Chapter 01

Ziva never truly gave Steve an answer but she never said no and she had continued to wear the ring after. She felt guilty but his reassurances helped only mildly. What surprised her the most over the previous five weeks, that had her truly looking forward to the future. It wasn’t that she did not want to marry him. Because she knew she did. She was just still so afraid that something would come and tear them apart as it had for nearly every relationship she had in the past.

Choosing to keep the ring on, perhaps in hope that seeing it often would make it feel real to her. Real and give her the courage to give Steve a formal answer to his proposal. She had been able to tell that despite his words on the plane, he was disappointed she didn’t answer then but in that she was very confident that he understood her reservations. Regardless, she would find herself staring at it randomly, and often.

Tony was the first to notice the new addition when she returned to work. Offering her his congratulations, she looked at him and was pleased to see the sparkle she had missed in his eyes. Two weeks after that, he surprised her by nervously asking if Steve would be opposed to going for a drink, a guys night out of course with McGee.

Gibbs was happy for her but kept himself more in control, just giving her a fatherly look to make sure that she was truly happy. McGee said a few words but just overall avoided the subject knowing she would speak when she was ready. Ziva needed ear plugs from all of Abby’s squealing.

Everyone’s support did little to ease her nervousness that often as soon as she got into work, she would go straight to the bathroom to throw up from all the thinking she been stressing over.

Looking at the calendar, Ziva was saddened that her time with Steve in DC was ending soon if his therapy continued on track. Of course she knew he wasn’t 100% happy to go back after all the complaining Danny had been doing for the last month about Agent Jardine’s liaison abilities.

“Steve… The woman’s impossible! She hates germs, yet her office looks like a bomb site. She’s importing all her food and drink from the mainland and her hotel’s manager has moved her in and out of every room he has for one reason or another,” Danny complained over the phone. “Our case load is growing, someone from the governor’s office calls at least twice a day to check on your progress and Chin and Kono are missing you like crazy.”

“What about you?” Steve grinned as he leant against Ziva’s desk.

“What about me what? Do I miss you? You know, I asked myself that just this morning when Grace asked me how you were. And you know what… I haven’t visited the ER, called the paramedics, not even cracked open a first aid kit in over a month… My medical insurer called me to see if I was still alive, which hasn’t been such an odd question since I met you,” Danny replied as Chin and Kono returned from an assignment. “But yeah… I guess I miss you too. So when are you coming home?”

The question was a hard one to answer. He was almost fully recovered from the shooting and although Hesse was still at large with cooperation from NCIS, the FBI and the CIA, he had been spotted in Europe, Asia and back in the US in the space of a three week period. Hesse was running.

“A few more days… A week tops,” Steve replied noting how tense Ziva had suddenly become.

She continued to read the case file on her desk as he continued the conversation. The time flew by so fast that she didn’t want him to leave, didn’t want to leave his side. Her thoughts strayed to the proposals he made to her. Marriage, work. A life and chance to be loved.

Ziva was so lost in those thoughts that she hadn’t heard Danny’s question and before she could ask him to repeat himself, Gibbs strolled in calling for their gear. Something about an assault on a female petty officer. “I am sorry Danny. Perhaps we will talk later,” she said before kissing Steve goodbye, knowing it was his late night for therapy and she might be home before him.

“You okay Ziva?” Tony asked with a slight frown. “You looked a little spaced out back there.”

She nodded with a weak smile. “I suppose it is only hitting me. He is returning to Hawaii soon,” she answered in barely a whisper, afraid she would lose the lunch that they shared from her emotions.

“I kinda figured. To look at him, you wouldn’t think he’d been shot a month ago,” he replied as they headed for the garage level. “I guess the love of a good woman can do wonders.”

“Believe it not we have not been all that intimate while being back. Only a few time because either he was in pain or exhausted or it was I who was ill or exhausted,” she said as she tossed her bag into the side door and climbed in the front to sit in the back with Tony.

“Not feeling well again, Ziva?” Gibbs asked, his expression full of concern. “When we’re through with the crime scene, you should have Ducky check you out.”

“I am fine Gibbs. Really. It is likely just everything slowly catching up but I will manage,” she smiled and waved him off.

After looking her over carefully he gave a small nod. “If you feel worse come to me. You can take McGee’s car back to the office.”

Ziva nodded her silent thanks and settled into her seat, her head resting on Tony’s shoulder for the ride as he chattered on, likely his own attempts to distract her from her self sabotaging thoughts that he knew her to have.

“So there we where, my buddy and me. Each eating half of the same cow. All for these crappy t-shirts and a photo on the wall. He’s struggling, I’m struggling…” Tony was grinning from ear to ear. “My buddy taps me on the shoulder and says. “Hey Tony, does your sweat taste like steak too?”

She laughed lightly and shook her head. “You are too much Tony,” she sighed. “How did your guys night work out? You haven’t said anything about it.”

“Steve didn’t tell you anything?” he asked, his smile fading a little having believed he had long dodged the bullet for that night. “I uh… Well… I sorta asked him to keep things quiet.”

Picking her head up she shook it slowly. “I asked but all he said was that it was a good evening. He would not elaborate further. Are you okay?”

“Oh fine… Fine,” he said as he looked toward the drivers cab. “Are we there yet Probie?”

“Almost, Tony… Just cutting through the mid-morning traffic,” McGee replied as Gibbs looked back at them.

“What’s the matter DiNozzo? You look like you need to piss… You should’ve gone before we left,” he smirked.

“Ah… Its not that boss…”

“Then what is it? You sick to?” he pressed.

“No boss, I’m fine. Tip top even,” he smiled before looking back at Ziva.

Ziva narrowed her eyes and frowned but chose to let it drop until they weren’t around others. Thankfully it did not take long to arrive to the scene that was a mess in itself where the petty officer had been assaulted during a break in of her home while her husband was deployed.

Together they walked around the truck to both grab their supplies and for mock privacy. “What happened?” She questioned again, pausing to stare at her ring as she continued to remain in shock about the changes going on. His evasiveness sparked her suspicion that both men were keeping something from her and for her partner to fear her knowing, she knew it would not be something pleasing for her.

“Well… There was a little weirdness… I don’t really wanna talk about it,” he sighed. “I mean, Tim swore… And I-…”

“Tony. I’m not interested in it like that. I just wished to know if things are well. Steve didn’t say anything but I know he has been distracted. I hoped you knew why.”

“Distracted?” he asked, shaking his head slightly. “He seemed fine on the night out. Look uh… You gotta swear that you won’t say anything.”

Ziva looked up at him and frowned with exasperation. “Of course. Tony?”

“We bumped into some of Steve’s Navy friends. People he served with on the Enterprise,” he began nervously. “And uh… One of them seemed to be really close with Steve.”

Ziva stared up at him for a moment as she processed the information. “A female friend?” She whispered, self doubt clouding her face.

“Uhh yeah… Lt. Catherine something…” he replied. “They talked for a while, had a couple of drinks… And…”

She felt like everything was circling around her as she recognized the woman’s name. Clenching her jaw and fists, Ziva leaned into the back of the truck to keep from falling over. “He what Tony? Tell me,” she pushed. Her tone even, not really giving anything away to the under current of emotions that she was having.

“He introduced her to McGee… At her request, so I’m told. McGee!” he sighed. “And they went back to his place…”

“Steve… he didn’t…?” She breathed out, feeling nauseous again as the thundering in her head only caught onto half of what he actually said.

“He didn’t what…?” Tony asked before the realization of what she thought he meant, hit him like a ton of bricks. “Oh, Ziva… God no… He’s devoted to you… He couldn’t stop talking about you all night. And this started before he had a drink… He loves you so much.”

She nodded with relief but instead of saying more she just pushed him back away from her before throwing up on the floor in front of his feet. When she was done she sat on the back on the bench to get herself together again. “That is good. I feel better…”

“Uhh… The boys in the garage are gonna love you,” Tony pulled a face. “Maybe you should see Ducky or go home and get some rest. I’ll call Steve to come pick you up…”

“No. Do not call him. He has therapy this evening and I know he does not wish to extend it longer than necessary. I will be fine. I feel better already,” she smiled, through her pale skin contradicted her words. “Go. Go before Gibbs kills both of us. I will stay here and clean my mess up.”

“At least let me call Ducky to come and pick you up, just to check you over to see if this isn’t serious,” he said, checking to see if Gibbs and McGee were waiting for him.

Judging from the expression on Tony’s face, Ziva knew she would not win this argument. “Fine. But no one calls Steve. Maybe I can surprise him with homemade dinner tonight. Even if its just soup.”

Before her partner could walk away, Gibbs rounded the corner and glared into the back of the truck at them. “Hey! What’s taking so long here?”

“Uhh… McGee’s driving boss… Didn’t agree with Ziva’s breakfast,” Tony replied as he grabbed his crime scene kit and his camera. “I’m calling Ducky to come pick her up.”

Gibbs gave Tony a sideways glance before stepping aside. “Well get in there. Ask Ducky to arrange for a grief counselor too will you.”

“On it boss. Feel better Ziva,” DiNozzo said as he quickly moved into the house while dialing Ducky’s number.

Gibbs examined Ziva more closely for a moment before digging into one of the trucks fridge compartments. “Here… Drink this and wait for Ducky,” he said sternly as he placed a bottle of water in her hands. “When he’s done checking you over, you do as he tells you. Understood?”

Ziva was just too tired to argue and simply nodded, closing her eyes. She knew that one of the biggest questions that she been struggling with would affect the team in general which was one reason why she put off on the original job offer for so long. She had spoken to Director Vance and human resources to get a better understanding of her options in the previous few weeks but the conversation with Tony had been what clinched at least that problem she had been stressing over since her first reunion in Hawaii with Steve. “Has Director Vance found my replacement yet?”