summary: In which Sammy takes the hot mess that was "Past, Present, Future" and "Family First" and gives you the missing scenes so it all makes sense again. Because clearly, you weren't shown the whole story.
notes & warnings: Many thanks to my tearful beta fairy Sev, for her invaluable help with all things baby- and pregnancy-related, and for letting me bounce plot elements at her until I found the sense in them. And to Mumsy, for her thoughts about Disney movies and for lending me a story that hit me right where it hurts. You were right. It *is* a very Ziva thing to do.
Also, tissues. You need them.
word count: 8,700
comments & feedback: Very much appreciated.
'Everything in life happens for a reason,' her mother used to say, but Ziva had never believed in those words. How could she, when there clearly had been no good reason for her sister to go away? Her brother? Her father... and, yes, her mother herself? Where was the greater design that demanded she should lose them all, one by one?
So when she opens the door and stares at his familiar face, she fails to see the reason, too.
He has no business being here. He should never have found her. She had, after all, taken great care in ensuring he would not.
And yet, here he is. His face is all scruffy from neglect, and his green eyes widen at the sight of her, and he's ripping her soul apart with just one look. He says her name so quietly, cautiously, as if he tries not to spook an animal halfway poised to flight. He knows her too well, that man.
Later, she would never remember how long they stood like that: just staring at each other, her with a frown born of too many dark thoughts, him with his palm pressed against the doorframe to hide the tremble. She would only remember how his eyes changed when she finally stepped aside and let him in.
She already knows she will dig up the box again later. Take out the new list he made her write and burn it. Because it's not the one that needs to come true. It's just the one that will make it easier for him to leave.
"I can change with you, Ziva," he whispers, and in that one moment, that single heartbeat between no and maybe, his words are too much. Too tempting. It would be so easy right now to just give in, to listen to his soft-spoken plea, truly listen and believe it could all turn out right for them. They deserve it, after all. Don't they?
His breath is such a delicious distraction, and he looks at her in a way he never really did before. That's when she knows if she were to give in now... things would happen. And he would get under her skin and conquer her heart, and she'd have no chance but to listen to his whispered promises.
But then, inevitably, fate would take him away again. Maybe it would simply be because true change isn't in his nature after all. Maybe, though, it would take him the same way it had taken everyone else.
She drowns in his presence, and he's so close, too close to make her think straight, and so she almost tells him that he was right. That he is the one she needed to walk away from, to protect him and his heart from her fallacies, from the pain she brings, inevitably. But his eyes shine, and for a brief moment they're so full of hope that she suddenly knows if she tells him now, he'll never go home.
There is one simple urge she cannot fight: when he reaches for her on the way back to the house, she succumbs and accepts the touch. His fingers slide against hers, hold them as easily as if they had done this a thousand times before. Her pulse jumps in her throat, and she blinks, eyes trained on the ground and careful not to look at him.
She shouldn't have done this. She knows it.
Maybe your life would have had more meaning if you'd slept with me. She remembers his teasing words. She had never taken them seriously before - he hadn't been serious then. But now, while the late September sun burns down on her and his hand is in hers and her skin itches so bad she wants to crawl out of it... now she suddenly cannot help but wonder.
Would it be a way to satisfy the craving for his touch? For the hungry way he used to look at her? Would it be easier to let him go afterwards? Or would it at least help him to let go? To walk away from the one woman he never had in his bed?
A bitter little voice deep inside her whispers that she's just looking for an excuse, any excuse, because she wants it. Wants him. She knows that voice speaks the truth. And yet, she doesn't fight the sudden need rising in her, choking her with its strength. Because once can't hurt, it surely can't. It can bring closure, though.
She doesn't let go of his hand when they reach the house, and he, in turn, doesn't miss a beat when she walks towards the bedroom.
And once turns twice turns thrice, and despite the calming whispers of her desire, it does hurt. And it doesn't bring closure. Not for her, at least.
"I guess I just don't understand," he murmurs against her cheek as he runs his fingers through her hair, "why you wouldn't want this forever."
'Because I do not deserve it,' she wants to say, but just then his gaze meets hers and she almost, almost tells him that he's wrong. That she does want it. But then she closes her eyes and breathes deeply and says, "Nothing is forever."
The way his hands tighten in her curls shows her that he knows. He's just doing what he does best: ignoring the reality in front of him. And for now, for a little while longer, she will do the same.
And then there's that one morning where he walks out of her bathroom and he's shaved clean, and that's when she knows it's time. The way he looks at her when she hands him his coffee tells her that this time, he will accept it.
She lies to him, straight to his face, because the truth would hurt them both too much.
"Gibbs. Of course," he says, and he gives her a look that chokes her. She can see the walls he's already beginning to raise between them, to do the thing he always does: what's best for her and not his own heart. And he will never know that she loves him all the more for it.
It's a lie, but it's something not only Abby will understand. It's what he needs as well.
She's not sure what to do when she comes back to an empty house. And that's the strangest part: it has never felt empty before.
'It's not too late to change your mind.' She blinks and drops her jacket on the sideboard. Wonders if he was right, maybe. And then she breathes out slowly. Closes her eyes.
What now? Cleaning up, maybe? Doing the dishes? Washing his smell off her body, so she can begin to forget he was ever here and pierced her armor?
Anger and confusion and too many other emotions tumble through her, and she presses her lips together tightly to keep the scream that rises in her throat locked away.
Why? Why did he have to come and confuse her heart like this? It's not fair, she'd... She closes her eyes again and slowly counts to ten. In, out, slow breaths, over and over and over until her whirling thoughts come to somewhat of a rest.
It's so quiet.
In the end, she does none of the things she should. She just strips off her clothes and crawls back between the rumpled sheets.
Tomorrow, she'll be brave. Tonight, though, she needs the illusion of his arms around her. Just for a little while longer.
It isn't any easier to get out of bed the next day. His scent is still all over it, after all.
Beautiful days of fall chase each other, warm and sunny. They taunt her with the illusion of a plentiful harvest. She can't enjoy them, though, no matter how hard she tries or how long she walks under the olive trees. Her thoughts stay muddled and drift all over the place, and peace of mind is elusive. She just ends up tiring herself out. There's a certain bone-deep weariness she simply cannot shake, and it gets worse every day.
The marks he left on her body have long faded. The oranges she picked with him, they taste sour, almost bitter, and she has to throw them away. And it's childish, but for some reason that simple act makes her cry.
It's not fair. He's long home now. Hasn't called her once since he got back, and yes, she knows that is exactly what she asked of him. There's still that irrational part of her that chokes on bitter disappointment and wishes for... something. Anything of his, just so she could entertain the illusion of his love for a little while longer.
It's too much, and too intense, and it's not fair. Where is the switch to turn these feelings off, the knife to cut him out of her heart?
She cannot do this any longer. She doesn't know how. Only knows how to handle the losses, but never learned how to truly cope with love.
There is that one afternoon in early November, where the bowl she kept the oranges in slips through her fingers and shatters on the floor, and for the longest time she just stares at the shards spattered all over the floor.
Eventually she turns and walks towards the bedroom. Packs her gym bag, stiffly, while her shoulders are tense and her eyes burn with unshed tears.
Control. Control is everything. And she needs it back.
Her knuckles are bruised at the end of the day, and her trainer shakes his head and tells her to take it easy. But she's better now. Not good yet, no - that will take many more weeks. But throwing the rage and choking helplessness at a punching bag had felt good, and she can finally breathe again.
It's a start.
Her days blur into each other. She's still so incredibly tired, and it's harder each day to get out of bed. But it helps her mind to get her body back in shape, back under control. It's a routine she desperately needs, and for two hours, seven days a week, her mind isn't running in circles anymore. For those two hours, she is almost free.
Until that one day in early January, when a sudden, crippling pain doubles her over and knocks the breath out of her. She can't cry out, can't even think as she drops to the mat and draws her knees up with a whimper.
Something is wrong.
Orli is there when she wakes up, and that confuses her more than the smell of antiseptics and the slow beeps of the monitoring equipment. There's a harsh look of disapproval on the older woman's face, and Ziva blinks, slowly. It's clear Orli wants to hear something from her, but she has no idea what it is. She's tempted to just close her eyes and pretend that she is still out of it, but there was never a chance of that with Orli. Maybe that's one of the reasons they never got along.
"You should have been more careful," Orli's raspy, low voice drawls, and Ziva concedes defeat and meets the scolding gaze trained on her. "You're lucky the child is safe."
The words make no sense.
The tests are endless. Blood, ultrasound, blood pressure, more blood. She gets shot up with vitamins and supplements and poked and prodded and tested, and at the end of the day, she's even more exhausted than she was before. There is this rising urge to yell at the next nurse or doctor that will hazard talking to her. To just rip the IV out of her arm and get up and run away from it all.
But Orli is still there and keeps angry watch over her, and so Ziva fights the urge and lies still and dutifully reacts to all the questions she doesn't have any real answers for. There's nothing else she can do, after all. She has no strength left to fight anymore.
They keep her in the hospital for another day. Send her through wave after wave of tests and questionnaires.
She fills out every form they shove at her. Nods and shrugs and nods again, until they finally give up and tell her she can leave in the morning.
She still has no idea what's going on here. They told her, yes. But it cannot be. It doesn't happen to people like her.
They tell her it's going to be a girl.
"Huh," she says, then glances at her watch.
She's not allowed to train anymore - not the way she used to go about it - so it's long walks and too many thoughts for this kind of solitude. Every few days Orli corners her and makes sure she shows up to her exams, since the good doctor still isn't happy with her condition.
Soon enough, she is tired of the constant tests. It feels all so... pointless. Why does she have to go through this? All she wants is to be left alone until it's all over and done. Surely that's not too much to ask.
The almonds blossom by the time the world shifts again on its axis, put in motion by tiny feet of a restless little girl. Ziva isn't sure what the odd sensation is at first. It's barely more than butterfly wings, fidgeting in her stomach. And then the one inside her suddenly shifts and kicks her, hard, and Ziva's eyes widen as the new reality shocks her awake and leaves her with her heart pounding in her throat. She had felt that.
Her shaking hand reaches for her belly cautiously, touching the unfamiliar curve of it. Another kick, straight against her palm this time, and she gasps as the sensation tears through the surreal haze that has been her reality for months.
There is new life growing inside her.
She rolls to her side and slides her arms around her waist, cradling her belly. Breathing is a strenuous thing all of a sudden.
Why? Why is this happening? Did God want to mock her? Taunt her with something that surely was never meant for her?
She lays like that for long minutes, her arms wrapped around her middle, until the little sprite quiets down and goes back to sleep. "What now?" she whispers, and she's not sure if she's talking to herself or her daughter. "What am I gonna do?"
Abby is a creature of habit. She abhors change, and so she still uses the same online handle she first gave Ziva eight years ago.
For the longest time Ziva just stares at the green button that tells her Abby is online. She's not sure how to do this. She doesn't even know how to begin. She just knows that right now Orli wouldn't be enough. She needs to talk to someone who knew her... before.
But how to begin, after all these months? How to talk to someone who used to be a friend and now is just a distant memory? And, above all - how to hide the things she doesn't want Abby to know?
In the end, it is much easier than she thought it would be. Abby squeals when she sees her friend's face and then chatters away so hard and fast that Ziva doesn't even get a chance to slip up. But that is a good thing. Just what she needed. And so she sits and smiles and listens while Abby's voice washes over her, soothing, familiar.
"Oh, Ziva, wait until I tell Tony about this, he'll be so--"
"No." She leans forward in her chair, icy shock washing over her. "Abby, you cannot tell him we talked, okay?" He can't know. He just can't.
"You can't," she repeats, her voice low and pleading while Abby's brows draw together into a stubborn frown. Ziva's pulse hammers in her throat, and she curses herself and her childish, sentimental needs. She should have stayed clear of the past.
"Abby..." She blinks and presses her lips shut for a moment. Searches for words.
"He misses you, Ziva."
"I know," she whispers. I miss him, too. "But that is the very reason you shouldn't remind him. It's... easier for him."
"No, it's not, Abby. You know him. You know he doesn't like to dwell on things that truly..." Hurt him. She closes her eyes, presses her lips together hard. "Please," she whispers eventually. "He needs a chance to move on. And if you remind him of what we..." She chokes on the razorblade words, swallows them before they can leave her lips. Breathes deep and slow and finally presses out, "Promise me."
And that's when Abby, against all odds, finally understands.
Shortly after midnight in early July, a healthy baby girl is born in a hospital in Tel Aviv. She's a quiet little thing, a Cancer like her father, with a perpetual frown etched into her tiny face.
"She's just like you," Orli says quietly, smiling at the little girl who has a death grip on her pinky.
Ziva blinks. Turns her head to the side and prays that Orli is wrong.
It's not just the Jewish custom that kept her from preparing a nursery. Some part of her is still too numb and confused and not sure how she ended up in this place. Surely there was simply a wrong twist and turn, somewhere along the path of fate. It's hard to believe this is what was meant to be.
So she's thankful that Orli takes care of the things she will need while she is still in hospital. Diapers, bottles, wipes, onesies... she's overwhelmed from merely starting the list in her head. It's just too much. Too big a change.
She shakes her head when Orli asks about a crib. She isn't sure why. Maybe because there's this unnerving little voice that keeps whispering, telling her this won't be permanent. Nothing in her life ever is, after all.
The little one turns out to be strangely non-intrusive when Ziva gets to take her home. She eats, she sleeps, she poops. She crows with laughter whenever she tries to grab something and misses. Most of the time, she doesn't need to be fussed over - she's content when her mother is just there. Ziva's hand is, for now, the best toy for her, and she loves to grab it and hold it and try her very best to (unsuccessfully) shove her mother's fingers into her mouth.
And so, on most days, Ziva David's life remains unruffled. The biggest change is that she no longer takes her walks alone. And sometimes tiny fingers hold hers in a death grip while she's reading, as if the baby's instincts already tell her to never let go.
Maybe Orli was right. Maybe the child is indeed like her.
Later, she will never recall when she and Orli actually started talking to each other. But she will always remember that one hot day in August, when the baby girl's asleep in the bedroom and Orli sits on her porch, drinking lemonade, for no good reason other than being there.
"You still haven't named her," the older woman states all of a sudden, and Ziva blinks. Orli isn't even looking at her right now, she's staring at the horizon where the sun slowly sets. And yet, Ziva suddenly feels small, because Orli Elbaz has a way of radiating disapproval that reminds her of her father.
She shrugs. Turns the glass in her hands. Slides her fingertip along the edge, lost in thought, until Orli turns her head and looks at her after all.
"She's not going away again, you know."
The corner of her mouth quirks up in the bleak shadow of a smile. It's a nice enough thought. But it's not as convincing as the memories of many years. Not as vivid as the words of a father to a six year old girl, who cried for the mother gone away on an errand. "If you want to cry for her every time she leaves the room, fine, go ahead, Ziva. But this is Israel. One day she will die and never come back, and what are you going to do then?"
She remembers perfectly how she had stared at him with wide eyes. How the shock had frozen her tiny heart solid and her cries had died in her throat.
What was the use of loving then, she had wondered even as a child. Why love at all, if getting attached only meant to lose everything you loved?
And so young Ziva did what she deemed the most sensible thing: she distanced herself from her mother. Decided to stop loving her right then, to spare herself the inevitable grief over her loss.
For three whole days, she didn't talk to her mother and barely even looked at her. Her parents thought it was merely an odd phase and left her to it, and she was thankful they made it easier for her. And really, mother knew so many things. She had probably known for a long time what Ziva had learned only now, so in truth she was doing her mother a favor, too.
It didn't help, though. Her fragile heart just longed too much for the love and warmth and everything she cherished about her mother - all the things her father could never offer - and so Ziva eventually forgot about her decision not to love her, almost by accident, over a simple smile at breakfast.
Now, so many years later, as she sits on her porch and stares at the lemonade sloshing around in her glass, she idly wonders. About the ones she couldn't help but love.
"I just couldn't decide on a name yet," she shrugs eventually. The weight of Orli's gaze tells her she doesn't believe a word.
The sky is a deep, heady mix of red and purple when Ziva begins to wonder, and after a while she cocks her head and looks at Orli. "Why are you doing this?" she asks, her brows drawn together into a curious little frown that came out of nowhere.
"This what?" the older woman replies with an amused tone to her voice. "Drinking lemonade with you? Watching the sun set?"
"You know that is not what I meant," Ziva laughs, then falls quiet while she tries to find the right words.
She raises her eyes and watches Orli's profile. Waits for more. But Orli seems to have as much trouble phrasing her wandering thoughts tonight.
Eventually, she sighs and stares into her glass. "When you get to be my age, Ziva, you begin to regret a great many things. But it's not what you actually did that keeps you awake at night. You regret all the chances you didn't take. The paths you never walked."
Nightfall has crept up on them and shrouds them in gentle shadows by the time Ziva finally asks, "And what is your biggest regret?"
She doesn't really expect an answer - probably because it's a question she would not reply to herself. But then Orli surprises her again, with soft, quiet words that cut deep.
"That I chose not to have your father's child, because our careers seemed more important at the time."
The words make Ziva's head spinspinspin and she breathes out, her heart confused and distracted, because all of a sudden Orli is no longer just a face she used to hate. Just like that, she is a lot more human, and Ziva isn't really sure she was ready for that.
"He never knew," Orli interrupts her, and that's the last they ever say about it.
The little one still shares her bed, and it's not the worst arrangement. It's certainly less disruptive than she thought it would be. She feels like they both sleep easier when they can just reach for the other at any time, to touch, to feel, to reassure. The baby drifts towards her in sleep, no matter how far apart they start out, and often Ziva wakes to find herself nose to nose with her baby daughter. Often enough, she turns and reacts to a grabby little hand or a soft, sleepy whimper and nurses the baby before either of them is fully awake.
Sometimes, when she does wake, she is startled by how close the little one is and how she is burrowing into her mother's embrace. She isn't used to someone seeking her out like that, reaching for her subconsciously, even in sleep, just because touch is good and proximity is reassuring. The girl's father used to do that, too.
And then, one morning, she wakes to a tiny hand digging into her hair, grabbing it and holding on tight to the strand she'd claimed.
"Hey," Ziva scolds and tries to untangle her hair gently, but green eyes focus on her under a stern frown, and so she gives up and settles back down to meet her daughter's eyes. The girl stares at her hard, and it's like she's suddenly wondering about that distant woman, who keeps feeding her and yet tries her best not to get too attached. There is something so familiar about the girl right now, close to Ziva's face, their noses almost meeting, and there's that intense look again that just breeches all the barriers she has built between them and goes straight for her grown-up, battered heart, and that, it's something she has seen before, but where...
She has her father's eyes.
Just then, as if she had felt that echo of remembrance, the baby's frown suddenly eases up and she laughs into her mother's face. It's a gleeful little spurt of happiness, and with a start Ziva realizes that the way she laughs is familiar, too.
"Tali," she whispers, and the little girl crows with delight at her name.
She loses her heart to little Tali, but she's not the only one. How Orli is around the girl moves her in the oddest way. It's like watching a lioness turn into a kitten without hesitation, and the two playing and laughing together teaches Ziva's own heart a thing or two.
She is grateful for the help, she has to admit that - and for the company. The house is more alive whenever Orli visits them.
A few weeks after that night on her porch, Ziva asks her for the first time if she'd take care of Tali for a night.
It's a simple precaution, because on that night she has scheduled another video chat with Abby, and she doesn't want to risk any interruptions by her daughter. She's not quite ready to share that particular secret yet.
Time flies by, and soon enough Ziva measures it no longer in days or even months, but in the changes she sees in her daughter. It feels like every time she turns and looks at her, Tali has mastered another new skill. She is awed by how fast the girl grows and how rapidly she develops. How she stubbornly grasps and grabs and pulls and pushes until she reaches her next goal, no matter how impossible it seems at first. In that, she is very much like the one she was named after, and sometimes Ziva idly wonders if it's really a piece of her sister that she sees in the little girl.
She remembers her mother's words, how this is the reason her people often name a child after the departed: to bond the loved one's spirit with the new life, so both their souls may profit from the presence of the other. Sometimes, when Tali laughs and babbles at her, she thinks it's an easy thing to believe.
In one regard little Tali turns out to be very much like her father: she loves movies. Ziva wouldn't even know if she hadn't seen how much fun the little one has when she spends time at Orli's house. And so, when her daughter's first birthday creeps closer, Ziva David gives in and buys a TV set for the first time in her life. And a whole stack of Disney DVDs.
It's around that time she comes across a few old photos in a box, long forgotten, stashed away in a far corner of her closet, and she ends up sitting on the floor with the contents of the box spread out around her. Most of the photographs she cannot bear to look at, but there is that one of Tony and her in Paris, and she is confused by the hesitant tremble in her heart as she looks at it.
They had looked happy then.
"Imaaa!" her daughter crows as she comes running from the living room. She doesn't stop fast enough and promptly crashes into her mom, and Ziva catches her and laughs. It's still amazing how fast the little one is on her feet now. When did she grow so much? She must have looked away for a second too long.
Tali keeps giggling and stomps all over the not so pleasant memories like a little whirlwind, just so she can put her arms around mommy. And it's a good thing. 'Everything in life happens for a reason.' She smiles and hugs her daughter close, but all too soon the little sprite starts to squirm because she wants to run more. But just as she is about to let Tali have her way, the girl sees the picture Ziva holds, and she points at it, her head cocked to the side curiously.
"Yes, my love, that's your ima. That was in Paris."
But Tali doesn't really listen. Instead, her face scrunches up in deep thought, like every time she discovers something that puzzles her and she has to figure out the solution right away. This time, the puzzle is the man beside her mother in the picture, and she points at him and then looks at Ziva questioningly.
For a heartbeat, Ziva isn't sure what to say. It is the past, after all, and Tali is the future. Is there a point in dwelling on what once was?
But then she looks at the picture and Tony's smile. She remembers how he had looked at her that morning. How happy they had, for the briefest time, been that day. And she thinks that, yes, it is something that should be remembered.
"That," she says and points at Tony in the picture, "is your abba." Something eases in her heart, unclenches, uncurls. Her fingertip traces the picture, and she blinks as she tries not to give in to the tears. Slowly she points at each of them and then, finally, at her daughter's chest. "Ima... and abba... made... Tali."
For a few moments, Tali's face scrunches up in deep concentration. Her mouth moves as she tries to repeat the new word, but when she doesn't manage right away, she loses interest again and squirms out of Ziva's arms to shoot back towards the living room, probably in search of her plush doggie Ziva constantly trips over.
She shakes her head and laughs. That had gone over... well?
As she glances back at the photo in her hands, she feels strange. She'd expected it to be a lot harder to say out loud.
There is no other word for it: her daughter has her first crush.
Thankfully, it is just on an animated character and not a boy whose fingers Ziva has to break.
She has to admit, though, the charming scoundrel who wins over Rapunzel's heart... he is fun to watch. And he's good at heart.
How often they have watched that movie together now? She cannot tell. Tali loves it so much that she always points at that DVD when she gets to pick. She dances around with Rapunzel's songs and laughs herself silly whenever someone is hit with the trusty frying pan. Her little face glows when the lanterns rise into the sky. And yes, on many evenings Ziva sings the healing incantation for her daughter at bedtime, because Tali loves it dearly and she falls asleep to it so easily.
On some days, the movie strikes an odd note within her. There's just something about that maiden raised in her tower that feels... oddly familiar. Maybe it's Mother Gothel, who reminds her of her father and how he used to be with her at times. Or maybe it's simply because the woman she has become now, hiding away from the outside world in her remote valley, sympathizes with Rapunzel's cringing when Flynn Rider asks, "And you're still gonna go back?"
A good description for Ziva David's entire life. Except she didn't end up with the handsome rogue. But that's okay. She'd never felt much like a princess anyway.
There is that one time they watch the movie together where Tali's face suddenly lights up with an epiphany. She gawks at the TV openmouthed, then stares at the photograph that stands framed on the side table, the one of Paris and happier times. Her head turns back towards the TV, and then something clicks in her head and she starts hopping up and down excitedly.
"Abba!" she crows, pointing at the screen, and when Ziva looks up, Flynn Rider is so busy giving Rapunzel the smouldering look that she can't help but laugh.
"Yes," she chuckles, pulls her daughter close and kisses her head. "Abba is a lot like that, my love."
There's an odd feeling in her chest as the movie runs its course. She's confused by all the nuances she suddenly sees in the character that remind her of Tony - even things she had long forgotten. And as the end credits roll, she finds herself curled up around her little daughter and humming with her and irrationally longing for the one that would complete them.
Maybe he wouldn't freak out if she told him. Maybe he would even understand. Maybe...
Even Flynn Rider could be redeemed, yes?
Eventually, she laughs and shakes her head while she brushes away the hint of tears. 'Ziva David, you will not base your life decisions on a Disney movie.'
Abby tells her that Tony has changed. Grown up. Become so much more serious, so much so that Abby really thinks he's finally getting a grip on his meandering life. And then she adds, "He's seeing someone, maybe she's a good influence", and Ziva thinks it's strange how much power words hold over her heart after all.
Things and fates break so easily sometimes. Fragile constructs one foolishly believes would last forever: they crumble at the most unfortunate moments and leave you only with the debris of expectations.
She hums the same song into her daughter's ear, over and over, to keep the little one blissfully passed out, with her arms draped around her mother's neck and snoring softly.
Make the clock reverse.
All it takes is one man, entering her house. One man to trespass and violate what she had deemed remote enough. Secure.
Heal what has been hurt.
She's thankful that Tali sleeps like a stone. She wouldn't have wanted her to see how easily her mother can still end a life, if she has to.
Orli's crew is fast and effective, and it doesn't take long until her friend joins Ziva on the porch, where she still sits with a sleeping Tali in her arms.
"You made quite a mess in there."
Burning anger washes through her. Chokes her up and strangles her. "He broke into my house," she presses through tightly clenched teeth. "He tried to end my life. And my daughter's."
Orli raises a hand and shakes her head. "I would have done the same, Ziva. You know that."
"And I needed to find out who sent him."
"Did you?" Ziva looks at her with a wry smile, and Orli nods. "Of course you did."
The warm night wind brings the scent of lilies, and Ziva closes her eyes, breathes in deep. For the tiniest moment, everything is like it used to be: Tali in her lap, Orli at her side. Crickets serenading them. Her homeland basking her in comfort, shrouding their little group in the illusion of normalcy. A night like any other before.
And then Orli speaks again and the moment is gone before it could really begin. "We'll get you two to a safehouse, and then--"
'Everything in life happens for a reason.'
"No," she says, and Orli raises an eyebrow at her. "This needs to end."
Her throat is tight when she says it. But one thing is suddenly painfully clear to her: that she never truly managed the one thing she had come home for - to let go of her past and all the things which haunt her. She had just hidden away in a static pocket of how it used to be instead of shaping how it should be.
"What do you have in mind?"
Her mouth twists into something that is supposed to be a smile but feels entirely different. "Isn't it obvious? I need to die."
Two bags, filled with essentials. That's all there is left to her life now. One for her, one for her daughter.
She goes through all the things in her head. Wonders if she packed everything Tali and her father will need.
"Are you sure about this?"
"Yes," Ziva nods while they walk up to the car. It looks average enough that no one would suspect bulletproofing.
"You know we can give both of you a safe cover," Orli throws in, and it's odd. Ziva cannot remember a single time where Orli had been the one who refused to accept reality.
And this has become an unnerving reality for them now - nasty and all too tangible. It confuses Ziva because this night had ripped her straight out of the comfortable illusion of happily ever after she had basked in lately. But it had also left her with one clear, distinct belief: that she'd lost her whole family, one by one. But she will never allow fate to take her daughter, too. This one, she will keep safe, no matter the cost.
"Not as safe as the world thinking I burned to ashes with my house," she hums softly while she bends down to put her sleeping daughter in the back seat. "And Tali is the key to making them believe it."
Orli raises her chin, thinks about it. Agrees, finally. "Because you would never leave your daughter in the hands of a stranger if you were still alive," she says, and Ziva shakes her head as she brushes the little girl's hair out of her face.
"He's not a stranger, Orli. He's her father." She hesitates for a moment, then pulls the scarf from her neck and stuffs it into Tali's bag. Just in case the little one needs a reminder of her mother. "Make sure he takes good care of her until--"
She cuts herself short, not sure how to finish the sentence. In truth, she has no idea until when. It's a path she has not yet walked, and so she does not know where it will lead her. If it will ever lead her back to Tali.
Still humming softly, she leans forward to kiss her daughter's forehead one last time, and all of a sudden her chest tightens painfully. This is goodbye. Yet another one.
"Make sure he loves her, okay?"
"Look at her, Ziva. He will have no choice," Orli replies with a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Then her face closes down, and she digs a phone out of her pocket that looks too expensive to be a burn phone. "Take this. I'm the only one who knows the number. I will call you exactly once, thirty-six hours from now, for an update."
"Thank you," Ziva mutters. And as she takes the phone, stares at it, she's not sure how to make it clear that her words are about... more. Not just about the phone, or about the cover up, or about the press team that's supposed to arrive in a few more minutes, to report about a bombing that will only happen to destroy any proof that Ziva David did not die tonight. In that one brief moment, she is thankful for Orli simply being a part of her life. Their lives.
The older woman knows, though, and so she pulls Ziva into a brief embrace. It's the only one they ever shared, and it feels odd. But it's also something much needed right now.
Eventually, Ziva steps back. Bends down to Tali once more. "Be safe," she whispers against a rosy cheek. Hums. Bring back what once was mine.
All the things that had gone wrong, between them, in their lives... So many things that hadn't been necessary, that had only led to pain. So many paths that could have been taken in a different direction. So many - no, too many regrets. And all of them chase each other through Ziva's head like tumbleweed while she stands at Eli David's grave.
Father, oh father. She sighs. Bends down to place a small stone on the simple marker.
Her people never bring flowers to honor the dead. Too fragile and fleeting, much like life itself. Instead, they place stones, to tie the spirit to the place where it rests, and to remember, eternally. 'There are men with hearts of stone, and stones with the hearts of men,' she quotes in her head, and while she stands here, her fingertips stroking the cool marble and tracing the lines of her father's name in it, she understands for the first time why this is their custom.
I was here today, father. I remembered you. As I will, for as long as I breathe.
Her palm itches, and she presses her lips tightly shut. She doesn't want to be here. Not at a grave her father has no business being in. And yet, it is the last thing she has to do before she leaves.
She pulls another stone out of her pocket, slightly bigger this time, but also one she picked from the rubble of the house she had been born in.
"Mother says goodbye, too," she whispers. It's hard to force the words out. Her throat is too tight and there is just too much sorrow. Too many memories she doesn't want. Still, it needs to be done, and so she places two more stones, one for Ari, one for her long-gone sister.
"You are missed, father," she murmurs, and her mouth twists in the briefest of smiles. "Your actions are not. Still..." She closes her eyes, shakes her head. "Ah, but there is no use in idle wishes, is there, father? That is what you would tell me if you were still here."
Her smile turns bitter, and she shakes her head to clear it. Glances at her watch. Waits for the cell phone Orli gave her to ring.
As usual, her friend is right on time. Her words, though, are not what Ziva expected.
"I have a message for you," she says, and even though her words are as calm as always, Ziva's heart suddenly pounds in a harsh rhythm.
"What kind of message?"
"He asked me to remind you that you are still not alone."
Her throat is tight all of a sudden, and the unexpected rush of hope and love and good memories, it's too much to bear. It's so loud and overwhelming that it almost drowns out her anger as she feels the reins of control, barely taken, slip through her fingers like water.
"You should not have told him that I am alive," she presses through her teeth heatedly.
"I did not. But he is smart, and he keeps asking questions. And his 'gut' seems to insist..." Orli sighs, and Ziva knows that right now she is rubbing the tight frown between her eyebrows while she waits for a reaction from her friend. When none comes forth, she adds, "I'm afraid my actions weren't convincingly devastated enough to discourage his... gut."
Ziva closes her eyes, presses the lids shut tight while she fights for breath and her fingers cramp painfully around the phone. This should not be happening. "Is Tali all right?"
"She is. And he already lost his heart to her." Again, Orli pauses and waits for her reply, but Ziva simply doesn't know what to say. "He won't let it rest, Ziva. You know him."
"Yes. I do." She's surprised at the tears coloring her words. She's even more surprised when Orli picks up on it.
"Do not let this be one of the things you will regret later," the older woman says eventually, and that's when the first of Ziva's tears falls, unexpectedly, inconveniently. She can't give her friend a good answer, not right now. It's just too much. Too sudden.
And after all those months they spent together, Orli knows her well enough to understand her silence. "Be safe, child," she says and disconnects the call.
For a few endless moments, Ziva sits with her eyes closed, her face turned up into the warm morning sun. Things that had seemed so clear mere minutes ago, they are suddenly muddled and confusing, and her heart is torn in the maelstrom of her past, the present, and the fragile hope for a future that could be... better. Maybe.
In two hours, she will be on a plane to Italy, to pick up the biggest of her emergency stashes from her old life. From there... she doesn't know. Not yet anyway. But that's today, and tomorrow... tomorrow will be another day.
"Goodbye, father," she says quietly as she presses her palm against the cold marble one last time. "I will miss you. But this is my own story, and from now on, I will be the only one writing it."
She's not sure how he remembered the little bistro they'd had breakfast in so many years ago, but he did. Her pulse is a nervous, fluttery thing in her veins while she watches them from across the street. Tony, with her daughter... no, their daughter on his knee... it tugs at her heart in a new and unexpected way.
He had known where to look for her, after all. It shouldn't surprise her. Not after all the years she spent with him. Not after he had found her twice already under impossible odds. And yet...
It's the third morning they're here for breakfast. The third morning she watches him fuss over Tali, hardly eating himself, but doing his best to amuse the little sprite. The pain of separation gets worse for her with every minute, but Ziva still stays in the shadows, quietly, carefully keeping her distance. Her stomach is in knots by now, and she still has no idea what she is even doing here. No matter how accurate his gut was, she shouldn't be here, in danger of being seen. For the sake of them, she should turn around and walk away from them. Get the next flight out of Paris.
And then Tali laughs and throws her head back as Tony waves his strong hands at her, threatening to tickle her, and all of a sudden Ziva's heart aches so much that she can't breathe. She can only stare at the child she hasn't seen in days and the man... the man who hasn't been in her life, only in her thoughts, for too many years.
And that's when Ziva suddenly realizes she doesn't have a choice. She cannot turn around now and leave them again. Because that's not how her story ends.
Tali is the first to see her, and she's an outright little ninja, like her namesake was. Before Tony can grab her, she slithers off his lap and shoots towards her mother.
"Ima!" she squeals, and Ziva quickens her pace and runs towards the little girl, to catch her before she stumbles onto the busy street and straight into traffic. And when she pulls Tali up into her arms, kisses her cheeks, over and over... that's when her confused, tumbling heart comes to a halt.
This is her family. And it's not just a child that needs her mother. She needs Tali just the same, to breathe, to function, to merely exist. This child is a part of her. And maybe... maybe her father is, too.
She's too aware of his presence in her back, of the way his gaze rests on her and makes it even harder to breathe. She shakes hard by the time she turns around with Tali in her arms. Guilt, regret, and all the time they lost... too many thoughts whirl through her and unsettle her, and she wishes for just a few simple words to make things right again. But none come forth, and so she just looks at him, quietly, holding their daughter.
He's pale. The blood drained from his face, and his eyes are wide with shock, as if he's seen a ghost. And when she meets his eyes, she suddenly realizes that this is the very core of it, right there: that he knew exactly where to look for her. But despite his unrivaled penchant for hope, despite all his experience in shaping his own reality... this is the moment where she realizes he'd never been sure he'd actually find her.
'I'm sorry,' she wants to tell him. Wants to reach out to him, touch him. Reassure him. But the way he looks at her right now, wide open and raw and his eyes so... full... She can't. She doesn't dare. And her stuttering, stumbling heart suddenly wishes she'd walked away after all, just to spare him this pain.
But then, just when she is about to do the thing she has done best all her life - run - something shifts in his face, and he crosses the distance between them and reaches for her. Puts his big hand to her neck and drags her and Tali to his chest, into an embrace that almost crushes them.
His breath is rugged in her ear. There's too much emotion burning inside him to speak, but she still feels it. All of it. Feels the way his body shakes and his lips move silently and his tears fall against her cheek.
God, she had missed him so much.
'Everything in life happens for a reason.'
She shudders and clings to him as she remembers her mother's words, and her fingernails dig into his jacket, holding on for dear life. She's so afraid to let go again. Afraid to give him a chance to remember all the ways she had wronged him. All the whys she doesn't deserve to have him.
But then little Tali suddenly twists in their arms until she can hug both her parents, and that's when Tony lets go of the breath he held, and just like that the terrible tension in his body subsides and makes room for... something. Something that isn't born out of ache and pain, for once, but simply out of need. Love.
And just like that, Ziva knows that, despite all her fears and screw-ups and bad life decisions... despite all the detours they had taken over the years... they will be okay. Because some things are meant to be. She knows that now. Fate just has its own way of making them happen, and sometimes the path it sends you on is a crooked one.