Chapter Seventy-Nine: I'll Try My Best, Boss
Cold. He was cold. He was so cold he wanted to curl the blankets around him and bring them up to cover his face. He wasn't even above shoving his head into the warm crevice underneath the pillow to create extra warmth. That sounded good. He wanted to get to that warmest place, the place where only a cup of cocoa (yes, including marshmallows) could make things warmer. That warm place, where skin brushed skin and he could bury his face in her hair, feel her warm breath against his bare chest. Because, you know, the best way to get warm is skin to skin contact. They do that in the Arctic. He'd tell her that, as well, ignoring the finger she'd jab into his ribs, that subtle warning to stop talking and enjoy the moment, enjoy the warmth, because he liked the warmth. He had missed that warmth, and not just because it was winter, but because he was missing her in the bed. She wasn't there to curl up with. She had gone, gone away to...
His mind was more aware today, and more than anything it was the knowledge that his mind was playing tricks on him. Because his hand felt a lingering warmth as if she'd touched it, the same as his cheeks and his lips. He swore he could even run her fingers in his hair, but that was impossible. She wasn't there. She couldn't be. She was in Gaza. Or Israel. He wasn't sure anymore. All he knew was that she wasn't here. Perhaps it was because he was here. In the hospital. He remembered Dr. Pitt telling him it wasn't good to see him again, so he had to be here for a second time, which meant he had to be in the hospital – that, and this definitely wasn't his bed. If he was in the hospital, it was because he was run down from searching from her.
That had to be it. He was so determined to find her that finding nothing had been a proverbial kick in the nuts, only it had hurt fifteen times more than he thought possible. He'd wanted to find her so badly that in the end, his body just couldn't take it. It wasn't like any other kind of pain, this was the kind of pain that ended up with him wanting to end everything. He wanted to get as far away as he could from that pain, but it was everywhere. The lack of her presence was staring him in the face wherever he went.
The desk across him was always empty, even when a temporary agent filled it from time to time; he still felt it was empty because she wasn't in it. Anyone who wasn't her didn't belong there. The coffee machine had been replaced since she left – when the colder weather kicked in people rushed to it and finally it had given out, and this newer model didn't have a small dent in the bottom corner where a few years ago she'd gotten stressed and kicked it because it had given her de-caff and 'lied to her'. His bottom drawer still got stuck at his desk, which every few months that she had kicked and it wouldn't stick for a while – now it had stuck since she had left and nothing he seemed to do helped it. They were handy, those kicks of hers.
At home, it was worse. Since the undercover mission, her home had become his. They had never spent a night apart from that bed. She moved his toothbrush out of the sink when she cleaned her teeth, and he put her running shoes in the closet when she went for her shower. She braided his daughter's hair after her bath after he'd bundled her into a fluffy towel. Some of her things were still there – most of her clothes, her hair irons, her shampoo, even though Penny had accidentally spilled half the bottle when she decided that she wanted her hair to look like Ziva's for her first day of school. She was everywhere, and that didn't help with his determination to find her. All that was absent was her body, her presence in the bed, her teaching him to cook (though without her, he'd managed to do quite well). And most importantly, her words. He missed her voice, whether she was telling him that she loved him or telling him that his shoes were going to be chewed up if he just left them out of the closet.
He decided he was right. His body hadn't been able to handle it. All these years and everything they had been through, and he physically couldn't be without her. He couldn't live without her, what more proof did he need than his body shutting down? He'd always thought in this situation, now that he had Penny, that you survive anything for your kids. They're supposed to be the biggest motivation and the greatest drive, wasn't that right? He was supposed to be able to lift a car off her, if need be, stop bullets, fight lions and get rid of the monster under the bed. But he was just so...tired. His muscles hurt from the coughing, his mind hurt from thinking, and every part of him just wanted to sleep for as long as he could. But he knew the situation. He knew he had pneumonia. And he knew that he was risking his life every time he went back to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes he feared never opening them again, fearing that the last time he would ever see his daughter was when McGee tried to stop her seeing him pass out while she screamed his name. Perhaps that was the only thing that made him wake up every time, the fact that he refused for that to be the last image his daughter had of him.
But what of her last image of him, if he couldn't recover now? What if her last image was not of him hitting the ground in the lab, but of him weak and helpless in a hospital bed, surrounded by wire and beeping machines? What if the last image of her mother and father were the same? At least, if the worst happened, her final image of Ziva would be of her tucking her into bed, singing her to sleep and whispering loved words in a place where she felt safe and loved. This was a hospital, surrounded by doctors and nurses, strangers. She would be surrounded by strangers, and unable to understand what happened. She knew that Alicia had passed away, gone to heaven, because her body was sick and the doctors had tried for a very long time to make her better but sometimes people just got to sick. She didn't know that with Tony, because he had got sick very quickly and she wasn't allowed to see him in the hospital and she didn't understand that there was someone else to take care of her. Alicia was gone, Ziva was gone...Tony couldn't go to.
Move. He told himself. Tired is not an excuse. Move.
His hand moved, feeling that blissful stretch but also the inevitable exhaustion. But he could move. He knew that he moved yesterday and he could move today as well, and that was more than he could do the day before. Or perhaps it was a week. He'd slept a lot, and he knew a lot of time had passed because he heard people talk to him, but he wasn't sure exactly. He just knew that a while ago when he woke up he hadn't been able to move and that had scared him a lot. Now, he could move, and all that was stopping him move anymore than he did was the fact that he was tired. Not pain. He didn't feel aching anymore, just exhaustion.
He wanted to get out of this hospital and go home. He wanted to take his daughter to school, bring her home and then cook her a nutritious dinner that wasn't pizza, except on Fridays. He wanted to brush her, braid it and listen to her tell him that he wasn't doing it right. He wanted to sit at his desk and throw paper at his Probie to wake him up after he complained his son was keeping him awake at night. He wanted to go and see Abby and have her give him that extra long hug because she knew that he was hurting, and he wanted to give her one back just for being the amazing woman that she was. He wanted Gibbs to smack the back of his head and tell him to get on with his life, that they all missed her but she'd be back as soon as she could and that she would, no matter what, be back. He wanted to listen to Ducky's stories, and perhaps now he'd to more than just pretend to listen for thirty seconds. And yes – as much as it pained him to admit it – he wanted to walk his dog.
He hadn't been Chase's biggest fan when Gibbs first sprung the puppy on him a year ago, but now he was less a small stumbling eating machine and now he did give him an extra sense of security in the night. It wasn't that he needed it, but it was nice that now Penny was too old to come crawling into his bed in the middle of the night, it was nice when the dog did, just to put some weight on the other side of the bed. Chase didn't do it for Tony though; he did it because he missed Ziva. Tony liked the dog and all, but the dog was intelligent underneath his hunger for Italian leather and knew which of the adults in the house loved him more. But he missed that damn dog, he didn't miss coming home to chewed up chaos, but he did like coming in and finding something pleased to see them, and he did like how much the mutt comforted Penny when she was sad –he wasn't sure if Chase was her shadow or if Penny was his.
Who was looking after the dog, if he was here? Abby had Jethro at home, perhaps she'd have taken him. But what about Penny? Penny wouldn't be separated from Chase, and Abby's apartment wasn't big enough for two adults, two children and two dogs. It must have been Gibbs then, because Penny wouldn't stay elsewhere except Ducky's, and Ducky wasn't really agile enough to run around after a child and a dog all night. Penny would have somewhere to stay but it wouldn't home. He had to get home, and give her back her stability. He had to go home. But home needed Ziva. Without Ziva, it wasn't home. He had to get out of bed. He had to get up. Move. Tony. Move.
Someone was there. A man. He knew that voice.
"DiNozzo." Sharper this time.
"Boss," he mumbled.
"Good. That's good."
No, he wasn't doing good. He needed to be doing much better than this. He needed to get out of bed, out of this hospital. He needed to go...
"Not yet, Tony," Gibbs told him. "Not just yet."
He opened his eyes, the feat easier than he thought he would be. Perhaps the trick was in staying awake. Perhaps sleeping all the time was what was keeping him down. He just needed to stay awake each time long enough to think for a while, realise where he was and then move slowly. He looked up at Gibbs, strangely noticing a rare weariness on his face. God, how many people was he worrying?
"Being awake is enough for now," Gibbs told him.
No, it wasn't. It wasn't enough not for him.
"Penny?" he asked.
"She's at my house."
But if Penny was at his house, why was Gibbs here? Why wasn't he looking after her?
"She's not alone, DiNozzo, I ain't that old."
He relaxed a little, though he couldn't sink into the bed much more because he was already as limp as could be.
"She's with Ziva," Gibbs told him.
Tony's eyes snapped back to him and a thousand feelings returned to him. The fingers in his hair, the lips against his, the hand holding his fingers. "It wasn't a dream," he realised with a shaking breath.
"No, she was here. She was here yesterday with you but you didn't wake up, you spoke with her earlier though."
His heard begun to pound, and though he hated it more than anything he felt his head starting to swim as if he were going to lose consciousness again. She was here. In this room. With him. Touching him. Talking to him. That meant she was alive. It meant that she had really come home. He hadn't been dreaming when he swore he heard her voice and felt the warmth of her hand. Ziva had come home. Ziva was alive. She was alive.
"Yeah, she's alive. So are you."
Guess he'd said it out loud.
"I told you before, DiNozzo, you're not allowed to die."
Can't die. Not allowed to die. Penny needs a father. Ziva needs...him. Chase needs shoes to chew. Penny needs him. Ziva needs him. The goddamn dog needs him. And he needs them. His family. His awkwardly discovered, mismatched, patchwork quilt of a family. The daughter he'd not known for so long, the woman that had crept up on him, and the dog that had been thrown upon them.
"I want to go home," he said, his voice growing stronger along with his will. "With them."
"Soon," Gibbs assured him.
"Ziva was here earlier, she talked to me," he repeated.
"Sure did," Gibbs confirmed.
"She told me something."
"I'm sure she told you many things."
You know, Tony thought. Gibbs knew, but he wasn't going to say it. He knew what Ziva told him – how could he not, he had eyes, and somehow knew everything anyway – but he wasn't going to say it because he thought that Tony didn't remember. He didn't want to slip up and freak Tony out by saying it if he couldn't remember Ziva telling him in the first place.
"I'm going to be a father."
Silence. A cold cloth on his forehead.
"You are a father, DiNozzo."
"From the start this time," he mumbled. "I get to be there for everything."
"You do," Gibbs confirmed. "Don't screw it up."
It wasn't a warning. It was a close to a blessing as they'd get for two of his best agents reproducing. Gibbs loved Penny though, and he'd already allowed them so much considering how many of his rules worked against them.
"I won't," he said surely. "I love them. All of them."
"Even the damn dog."
Penny's hair bounced around in curls the following morning. She was standing on a chair in front of the bathroom mirror while Ziva brushed her hair now that it was free of the braids from the night before. She'd asked that Ziva braid her hair like only she had ever done – not the same as Abby's braids which gave her frizzy curls for school. Ziva did special braids that gave her gentle curls, more controlled, but she liked them because it looked like Ziva's hair when it was curly. She looked very hard at Ziva's face in the mirror while she focused on her hair.
"Why don't I have to wear my uniform today?" Penny asked, commenting for the first time on the fact that she was wearing a lilac zip-up sweater with her jeans. She guessed that she would be allowed to wear her sneakers instead of her school shoes.
"Because you are not going to school today, Tateleh," Ziva said softly. "Remember, we talked about this last night?"
Penny nodded her head. "We're going to see Daddy today."
"Yes, we are."
Penny was quiet for a moment, and watched Ziva brushing her hair for a while longer. When she was finished, she put a glittering hair slide onto one side of her hair to control where the curls were stronger.
"When is Daddy coming home?" she asked.
"When he is well enough," Ziva told her.
"Is he well enough today?"
"We shall have to ask his doctor when we see him. Now, come on, time for breakfast."
Penny jumped down off of the chair and ran into the kitchen. She was excited to finish breakfast and clean her teeth because then she could go and see Daddy faster. Ziva followed her, bringing the chair back to the kitchen table while Penny climbed up into another. She immediately reached for a discarded pile of pens and paper while Ziva made her breakfast, finishing yesterdays drawing.
"What are you drawing today?" Ziva asked, as Penny pushed it aside to exchange for the cereal that Ziva offered.
"My brother," Penny told her, showing her the paper. Ziva was still astounded at how her pictures looked like actual people and not just a colourful mess now. "See, he's playing with the cars that Daddy bought for him. I think that he'll like cars. And I think that Daddy will buy him some."
"I think that Daddy will buy him many things," Ziva agreed.
"Especially cars and dinosaurs," Penny nodded firmly.
"Dinosaurs too?" Ziva laughed softly.
Penny gave her a strange look. "Yes. Everyone loves dinosaurs. They're brilliant."
"Of course they are," Ziva agreed.
Penny ate her cereal in record time, and ran off to clean her teeth without being asked to – definitely for the first time ever, even in Ziva's memory – and when Ziva had finished putting the breakfast things away Penny was standing by the door with her coat on and a teddy in her hands. This was a different teddy than Penny usually took with her, and she had long since grown out of wanting to take a stuffed animal anywhere with her.
"Who is this new addition?" Ziva asked, as she sat on the couch to put her own shoes on.
Penny held out the pink fuzzy bear to show her. "Her name is Sadie," Penny said. "Jimmy Palmer gave her to me for Christmas."
Ziva smiled, clearly Penny had also not grown out of her habit of calling Palmer by his full name. "That was very nice of him, she is very pretty. Is she coming to the hospital with us?"
Penny nodded. "Yes, I'm going to let Daddy keep her so that she can remind him of home."
Ziva opened up her arms and beckoned Penny into them. Penny ran over and embraced her. The smell of little girl invaded her, reminding her once again that she was so wrong to have put her fathers needs ahead of the child that loved and needed her. She was wrong to have walked away from Tony and his daughter, and she was wrong from unknowingly taking Tony's son with her when she walked. She always intended to come back, but she knew that there was a chance she wouldn't. Could she really have allowed herself to die on that mission, without never holding this child again, without ever seeing her smile, or hearing her laugh or her sing, or watch her play with her toys and chatter away to herself. Could she really have left this world without having seen that one last time.
"I love you very much, Penny," Ziva whispered. "You are such a brave little girl."
"I'm quite big now," Penny told her.
"And yet, I still love to you," Ziva smiled, placing a kiss to her hair. "We will all be just fine. You, and me, and Daddy, and our new baby. We will all be just fine together, you will see."
"I know," Penny nodded. "I asked Mummy especially."
Ziva pulled away and looked down at Penny, her hands still on her shoulders. "You did?"
Penny nodded. "When I want something to work very much I talk to Mummy and I ask her if she can help us from Heaven. Because good people are in Heaven and Daddy told me that when good people turn into angels then they can do good magic to make happy things turn out okay. And I asked her if we can all be okay because we are all happy together. I know that we will all be okay because I asked Mummy and she didn't say no."
"That was very kind of your mother," Ziva commented with misty eyes.
Penny nodded again. "Mummy is very kind."
"Just like you," she smiled.
Penny grinned back at her, her father's smile. "Can I show Daddy the picture of my brother?" she asked hopefully.
Ziva nodded. "Of course, it's in the kitchen if you want to get it."
Penny ran away faster than ever to get the picture. Instead of taking the one that she drew, she took the one that they had used the fridge magnets to pin up the night before. She ran back to Ziva and watched her carefully put it into her bag as she took her hand and they left for the hospital.
Penny ran into the hospital without a care in the world. She didn't notice the orderly she almost knocked over, or the flowers that went flying when she bumped into the lady in reception, or the coffee that stained the shirt of the nurse she ran into. Ziva followed her as quickly as she could, apologising repeatedly to everyone she reached after Penny had occurred upon them. It didn't take long for them to reach the room where Tony was staying. Dr. Pitt was just leaving his room and managed to stall Penny long enough for Ziva to catch up. She noticed her slower speed from the extra weight in her stomach even more when she was trying to keep up with Penny.
"Good morning, Miss David," he greeted her.
"Good morning, doctor. How is he this morning?"
"Very excited that he's getting a special visitor today," he said, nodding down at Penny, who was now jumping up and down on the spot. "He's sleeping better, spending longer awake. In fact, he woke up ten minutes ago so you may get up to an hour before she falls asleep again."
"Perfectly timed," she noted, having spent a good hour wondering what she would do if they arrived at the hospital and Tony had just fallen asleep.
"Honestly, he's doing much better today. If he continues at this rate, we may be looking at next week for coming home."
Penny perked up at one word in particular. "Daddy's coming home?"
"Perhaps soon," Dr. Pitt told her. "If he keeps getting better, maybe sooner."
Penny grinned. "Can I go in now? I want to see my Daddy."
"Of course you can," he told her. "He's very excited to see you."
Penny disappeared into the room, and Ziva followed , pausing in the doorway. "Really, next week?"
Dr. Pitt nodded. "Since you arrived, he's been improving at a much greater rate. Whether its timing, coincidence, or something more, I don't know, but whatever it is, it's working. I didn't want to get your daughters hopes up so I said next week as a precaution. I spoke with Tony this morning and we've agreed to aim for Monday."
With that, he disappeared to check the patient in the next room and Ziva slipped into Tony's room, closing the door behind her. Penny was struggling to climb up onto the bed so she gave her the additional help needed while leaning over to kiss him at the same time. "Good morning, you're looking well."
"And you're looking beautiful," he told her, his voice weak but better than it had been the last time they spoke. "And you, my girl, my princess, I've missed you so much." He leaned forward, embracing Penny as tightly as he could. When he couldn't hold himself upright much longer he leaned back against the pillows, bring her with him. She didn't even try and hold back from him, holding herself against him as tightly as she could. Eventually, they settled with her head buried between his neck and shoulder so that she could see them both. "You okay, Penny?"
Penny nodded. "I want you to come home."
Her excitement had given way to a sadness, knowing that the time would come when they would have to say goodbye, and already she didn't want to.
"Soon, princess," he told her giving her a kiss. "I don't think I'll be here much longer. I'm getting better now."
"Get better faster," she told him.
"I'll try my best, boss," he told her with a gentle smile. "Now, how's school?" he asked her, reaching out to take Ziva's had and non-accidentally brushing her growing stomach as he did so. The smile stayed on his lips the whole time.
"Good," she told him.
"Penny, didn't you have something you wanted to show Daddy?" Ziva prompted.
Penny brightened up again extending her arm to Ziva. "Yes! Daddy, I have something to show you!" she told him. "It's very brilliant."
"Is it?" he asked. "Let's see it then."
Ziva pulled the picture from her bag and snuck it into Penny's hand. She thrust it before his eyes and pointed to something in the middle of it. "See there?" Penny told him, keeping her finger there until Tony's joined it, both of them touching the same white shape in the middle of the dark piece of paper. "That's my brother."
"Is it now?" Tony asked in a quiet wonder.
Ziva wasn't at all worried about how silent he fell, because to her it wasn't silence at all. She knew that there was astonishment in his breathy sighs, and that there was excitement and happiness in his shining eyes.
"If that's your brother, then that must be my son," Tony said softly, raising his eyes to meet Ziva's. "Our son."
She nodded. "Our son."
"This is where you were yesterday?" he realised.
She nodded again. "Abby made me an appointment with her doctor to make sure that everything was okay." She left out a lack of healthcare options when she was in Israel but he seemed to understand.
"He's okay?" he checked. "He's healthy?"
"Very much so," she assured him, taking his hand in both of hers. "They say that he appears to have broad shoulders, which I admit I am not looking forward to bringing into this world."
Tony laughed softly at this. "Football shoulders."
Penny frowned. "My brother isn't playing football," she decided. "He's going to do dancing with me."
Yes, I'm back!
I'm sorry for the disappearance, things have been pretty rough recently and I fell into a major writers block. Luckily, Penny has reappeared in my life and I have missed her so much. Thank you for all the lovely messages during the lack of updates, even when I'm not writing they make me feel so wonderful. Every single one of you are the reasons why this story has been going on so long. On March 18th this year (2012), My Girl will officially be 4 years old!