, but the last part is how he knows this is the right thing to do: he sees the conviction that they will meet again.

But he doesn't want a single day in between the moments when they do meet and when they don't.

"Ziva," he says, and he can finally breathe again; but it chokes off into a sob. They collide, and it's a smashing of lips, sweat, and tears; because this may be the last time they ever kiss, they ever talk, they ever glance at each other, and he forgets everything but this moment, yet remembers everything in a cycle of memories. Eli, the elevator, Mike Franks, Paris, Somalia, Israel and Rivkin, Jenny, Jeanne, Paula, the summer without Gibbs, Kate. It's then he knows, as if he didn't know already, that he's in love with Ziva David.

Death is their solace; separation is their curse.

If they had died that day before departing to Israel, they would have died together.

But now, it is different. Now, one must live without the other whether alive or dead. At least, until Parsa is eliminated.

He closes his eyes. He has to be strong, for the both of them. It's what he knows how to do.

Tony pulls away and smiles. If only he could dance again with her once more, staring at each other, arms around her waist. "Hey. I will see you again, you understand? Look, I'll even drink with you. And I'll be the one mailing you all sorts of weird stuff, postcards in code, Bond stuff like that."

He manages to make her laugh, even in the darkest of times, the tears mixing into her smile. "Yes, I imagine you will be very excited for that."

"And we promised."

"Yes, we did." Her expression turns somber.

"Hey," he says, trying his very best to keep positive: something they both have to learn. He cups her cheek, and in their final moments, hazel meets with brown. "I love you, Ziva David."

"And I love you, Tony DiNozzo."

She picks the cup up again, raising it to her lips; then stops to look at him, raising his own cup of water (just water, of course) to his.

Ziva raises the cup in cheers. "Todah."

He smiles sadly, melancholy weighing it down. It's never been this hard to smile before. "Prego."

And they drink.


"You okay?"

He sighs, then looks at Ziva. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

She smiles, but even then, whatever this concoction is is working rapidly.

"I just got shot at point-blank range, DiNozzo, what do you think?"

"Needs more water. Then it would've tasted like Gibbs's Bourbon."

He chuckles nervously. Her eyelids drift further into a deadly state.

"You won't be taking any Pilates class tomorrow."

"Huh. We should consult the bartender."

"You did good."

There's no response, and he fears she's already gone. He closes his eyes, and he feels as if her hand will lose circulation, but he doesn't care and holds on.

"For once, Kate, DiNozzo's right."

"Tony…"

"Yes?"

"Laila tov."

Kate laughs.

Her smile.

So peaceful.

"I thought I'd die before I ever heard-"

His throat is closing up, but he has to say it before she misses it, before she can never hear anything from him again until the time comes.

"Buonanotte."

Her hand turns limp in his.

B

A

N

G

.

The heart monitor flatlines.


He doesn't remember how he got home.

Maybe Gibbs drove him. Maybe McGee.

He doesn't seem to care how, though.

His backpack drops to the ground with a thud, and like routine, he puts his gun in his box, and looks through his movies.

The Godfather should be a good choice for today. He opens the case, walking over to the phone to order-

His reflection catches on the disk-

His face is bloody.

Oh, God; has he concocted the plague again, oh God-

He rushes to the bathroom, rinsing it off, getting ready to vomit blood in the toilet, but it doesn't come. And there isn't even a hint of washed-off blood on his face.

He looks in the mirror to examine whatever the hell he did, or whatever the heck he saw, and whatever is keeping him and his sanity from watching The Godfather:

His face is clean. Red, even; from the looks of it, from scrubbing it off too much…

His face is red, like blood…

Red…

Kate.

Kate.

He blinks, thinking.

Kate.

Something happened today, didn't it?

Kate.

Her blood-on his face-no, no-

Somehow vomit, leftovers from some kind of takeout-was it Chinese?-is all over his hands, his suit (oh, God, the suit), and something red is in it, dripping, dripping like

Kate's

blood all over his face…

No.

It's just his imagination.

But it's not, isn't it?

Her blood splattered all over him, just like his vomit; except his vomit doesn't taste bitter like the taste of death, like copper, like blood…

This time, he knows it's coming, so he rushes to the toilet, retching all he can into it; until he has to flush it out to repeat the process, twice.

Kate

was smiling, then she wasn't…

Kate

was standing, then she wasn't…

All over his face…

He takes the scrub from his shower, pours soap onto it, turns the shower on, and dives headfirst into the water, welcoming, cold, and jarring.

His senses, his nerves seem to numb (weren't they numb before?) at the impact, jutting down into his face like bullets, down into his forehead like

Kate,

dripping off his face like her blood. He rips off his clothes, because he's in the damn shower with his clothes on, for God's sake, because

Kate

is dead, and he can't take it anymore without her banter and her irritation and intolerance at his belligerence, a word he actually learned from

Kate.

Her name is so painful, but he can't stop thinking it, he can't stop saying it, he can't stop seeing

Kate

fall down, he can't stop seeing her blood, can't stop tasting it and feeling it…

The vomit comes, and this time he smells it before he tastes it and feels it.

Finally, in a pile of his vomit, clothes, and water; he's retched it all out, his throat is dry and hoarse; and he thinks he's been crying, but he's not sure. Maybe it's just the shower water. Or maybe it's the rain. He thinks it was raining when he climbed up to his apartment. Did he climb up to his apartment? Did he take the elevator?

His mind is lost, and it's a temporary solace from the truth as of now, and he is alright with it. For now.

So he backtracks, because this always worked, the memories always helped. Somewhat.

While he cleans, he thinks he remembers walking up the stairs to his apartment, grabbing onto the railing in a trance, shouldering his backpack in his nightly routine.

Before that, he climbed out of Gibbs's car. He remembers the car ride is silent, and he almost laughs at that-with Gibbs, it's always silent. Well, most of the time.

What happened before that?

Before that…

The vomit is gone, the bathroom scrubbed clean; but not before he shook all the remaining particles off his clothes (now in the washer-somehow, he made it there naked).

He blinks at the mirror, where he stood who knows how long ago; and he knows it will be a long night. Pulling a fresh set of clothes on, he walks back to the dropped case on the way to the phone.

Thank God. Al Pacino and Marlon Brando rest safely inside the case, intact, though the case is open. He imagines the impact was jarring for the DVD, too.

He picks it up, closes it, and places it back in its original spot. He decides he's not in the mood for James Caan. Nor is he in the mood for pizza.

He glances around the apartment, wondering if anything else needs cleaning or scrubbing; but now, he can't stop feeling it again. He just can't stop; just stop, Anthony, stop, he thinks to himself.

The bathroom is where he'll sleep tonight. Who knows what might happen if he doesn't. He doesn't want his bed sheets to contact with some liquid of leftover pizza or takeout (especially not Chinese-that kung pao chicken still smells in here); and he doesn't want to go back and forth if he ever needs to scrub leftover blood again.

He thinks he's falling asleep when he realizes-he didn't clean his ear out. It feels wet. Sticky.

Kate's blood. In his ear.

He scrubs, again and again, until his whole face is raw and red and he thinks he'll go bald if he cleans his scalp again.

Kate.

Kate

was his first partner he lost. The first partner that died.

Oh, God; don't take away Gibbs, or that kid from me...Abby, Ducky…

Tony.

That's Kate's voice. It can't...it can't be…

Tony. Calm down.

"You're not real. You're dead."

He isn't surprised by how lost, how hoarse, how pained his voice sounds. He's been through this before. But

Kate

is surprised by the weight of his voice.

Kate

is always surprised of him, no matter how she says she's not surprised. It's

Kate,

after all.

Tony, I'm sorry.

"Rule number-"

I know.

"Just 'cause you're dead, Katie, doesn't mean you can break the rules."

Is there a rule against visiting the living?

"I don't know, why don't you ask Gibbs? He's bound to write that one down, at least."

Hmm. Funny.

"You aren't laughing."

No. I'm not.

"You aren't smiling, either." His voice catches on that.

He'll never see or hear

Kate

smile or laugh again.

Tony, Tony. Her voice is so clear, when it's supposed to be dead. He's not sure whether he's scared or grateful a ghost is visiting him, whether to be frightened at the sight when he finally looks or happy she's here.

She's wearing black. There's a nine-millimeter hole in the middle of her forehead, and he wants to throw up all over again; but then she's right there, right beside him, kneeling down and putting her arms around him as he cries.

"You're dead, Kate."

He hasn't sobbed like this in a while.

"It'd be fine...if you hadn't...all that blood…"

I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Tony.

Kate

sobs into his shoulder, too. They're both crying, both keeping each other alive: one by the memories, the other by becoming the memory.

"This reminds me of the end of Butch and Sundance. Feels like we're both dying."

Shut up, Tony.

He pulls away, rubbing his face a final time as the tears fall away. He feels like her blood is all over him, like it's dripping onto him again, but when he looks, all that's moving on her face is the salty water.

"I really liked you, Kate."

Don't make me say it, DiNozzo.

He almost laughs at that.

"I don't think I'll ever…"

Don't make stupid promises, DiNozzo.

"I don't know if I can love someone ever again." That whisper will haunt him the rest of his life, he knows. He knows, before he ever said it, he knew. Yet he still utters it, and it happens

just

like

that,

a promise is a curse, unfulfilling and scarring.

I know you don't mean it, Tony.

"I think I do."

You'll see. There'll be someone who makes you forget everything in a moment and remember everything at the same moment. That's when you know you love someone. When you know you're in love with someone.

"That ever happen to you, Kate?" He's calm now. But he wants to know where his partner received this wisdom from.

I really liked you, too, Tony. Her hands are on his shoulders, and he realizes he's never been this close to her, and

Kate

comforts him from beyond death like she's never have before.

You're going to be okay.

"Promise?" He sounds like a child, and for a minute, he thinks he sees his mother behind her, smiling.

I promise, Tony.

He nods, and his mother's gone.

Kate

smiles and so does he.


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