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By AngelMoon Girl
[ Reviews - 0]

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Disclaimer: If NCIS were mine, there would be a HELLUVA lot more Tiva lovin' going on! I'm sort of disappointed so far with season 9 -.- Tony and Ziva's relationship has been, for the most part, relegated to the background. Here's hoping the first half has been so Tiva-lite because later episodes feature them more prominently?

Warning: Spoiler for 9x09 "Engaged (Part 2)", but it's so slight you probably have to squint to catch the allusion. Still, better to be safe than sorry. I'm only covering my bases :D

- LIKE BREATHING -

Tony leaned forward across the rumpled sheets, hospital bed creaking under his weight as the (Very) Special NCIS Agent sought out his partner's hand. At first impression, it was slippery and weak, but Tony was mollified when the squeeze he gave came back stronger than his own. Nine and a half years later, despite all the crap they'd had to sift through to get to this point... it was nice knowing some things never changed. Reassuring, that Ziva David would always meet him tit for tat, smile bright enough to light up the entire ward even as she struggled visibly to sit up.

"The doctor says it'll be less painful if you'd quit squirming every five seconds," the brawny brunette teased, trying to hinder his antsy little ninja's attempts to extricate herself from the blankets. "Why don't you lie down and be a good patient, for once?"

Ziva leveled a glare Tony's way, and he was quick to school his innocently amused features into something a little more befitting of the chastising he was supposed to be doling out. Only, with that look- that one, practiced look that could somehow intimate both touched exasperation and the promise of bodily harm- Tony understood the battle was already long lost. And that, clearly, any other resistance would be similarly futile. Dammit, why was he such a push-over?

"Because you love me and you know it," Ziva purred smugly, and Tony bestowed a wry grin on her in response.

"Not sure that was meant to be said aloud, but-"

"I am glad you are aware of it all the same. Hook, line, and sinker, this one," Ziva chuckled affectionately, her still-sweaty fingers tracing nonsensical patterns over Tony's cheek.

"Now how on earth did you get that idiom right?"

"Experience is a wonderful preacher."

"Teacher. I have work ahead of me yet, it seems." The smirking agent sighed dramatically, and Ziva stopped caressing to give her boyfriend a playfully indignant slap. But just as she moved to pull her hand back, Tony latched on like a starving pup, all joking gone from his eyes.

"...Tony?"

Unmasked concern leaked into Ziva's voice as she gazed up at him. For a brief moment, Tony hardly dared to breathe as he just took her in. They'd been up all night and it showed, and yet- she was so beautiful, with her frizzy flyaway curls and tired face and bloodshot rims and slumped posture; so beautiful that it almost hurt. Everything from the last few hours came pouring back and Tony was momentarily overwhelmed.

"This is it, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," Ziva agreed, cautiously, still a touch perturbed by her partner's sudden reticence.

Tony let out a loud, whooshing burst of air. He raked a shaky hand through his thinly gelled hair and brought the other- still clasping Ziva's like his one lifeline- to rest against his heart. A lone thumb rubbed back and forth over the soft skin of the woman's knuckles, and then he began.

"I love you, Ziva. I love you so much, it honestly makes me wonder sometimes if I might actually be a little crazy, like when you're able to get me to speak my thoughts and I don't even notice. I used to be so good at keeping everything locked up nice and tight, you know? Now... now, I'd spill my darkest, most innermost secrets right into your lap and not even give a care. Because what we have- it's easy. It's- it's like breathing. And I mean... obviously there's effort, keeping that steady rhythm going, but it's so natural I feel like I could just spend my whole life caught up in you and me... in us. Our future.

"I guess- I guess what I'm trying to say is... I'm not scared. I used to be, once. I was terrified of making the same mistakes my father did, of inadvertently being the cause for someone else's screwed up life. But I'm not afraid anymore. I haven't been for a very long time. I'm ready, Ziva. I'm ready to be more."

"I know," Ziva choked out, her eyes shining with the power of mutual understanding. "...I know."

Tony brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the appendage fiercely. "I'm ready to be a parent to that beautiful little girl. I'm ready for those three a.m. feedings, those dirty diapers and those long-winded bedtime stories. Boo boos and nightmares and fevers and tantrums. For all of it, I'll be there. Because I'm someone's daddy. Over and over again even, if you wanted it.

"Zee... I fully intend to be by your side, every step of the way. You- you're everything; everything I will ever need. The Hepburn to my Tracy; the Bacall to my Bogie... the yin to my yang. I may not put much stock in the idea of soulmates, but I do recognize a family when I see one. You and Arella- you're my family. There's nothing else in this world I want but to be right here."

The tiny hospital room was thick with silence; a silence so potent and so charged it was as though all the air had been sucked dry by the pure intensity. Tony felt it; felt it in his throat and in his veins and perhaps even down into his very core. The man licked his lips, mind scrambling as it reached out for all the best words. He supposed it was only fitting, this raw parchedness, considering the only other time had been in a hot desert as Couldn't live without you tumbled past truth-serum crippled defenses.

The sentiment was truer than ever, now.

"Ziva David, I'm not a perfect person. I'm probably far, far from it. But there is one thing I can do, that I've always done and will undoubtedly continue to do, for the rest of my life... and that is, love you. But it's hard, because I want... I want to... God, I'm so horrible at this."

He chuckled weakly; tremblingly, finally releasing Ziva's fingers so as to slip his own into his pants pocket.

They came back gingerly clutching a small black box.

"Tony..."

"Ziva. My fearless ninja. My strong, brave, sometimes frightening, often irritating, always dependable, achingly beautiful partner-in-crime. Will you marry me?"

For the most ephemeral of moments, Ziva was speechless, staring at her companion with so many emotions clogging her visage, it was impossible to tell which reigned dominant.

"I know it's not exactly traditional-" Tony crooked the box open to reveal its prized contents- a ruby encrusted ring, his mother's to be exact- and continued, "But neither are we. Obviously." His sheepish grin took in their sterile surroundings and the currently empty but previously occupied bassinette that was nestled tightly up against the bed. It figured, that they would be the type to go about this all completely and utterly backwards.

There was a minute hiccup for warning, and then Ziva broke, bursting into tears with an expression finally settling on her face:

Happiness.

"Yes. Yes." She threw her arms around Tony, ribbing even through sobs. "I want to marry you! With a speech like that, how could I not?" She laughed, with an inflection that was half-joy and half-delirium. "Oh, Tony DiNozzo, you wonderful dolt... don't you know how long I have wanted to marry you?"

"You waited a long time for me," Tony admitted softly, nodding against her hair, aware he had wasted a fair few years of his life with Ziva a scared man. It was with utmost gratitude that the Special Agent acknowledged his partner's patience; she had an innate faith in him that far surpassed any Tony had ever encountered with other women. They had flitted in and out of his life, never pausing to leave an imprint. But not Ziva. Ziva had always been there, at his back... waiting. Waiting for him to conquer his fear.

At last, nine and a half years later, Tony knew he had grown to embrace and mold his fear into something that held little sway over him anymore. It was with a whole heart that he slid the ring onto Ziva's hand, kissing the future David-DiNozzo soundly when the deed was done. And they might have gone on like that for hours, ensconced in each other's arms, lost in declaration of their union, were it not for a pleasant voice that cut in from the open doorway. Reminding the pair, they had other precious things to be thankful for as well.

"I hate to interrupt, but someone's all cleaned, measured, and dying to see her Mommy and Daddy."

Two excited heads turned in unison, their blushing and glowing countenances eagerly seeking out the wriggling swaddle of blankets and limbs. The nurse, sensing their anticipation, moved quickly to the couple.

"Congratulations! A healthy seven pounds, two ounces. You'll be delighted to hear the doctor deemed Arella a nine on the Apgar Scale. She's quite alert after all that prodding and poking, the little dear." Ziva smiled instinctively as the warm bundle found its way into her protective grip, and Tony marvelled at how natural motherhood looked on her.

"Don't forget, you have quite the group of visitors waiting downstairs. They accost me frequently with demands to know when they are allowed to finally meet your newest arrival," the kindly old matron griped good-naturedly. "That gruff one... Gibbs, is it? Well, let's just say he knows how to put the pressure on the orderlies. I already informed him he's one step away from being kicked out, if he doesn't leave them to do their job." Tony couldn't help the amused snort. He imagined Gibbs sulking on some cramped bench, and knew retribution would be delivered in full. Proud grandpa or not, it was going to be one hell of a headslap.

"Not- not yet. Just a few more minutes. Please?" Ziva asked, nuzzling her nose into the white swathe.

"We won't forget," Tony assured their guest. "I think- I think first we'd like some alone time, though. Can you tell them that?"

"Sure. And remember, I'm just a call button away," the nurse said with an incline of the head, and then she swept out of the room. Tony shook all thoughts of his de facto family for the time being, instead leaning forward for a second intoxicating peek at his newborn daughter. His heart melted when he caught sight of the cherub-like face hiding in the shadow of her mother, and immediately, Tony stuck a gentle finger in to stroke Arella's fragile cheek. She fussed for a moment, dark head lolling and tongue darting, before locking unfocused eyes on her father. And for a second- just a second- Tony swore she smiled.

"Did you see that?" Ziva breathed.

"Yeah. Yeah, I did," Tony murmured in reply, awe brimming up inside his chest. Staring down at the angelically perfect human melding of he and Ziva, Tony knew Arella was going to have him wound so tightly around her pinkie, that there was really no hope of ever coming untangled. This was it.

Ziva's forehead fell the short distance to press against Tony's.

"I love you," she whispered, eyelashes brushing his.

Arella's infant reflexes kicked in as her tiny palm noticed Tony's index finger still resting beside her, and she wrapped her fingers around him.

I love you, her resounding coo whispered.

If there was ever a moment, one single moment in a person's life, that could be captured in a bottle and stored for all eternity, Tony knew- this was that moment. He realized, sitting here swelling with emotion in the midst of his new and growing family, all that had been saved when he finally gave in to loving Ziva. Because this? This was easy. This was like breathing.

And there is nothing to fear in breathing.

...in being, quite simply, alive.

FIN

-

A/N: *Ahem*. Yeah. Unlike SOME people, to Tony, Ziva's worth more than an empty box. *death rays at CI-Ray*

Just a little what-if story. It's probably not that great. Getting into Tony's head, it's hard. I have a proclivity to ramble XD I'm still trying to learn the character voices, since I really only ever read NCIS fanfiction, rather than write it. But I hope my story a brought a smile to your face. Arella, by the way, is the Hebrew name for "angel". I did a bunch of searching before stumbling across that little gem, and when I saw it, I knew the moniker was perfect.

Reviews are welcomed :)

AngelMoon Girl
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