This is inspired by a headcanon I recently read on Tumblr that Ziva perhaps left the U.S. (at least partially) in order to protect her teammates, since Parsa was out to get her. I will willingly admit that I have not rewatched the ending of Season 10 and the beginning of Season 11 pretty much since they happened, so my facts about Parsa (which I have mostly tried to ignore) are probably wildly inaccurate. Sorry about that.
She's ordering falafel from a food truck when she realizes somebody is watching her.
They're still watching her when she ducks through an alley and emerges near a coffee shop. They follow her in—two men, nondescript. Gray suits.
She holds her falafel in one hand and forks over a few shekels for a coffee with the other. She keeps her face perfectly calm. Jokes with the man behind the counter about the weather, lets him flirt with her just a little. She heads for a table in the very middle of the small, crowded room. Coffee and falafel. Maybe not the most typical combination, but nothing to bat an eye over.
The men separate. One leans against the entrance. One sits at the next table over.
She pretends to make a call and surreptitiously takes a picture of the one on her left. "I don't see you yet," she says to an imaginary friend. "Did you take the bus? Oh no, it's okay. But I have to be back to work by two, so if you can't make it—"
The man to her right checks his watch.
"There you are!" a woman calls in accented English behind her. A hand suddenly rests on Ziva's shoulder, and she freezes. Lowers the phone.
"I was hurrying, but you know how it gets this time of day." The owner of the hand kisses Ziva's cheek and slides into the chair next to her, fiddling with a white phone. "Sorry to hang up on you."
There is no mistaking this woman for someone else—it's Liat Tuvia, looking professional in business casual, with a glint in her eye that says she knows more about what's going on than Ziva does.
"It's fine," Ziva says, and forces down the questions she has. Now is the time to play along. "Did you want to eat here? I had to start without you."
"Eh, the hummus here is watery. Let's go up the street. I have something I want to show you, anyway."
The man at the table starts to rise, but Ziva sees the man at the door shake his head. They stay where they are. But the one by the door takes out a phone and begins to dial a number.
There is a car idling on the side of the road, and Liat ushers her into the back seat, climbing into the passenger side herself.
"Hello again, Ziva," says Malachi, and hits the gas.
"Why are you here?" Ziva asks flatly when they have made several turns and shaken off anyone who might have been following them.
Liat shrugs. "We live here."
"Have you been following me? Is Director Elbaz having me followed?"
"Don't flatter yourself," Liat says.
"Then how do you explain what just happened?"
"Was she always this irritating?" Liat asks Malachi, who grins.
"You were in the area," he says over his shoulder. "We were in the area. You needed to be extracted. We extracted you."
Ziva curls her lip. She doesn't buy it, not for a minute. Maybe if Malachi were still her partner—but he's not. He hasn't been for years. And the last time they were partners did not end well.
It certainly did not end in an extraction.
"We need your help," Liat says a mile down the road. "We are putting together an op right now to catch Viktor Aksakov. He'll be in Cairo next week." Ziva nods in recognition—Aksakov is known to be connected to the Russian mob and active in human trafficking and prostitution in Israel. There are rumors that he has Iranian contacts. She'd love nothing better than to get him off the streets, but intelligence work and crime-fighting are no longer part of her life. They surely know that.
"You do realize I am no longer Mossad, yes?"
"And no longer an American federal agent."
"And not currently in touch with Interpol, the CIA, or Shin Bet."
"Then I fail to see the connection between your operation and me."
Liat sighs. "Do you remember Morocco, 2008?
Liat opens her mouth to reply, but Malachi shoots her a warning glance. "The undercover nightclub act, Ziva," he says. "It's practically legendary—"
"Well, before you blew it," Liat interjects.
"I didn't blow anything!"
Liat gives a sly little smile, and Ziva suddenly realizes that she's been away from coworkers for far too long. She's been living alone off the grid for an entire year now, no one to argue with, no one to tease her, and she has fallen smack into that double entendre. What makes it all the more annoying is that it's applicable, and Liat knows it. Ziva imagines Tony shaking his head at her.
"I did not blow that mission," Ziva says firmly, folding her arms across her chest.
"Details," Liat says, waving a hand. "Everything blew up anyway."
"You were not there."
"Michael used to talk about it," Liat says, by way of explanation. It grates on Ziva's nerves.
"Officer Rivkin was dead before you even started training," she scoffs.
"You would know."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Malachi flicks another warning glance in Liat's direction, and Liat takes a deep breath and visibly restrains herself from continuing the argument. "Stories pass along down the vineyard, okay?" she says.
Liat ignores her. "Malachi likes that one." The man in question winks at her in the rear view mirror.
Of course he does.
"We'll use three operatives instead of two, but we are recreating it. Loosely. In Cairo."
Of course they are.
"So you two are still partners?" she asks a little later, when they are almost to the safe house she has been told is their destination.
"I hope you have your own room," she says.
Malachi laughs. "I am married now. Two years. We are expecting a boy in October."
"So now he only sleeps with me when they are fighting," Liat says bluntly. "Or when we are out of the country."
Ziva blinks. "And you feel right, doing that to your wife?"
Malachi shrugs. "I love my wife. I always return. And she will not mourn what she does not know."
"She will discover it eventually," Ziva points out.
"What do you care?" Liat says, an edge to her voice. "Just because you did it the other way around makes it no better."
Ziva's mouth falls open in surprise. "I did no such thing!"
"He sleeps around on his wife with his partner. You slept around on your partner with your boyfriends. Don't pretend that you have always kept it in your pants when you should have."
Malachi catches her eye in the mirror and raises his eyebrows in amusement. She fights the urge to pinch the back of his neck. Liat would probably scratch her eyes out, and she'd have to trap Liat's braid in the car window and then open the door and shove her out—or at the very least, they'd all have to be wary of each other for however long this takes. It's just not worth it.
Sometimes she really misses working with well-adjusted people like McGee.
A few days later, they arrive at the jazzy Egyptian club in which they'll be performing. It's almost within sight of the Opera House, and Ziva wishes she could stop by and catch a show, but that is not on the agenda. It's a nice place; she can see why a Russian mobster with an eye for the finer things might end up here. Malachi shifts a garment bag over his shoulder and she eyes it thoughtfully. One of the dresses is gold; she can see just a glint through a half inch gap in the zipper.
She doesn't know what her own dress looks like. It could be the gold one. But maybe not.
She knows the set. She knows the plan. She has studied the blueprints of the club just as diligently as Liat and Malachi have. She suspects Aksakov will show up, but she won't be surprised if he doesn't. She is, in fact, feeling remarkably unsurprised about the entire venture. It seems inevitable that she's working with Mossad again. They always get what they want. You never really leave. Of course she's in another country under false pretenses. The rules don't really matter when you're involved with a group that can kill people and have every trace of their identity erased in six hours.
She just goes with it.
Living off the grid and occasionally dropping a hint for Parsa was boring, anyway.
"I thought it would bring back fond memories," he jokes, holding out a dark blue gown that is an exact copy of the one she wore in Rabat.
"Just what I needed," she says drily as she takes the dress. "More memories."
It's their fourth day of performing when Malachi gives them the signal. He's here. Ziva feels the first twinge of actual excitement she's felt in a year.
Ziva finishes her makeup and steps into her dress. She zips Liat up.
She hears them being announced.
They walk out together, glittering, sexy, spotlighted, and she smiles as the applause dies down and the band starts up. But she has just finished the first line of the song when an old, familiar sensation rolls down her spine. There is danger here, and it is watching her, and she sees one of the men from the coffee shop in Tel Aviv sit down at an empty table. Her mouth keeps moving, singing; her hips keep swaying—but in her heart, she curses herself. A second too late. A second too stupid. A second too naïve. She is not here to be the third partner in an operation to take down Viktor Aksakov.
She is here to be bait for Parsa.
The other man is concealed in the curtains that can be drawn to cover the tiny stage. She can feel his eyes on her. She can feel his gun trained on her back. And she almost wants to laugh, because if nothing else she has to give the whole damn lot of them points for creativity. This is like something out of one of Tony's stupid movies.
And because she is thinking about him and because the lights are playing tricks with her eyes, she sees his face there, in the crowd, pushing between tables toward the stage. She smiles at his apparition and waits for him to flash her a cocky grin. He'd call her a badass ninja, a sultry songstress. If he were here. Which, she reminds herself, he is not. Liat is here, singing with her. Malachi is here, somewhere. And two of Parsa's men are here to take her away, unless the three of them can get the upper hand. But Tony is a figment of her imagination.
He looks very solid for a figment of her imagination. He looks very near. There's an instrumental break in the song now, and she catches her breath and looks slowly around the room, smiling at different men.
Tony is still there when she looks back at him, and as she begins to sing again, she feels her entire world begin to wobble and fall from its axis. The lights are hot and she can hear her own voice echoing and mixing with Liat's, and Tony does not even blink as he looks up at her with betrayed disbelief in his eyes. She jerks her eyes away from him so as not to break her cover. Liat has noticed that something is wrong; Ziva can hear it in her voice, although she's certain nobody else can.
Her eyes drop to Tony again, and suddenly, out of the corner of her eye she catches the gunman as he slowly follows her gaze and swings his gun from her torso to Tony's. Fear strikes Ziva's heart like a steel mallet.
Liat and Malachi will cover her, and she doesn't much care if they fail. But they will not protect Tony, and she cannot let him die for her.
She closes her eyes and looks heavenward at the next line of the song, striking a dramatic pose and stepping directly into the path the stranger's bullet would follow—where is Malachi—but Liat suddenly has her hand and is tugging her close, and Ziva realizes that the song is over and that they are bowing and grinning and nodding and winking at the appreciative crowd. Liat twines her arms around Ziva in a tight embrace. Ziva's hands slide on the other woman's sweaty back, and her heart thumps tonytonytonytony so that she barely hears the hiss from Liat's smiling mouth: "Goddamn it, if you throw this op away for that American I will shoot you myself."
Ziva smiles back as she whispers into Liat's ear. "Were you going to tell me the truth once you'd caught him?" Over Liat's shoulder, Malachi has appeared next to Tony, and Ziva's heart gives an enormous thump that's not quite relief, but somewhere in that ballpark. "Or were you going to lie to me again?"
The room's cacophony prevents Ziva from hearing the greeting between Tony and the man she knows to be his fourth favorite Israeli, but she does not need to hear it in order to understand the trick Malachi is pulling. He sidles up next to Tony and throws an arm over his shoulder while whispering something into his ear; Tony's expression abruptly shifts, and he plays along when Malachi laughs, kisses his cheek, and grabs his hand. Tony even manages a flirty smile back at Malachi as they walk out of Ziva's field of vision. Just a happy couple, out for a sultry night. A couple of good actors. It's not one of Malachi's most brilliant ploys, but it works.
On stage, Liat releases Ziva from her embrace, and Ziva sees that the gun is now trained back on her own body. She will be taken hostage next, probably. Possibly tortured, but probably not killed. Not by this henchman, anyway. He is unlikely to shoot her; it would not gain him anything.
The bandleader looks up at the women with a question on his face. Normally, they would have signaled him to start their next number by now, or given him the signal that something was wrong and they needed a break. Ziva considers the options. She can keep the act up, hoping that Malachi will be able to overpower at least one of the gunmen before she gets offstage. She can bolt offstage and try to disarm the gunman in the curtains before grabbing Tony and getting out of Cairo as fast as a taxi driver is willing to drive. She can scream Tony's name and see what happens, but that sounds overly risky even inside her head.
She's not sure why Liat hasn't already made the call, to be honest.
She prays fervently that Tony won't do anything heroic and stupid, and signals the bandleader to start their next number.
Ziva's purring her way through a sultry chorus when she catches an unscripted sideways nod of Liat's head and notices two tall figures sneaking up behind the gunman on the side of the stage. (Curse Malachi for not sending Tony somewhere safe.) Malachi holds a vial of a fast-acting sedative and Tony has a knife—backup, she supposes, but she could have told them Tony's much better with a gun than a knife—and Ziva keeps her gaze steady on the crowd and her voice carefully modulated as Malachi jabs the syringe into the man's neck, Tony neatly catches the gun before it clatters to the ground, and the pair of them haul the man further backstage and disappear into the darkness.
The gunman sitting at a table in front of the stage stands up. Ziva winks at him. I see you, the wink says. Let's not pretend we don't both know what's going on here.
He disappears out the front door just as the song ends, and Ziva signals to the bandleader that she and Liat will be heading backstage. She just knows the man is heading for the back door, and Liat runs after her as she slips through narrow, dimly-lit hallways and slides a hand into the slit in her dress to retrieve the knife strapped to her thigh. She holds up a hand as she and Liat approach the door, and gestures to the deep shadows that shroud the adjacent nook.
Her instincts are right.
The man opens the door slowly, peering around as he steps silently in, and in the next moment, Ziva's arm forces his head back and her blade touches his throat. "Drop the gun," she hisses.
Instead, he points it at Liat, who gives him a calculating look. Her eyes meet Ziva's, and they look almost imperceptibly frightened. Ziva understands; the man's hand is steady and it's point-blank range.
Ziva presses the knife harder. "Do you want to die?"
"No," he says, breathing shallowly, "but you do not want to kill me."
"No," he repeats. "You have other interests. And I have information."
"So share it."
The door creaks open once more, and Ziva notes Malachi and Tony's arrival with relief. But Tony meets her eyes with a heavily guarded look upon his face that wounds her. Suddenly, she wants nothing more than to drop the knife and begin explaining herself.
Malachi reaches for something in his pocket, but Tony's eyes flicker from the gun to Ziva to Liat, and he moves swiftly, coming at the man's arm from underneath and swinging it upwards, where it fires just as Malachi stabs the man in the neck, narrowly missing Ziva's wrist. The man's weight is heavy and sudden on Ziva; she stumbles backwards and Tony, with a grim set to his mouth, grabs the man under the arms and helps her lay him down.
"They will have heard that," Liat says, bending down to pick up the dropped gun.
Ziva glances down at the gunman. He's tall and solid; she'll need to unstrap her heels in order to help carry him. "How long do we have until he wakes?"
"Eternity," Malachi says shortly.
She stares at him. Neither Liat nor Tony seem surprised by this information.
"That wasn't part of the plan."
"The plan changed."
Ziva's blood rushes loud in her ears. She can accept being used for bait. She cannot accept being lied to.
"We need to get out of here," Tony says. "Unless you wanted to wait for the Egyptian cops?"
"This does not concern you," she snaps at him.
But he's got his jaw clenched, and when he opens the door and shepherds her out, and Liat after her, his hand on her back does not have the gentle touch she remembers.
Malachi revs the engine on a small gray car waiting down the road and they zoom westward.
Ziva is the one to break the silence. "Why are you here?"
"That's her favorite question," Malachi remarks to Liat in the front seat.
Tony ignores him. "Did you know that every time you ask me that, I think that I could turn it back around on you? So this time, let me do just that. Why are you here, Ziva?"
"I was recruited for an operation," she replies stiffly.
Liat snorts softly.
"You are not Mossad, Ziva."
"I am aware of that. Thank you!"
She glares at him, and he clenches his jaw again and looks away, out of the window.
Malachi swerves off the road onto a side street, and then into a warehouse parking lot.
There's a sanctuary here; an old one. Ziva is vaguely surprised. This one has been in place for more than a decade. It was here when she saved Jenny Shepard's life, and that seems like a lifetime ago. It doesn't appear to have been used much since then, either, judging by the stiffness of the lock and the thickness of the dust on the floor.
"This one still has some of your old stuff," Malachi says by way of explanation. "Quick, get changed. Then we can talk."
She's not pleased about it, but the rhinestones are digging into her back and the earrings are heavy, so she digs under the bench and finds a bag of her own clothes, left there ten years ago, and tries not to contemplate the bizarreness of shimmying into pants that she last wore when she was twenty years old. Thank god she'd always been one for comfort and a full range of motion; the cargo pants still fit.
She feels Tony standing behind her. She can feel him refusing to look at her. The urge to explain herself bubbles up again, and she takes a deep breath as she pulls on the combat boots that were also stowed beneath the bench.
Liat stands half-naked nearby, but Tony is not looking at her, either. He is sifting through a stack of fake passports, and Ziva can see that they all bear her picture.
"Your new one was better," he says, his voice flat. "The one where you're wearing the blue shirt. You don't look like this anymore."
The one he holds up is an American one. ARNOUD reads the surname line beside the picture. REBECCA CHARLOTTE occupies the given name line.
She lifts a shoulder. "It was a long time ago."
"Funny how times change," he says. He sets the passport down. "Or is it funny how they don't?"
Ziva has had enough of this. "Would you mind telling me what your problem is? Because—for heaven's sake, Tony, would you look at me?"
He does look at her, then, and the mix of anger and hurt in his eyes makes her draw back slightly.
"My problem," he starts evenly. "My problem. Huh. That's a big question for this time of night. But I think it's fair to say that 'my problem' right now is you."
She could hit him. It certainly feels like he hit her.
"I have a suspicion, Ziva," he says in that awful fake-calm voice of his, "and do you want to know what it is?"
"I suspect that you didn't stay behind in Israel to 'find yourself'"—he crooks his fingers around the words—"after all. I suspect that you stayed in Israel to keep Parsa away from D.C. I suspect that you stayed off the grid but gave just enough hints to keep him sniffing around in this part of the world."
She denies that hotly, but he points a finger in her face and continues as she slaps it away, seething. Liat and Malachi are huddled in the corner doing a quick inventory of their weaponry, but she knows they are listening.
"I suspect," he says, "that you thought you were being noble, doing the martyr thing. Again. Even though," and here he laughs, and it's not a pleasant one, "—even though I thought we'd been over just how bullshit your martyrdom fetish is. And here we get down to the meat of the problem, Ziva, and I'll be honest with you, it does sting a little bit to know it."
"To know what?" she snaps.
All the humor has gone from his face. She hasn't seen him this angry in years. "You don't trust me."
"Of course I trust you."
"No. No, you didn't trust me to hear your real plans—your real reasons—and respect them and let you go."
"Would you have?"
He looks at her like she's an idiot. "No! But it's a whole different conversation, Ziva, and you didn't let us have it!"
She bites the inside of her cheek until she tastes blood to keep from screaming that he does not understand, he has never been able to understand, he never will be able to understand—
It's not true, and she knows it.
"We need to report back to Tel Aviv," Liat interrupts.
"Send Orli my regards," Tony says without removing his eyes from Ziva.
"You need to leave the country," says Malachi. "Both of you. I do not recommend returning to Israel. It's too obvious."
"He's right. Parsa has more than two gowns at his disposal."
"Goons?" Ziva suggests tiredly. A muscle near Tony's mouth twitches.
"Whatever. Stay safe. Lay low. Use one of your old passports."
"What about him?" Ziva asks, gesturing to Tony.
"What about him? You have a passport, yes?"
"So use it."
And with that, they are gone.
The box is very quiet with just Tony and just Ziva.
"Tony…" she starts, and she finds that her voice has drained of all anger.
But he shakes his head. "Let's go."
His hand on her back is gentle, though, as they step into the early morning sun.
They walk for a few miles, then hail a taxi. Ziva gives directions in Arabic, and they sit in silence for several minutes.
"I thought we were waiting for a Russian," she says eventually. "They tricked me into it."
His look says he doesn't buy it. "They tricked you?"
She shrugs. "Perhaps I let myself be tricked."
"Did you know Jackson died?" he asks abruptly as they wait at the ticket counter in the airport. "In February. I don't think Gibbs wanted us to come to the funeral," he says, squinting into the sun. "But we did anyway. McGee drove. Abby was in charge of music the whole way to Pennsylvania. I kept expecting you to call shotgun whenever we stopped at a rest stop, but you never did, because you weren't there."
Her mind is suddenly filled with promises of teamwork and family and Semper Fi; her nose recalls sawdust and coffee and scrambled eggs. She takes a very long time to reply.
"I should have been."
He looks sidelong at her. "I said an extra prayer to be from you. Abby said she did, too."
It's either New Delhi, Istanbul, Tokyo, or London.
He chooses London. She says okay.
Later, she surprises herself when she realizes it never crossed her mind that they could part ways.
He lets her have the aisle seat, because she doesn't like feeling hemmed in.
"Toda," she murmurs.
"Prego," he responds, and this time she is sure she is not imagining the faint smile touching his mouth and eyes.
"I was looking for you," he says, eyes closed, as they taxi down the runway. "Seems like I'm always looking for you when I get to this section of the world."
She wants to ask why, and, more specifically, why now, but she's not sure she's ready to hear the answer.
"You always seem to find me," she says instead.
"I've had a lot of practice," he points out.
"Have I been replaced?" she asks, somewhere over Europe. She realizes she shouldn't care, but she does. She cares just like she cared when she first met Liat and realized that her father had had her replaced with another young girl with a braid and good aim.
Tony nods. "Her name is Ellie."
"Is she any good?"
He considers. "Yes. She has raw talent for it…her style doesn't quite mesh yet, but I reckon it will."
Ziva is silent for a moment. "You like her."
"Yeah. I think she's gonna go far. Nice girl." They've left the armrest between them up, and now his pinky brushes hers on the strip of seat between them, and an unexpected frisson of pleasure runs up her arm. "But she's not you."
She looks at him for a moment, but can't find the words to explain what she feels. There is no word for happy and sad and confused and full of longing and scared and tired and lonely, all clumped into one. So she nods, and looks past him into the clouds and bright midday sky.
"Were you ever planning on coming back?" he asks her when they begin their descent.
"I don't know," she says, and she avoids his eyes.
They land in England at four in the afternoon, stage makeup still clinging to the corners of Ziva's eyes, and Ziva refuses to think about next steps and destinations as she hustles them onto a train and off of a train and into a Costa. For now, coffee is the next step. Coffee is the destination. That is as far as she is willing to let herself go.
Tony does not seem to share her outlook.
"We are not going back to the Middle East any time soon," he informs her when he hands her three sugar packets to stir into her coffee. This is the first time he has let go of her hand since they passed through customs. She isn't sure if he's scared somebody will show up to snatch her or if he's scared she's going to run, but she can smell his fear and it makes her feel vaguely irritable.
She rips one of the packages down the middle by accident, and sugar sprays across the table, only a few granules landing in her coffee. She throws down the paper in frustration.
She's exhausted. It's not as easy to be fighting and running and performing and country-hopping and battling romantic tension all in one day as it was ten years ago. Even though the group of young men Tony tugged her past on their way to this window table blatantly checked out her ass and elbowed each other approvingly, she feels old.
"Careful there, Gracie Lou," Tony says, flipping one of his own sugar packets onto her plate. His aim is impeccable. Everything she's been thinking about since he appeared in the club in Egypt suddenly boils over and her voice is hot and angry when she opens her mouth.
"You cannot control me," she says. "You cannot tell me where I may and may not go. You cannot tell me I have to go back. You can't make things be what they were before."
He rips the top off his one remaining sugar packet and watches the stream of sugar fall as he tips it slowly into his coffee. He stirs. He closes his eyes and takes a sip, and when he clinks the cup back into its saucer and finally looks up at her, she is startled by just how tired he looks. His forehead is creased and there are dark smudges under his eyes that are not caused by makeup, like hers are. She has to battle the instinct to take care of her partner, because she needs to keep her anger intact, needs to be able to show him how wrong he is.
"I don't want to control you," he says eventually, and even though she doesn't want to, she finds herself appreciating how level his voice is, how thoughtful his expression. "I don't wanna be telling you where you can and can't go."
He reaches out and takes her hand again, tapping his thumb against her knuckles, and her words jumble up in her throat.
He seems to be having trouble with his own throat, too, because when he speaks again, his voice is low and gravelly. "I want us to want the same thing. I want—I'd like to be where you are, but I want you to want to be where I am, too."
His gaze has been trained on his hand over hers, but now he shifts it to look her square in the eye. And his eyes are so honest, his face so open that it makes her heart ache.
Her hand feels gritty where sugar granules have pressed into her skin, but she ignores it and slowly flips her hand to the side to slip her fingers between his.
"I want you to let us help," he says softly. "Let me help, Ziva. I don't care that it's a risk."
"It's dangerous," she hears herself insist.
"Life's dangerous. Ask McGee and Delilah." She tilts her head to signal curiosity, and there is nothing comfortable or amused in the bitter little smile he flashes her. There's something here she's missing.
He shakes his head. "You really should ask McGee and Delilah."
Suddenly she feels very overwhelmed. Jackson…something with McGee's girlfriend…and her replacement? So much has happened without her. It's only been one year. How can she risk adding to their problems? But he looks like he knows what she's thinking, because he clears his throat to get her to focus on him again.
"Look, Ziva, love and f-f-friendship, they're a risky business."
She's relatively sure he's mocking her, and the way a corner of his mouth curls up confirms it.
"But risky doesn't mean not worth it," he finishes.
She takes a moment to finally stir sugar into her cooling coffee.
"You think I am being stubborn," she eventually observes.
"You are being stubborn."
Over the rim of her cup, she watches him run a hand through his hair, which sticks up in response. She's seen it that way a million times. She recognizes the shirt he's wearing. She's overwhelmingly fond of the curve of his jaw, the shape of his hands, the familiarity of his scent. His loyalty. His honesty.
The way he never gives up on her, even when she tells him to.
She owes him more explanations than she can possibly put into words. He'd probably deny that, but she feels it in her bones.
"I did leave because I wanted to change, you know," she says quietly.
"And I wanted you safe."
"I don't think I can handle losing anybody else, Tony."
He studies her face, and she can see that he understands. She shrugs her shoulders and gives him a tiny, self-deprecating smile. It's an I don't know. A where do we go from here? An I didn't mean for this to happen. It's all she feels she can offer in this moment.
"C'mere," he says, standing. The slightest tug at her wrist propels her into his arms. His big, warm hand finds the back of her neck, and she suddenly has difficulty remembering that they are in public, that there are chairs scraping and coffee machines whirring and people looking at her.
"Have you ever seen Pocahontas?" he murmurs, a breath away from her lips, and she blinks.
"I don't think so."
"We'll watch it later, if you can pretend that John Smith isn't voiced by an anti-Semitic asshole. You'll like the music."
"Is there a point to this?" she asks breathlessly, flicking her gaze to his lips and back to meet his eyes.
"Yes. I'd rather die tomorrow than live a hundred years without knowing you."
A thousand flowers suddenly bloom in her gut, but—"that doesn't really address the point I was making," she points out.
"Work with me here, Ziva," he says, and then he's kissing her, and her hands have snaked up his chest and around his neck to pull him closer, and she warms from the inside out and feels actually safe for the first time in a year and a half.
Somebody whistles. A woman's voice mutters indignantly that she doesn't think this is the time and place, and god, just come to get a coffee and look what you have to see—but Ziva tunes her out. Because this is not a kiss to say goodbye. This is a kiss they are sharing even though they're going to spend the next few hours getting to the airport and standing in more lines, then eight hours in economy class back to D.C., jabbing each other with their elbows and nursing sore necks by the time they reach their destination. This is a kiss she can relish even though they can have another one tomorrow when they watch Pocahontas, and the day after that, and the day after that. This is a kiss that does not have to be over when they pull apart. Not really. Not ever. She just has to make the call.
"Let's get a taxi back to Heathrow," she says against his mouth. He pulls back and looks at her with a mix of hope and trepidation creasing his face.
She tilts her face up and kisses him twice more, each time soft and lingering. "We can be on that overnight United flight to Dulles. If you don't dawdle, that is."
"I will push you in front of the taxi if you ask if I am sure," she warns him.
Tony looks like he's trying to wince, but his face radiates happiness, instead. "Then you wouldn't be able to use my frequent flier miles."
Ziva rolls her eyes, but he's already grabbing his jacket off the back of his chair and tossing it over his shoulder, never letting go of her waist.
"Come on, my little Amerikayit," he grins at her, and she can't help but grin back. "We've got a plane to catch."
Thank you for reading! Hope you enjoyed!