A/N: Hi everybody! I have no idea where this came from… This is the longest chapter I've ever written of anything! Anyway, it will probably be a three shot. Rated M for violence and adult themes and content. Please let me know what you think!
Summary:It all started when Ziva's father did not approve her request for a liaison position with NCIS. Instead, he offered her a mission she could not refuse. From there it did not take long for a crisis to arise— a crisis that intertwined her path with the one person who could save her. AU after Kill Ari II. T/Z.
He had been drifting in and out of consciousness for what felt like an eternity, grappling with the elusive fabric of reality that seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The grapefruit-sized lump on the back of his head was to fault for this state of limbo—it throbbed metrically and colored the shadowy room blood red.
This time, he woke to find that the sun had long ago sunk below the horizon. Now the only thing illuminating the dirt, cinderblock cell was bright moonlight coming from the barred window high on the wall against which he was leaning. It reflected off of the dust particles drifting aimlessly through the bitter night air.
As Tony's eyes began to adjust he looked across the tiny room, gaze resting on his cellmate. The past few times he'd woken up he had been much less lucid, but he'd had enough wits about him to notice the body lying near the opposite wall, just to the right of the heavy wooden door. He hadn't noticed much else before drifting off again. Now it was just dark enough that he could only make out an outline. The person lay on his side, his back facing Tony, still as death. Tony could not even make out movement that would suggest he was breathing.
God knew how long that poor soul had been here. Tony tried to open his mouth to speak to him, but he found that his tongue and throat were too dusty and dry.
When Tony's sluggish brain managed to catch itself up with the events of the past few days, he began to look toward the future, which was, at the moment, veiled in ambiguity. The sunrise would no doubt bring with it a host of unfavorable events and hostile men armed with the very guns that put that aching lump on his head. The fact that he might die did not bother him as much as he felt it should. What botheredhim was that he might die without knowing the reason he was even here in the first place.
Tony understood the concept of highly sensitive, he truly did. It was the words top and secret substituted for more sophisticated-sounding vocabulary. It was something he'd come across a lot in his years working for the government. He had been stonewalled enough times to understand that some material was not for his eyes and ears.
However, he did not understand why Director Jennifer Shepard had refused to tell him everything about his own operation. All of this cloak and dagger nonsense was really not his style—not to mention the fact that if he was going to give his life for something, he damn well should've been able to know what it was.
There was always the possibility of rescue, of course. Remembering Gibbs' fierce loyalty to his team made it hard to believe they would simply leave him here. It was a matter of time, however—they might chose to kill him tomorrow, in which case any rescue attempt would be futile. They might chose to torture him for information, and in that scenario he might last a few days, but even a few days is a narrow window for rescue.
That they would come he had no doubt, but was up to him to survive until the cavalry arrived.
It did not take long for his thoughts to begin to tangle together and become incoherent. Staying awake was an uphill battle, and he had neither the weapons nor the will to win it. The dirt floor beneath him began to fall away; his eyelids became heavier by the minute.
Eventually, the world faded to black once again.
It was still dark the next time his groggy eyes opened. He felt much more coherent now than he had the past few times he'd woken, and he wondered if perhaps he finally had a firm grip on reality. His brain was processing information much quicker now—it no longer took minutes for him to make simple observations.
The first observation his brain made was that his cellmate was no longer in the room. Before he could fully begin to draw conclusions, his answer came to him in the form of noises travelling from the adjacent room. He knew that sound, knew it from hot, sweaty nights and tangled cotton bed sheets. It was different here, in this context—it was not the familiar duet, but rather a solo belted in a voice with a harsh, deep timbre.
He sighed regretfully, hurting for his fellow prisoner. She—he now reasoned that his prior assumption regarding gender was incorrect—must have suffered great atrocities in her time here, and will no doubt suffer many more, with him alongside.
The man in the other room continued for what felt like an interminably long period of time before he tossed her back in with Tony. Her body landed with a thud, displacing a small cloud of dust that glinted in the moonlight. He considered saying something, anything, to her—but what was there to say?
The lullaby of the howling wind ushered him to sleep.
Tony woke that morning to an unbearably stuffy room. August in Iraq was nothing like August in Washington, D.C. The sweat beaded on his forehead and rolled down his face, and he mourned the loss of water. His tongue already felt like sandpaper—he was on the fast track to death from dehydration.
When the sun reached the apex of its path and the day was at its hottest, they came for him.
They took him to the room next door, which was much more spacious than the tiny cell in which they were keeping him and the other prisoner. The only thing in the room was an old, wooden straight-backed chair, towards which the two men ushered him. One was clearly the boss, as he carried himself with an air of superiority. He let the other man, whose enormous muscles rippled under his clothing, tie Tony's ankles to the legs of the chair and his wrists to the arms. He couldn't help but notice that there were parts of the chair that were stained a dark crimson. After securing him, the burly man walked out of the room.
"How about we start with introductions," began the boss. He placed a large, dirty hand on his chest. "I am Rahim."
Tony stayed silent.
"And you are Agent DiNozzo, I've been told."
Tony was definitely surprised that he knew his name—that could only mean that Jenny had a leak somewhere.
"You are American, I take it?"
Tony could not be silent anymore; it was simply not in his nature. "God bless the USA." His voice had a lingering undertone of sarcasm.
"You see, this is fortunate for both of us," Rahim replied. At that moment, the other man returned holding a tripod and video camera. Tony straightened in the chair, realizing that this was probably the best outcome he could have hoped for.
It was a textbook ransom video, really: himself in exchange for two terrorists imprisoned in Gitmo. His pride took a bit of a blow, but it hardly mattered because in the end he had lived to see another day—bought Gibbs and Jenny and whoever else was tied up in this mess more time to orchestrate a rescue.
This bought them one week, to be exact. Seven days, beginning today. Seven days was an eternity compared to what he was expecting. He'd seen these things taken care of and wrapped up in a neat little blood-spattered bow in a matter of a few days.
He was optimistic.
The sunset on that first day of the countdown brought cool air, which was a relief. The hot, arid climate had drained him of energy very quickly. The fact that he was starving and incredibly thirsty did not help, either.
The woman on the other side of the room still lay with her back to him, unmoving. Again he almost tried to speak to her—perhaps she would appreciate the friendly human contact?—but he was so exhausted and there were no guarantees she even spoke English.
Later, he told himself.
A man came for her again that night. He was not one of the two that Tony had encountered this morning. He was tall enough that he had to stoop a bit to clear the doorway, and his face had deep furrows that gave him an evil disposition. His eyebrows were dark and wild, and when he frowned they nearly obscured his eyes. When he bent down to grab the woman by the arm, Tony noticed that his giant hands could wrap entirely around bicep with ease. He pulled her up off the floor, her thick, curly hair shrouding her face.
She did not fight him, and Tony felt a twinge of sadness at how many times this must have already occurred for her to be so apathetic to it.
The man froze, however, and released her arm. She fell back to the ground with a thud. His eyes glinted in the moonlight and his nose screwed up in disgust, as if it had detected some abhorrently distasteful scent. Tony fought the urge to call him a hypocrite—he found out firsthand this morning how little these men tended to personal hygiene, and he couldn't imagine that she smelled any worse than this giant of a man.
The man grumbled something in a language Tony did not understand and turned on his heels to leave the room, slamming the door on the way out. The footsteps faded down the corridor, and Tony wondered if he would be back.
Looking over at the woman, he found that even in the low lighting he could make out miniscule movements. Perhaps he was imagining it, but it seemed that her usually still body was shaking ever so slightly. He felt a pang in his heart, the desire to comfort her, but he had a feeling that more hands on her bruised body was the last thing she wanted.
Tony heard a crescendo of footsteps, slower in cadence than they were when the man was leaving; when he opened the door Tony understood why. He was carrying a huge wooden basin of water. He sat it down just inside of the small room, the water sloshing over the edges and reflecting the bright moonlight.
His enormous hand found the woman's tiny arm, yanking her towards the basin. He grabbed the back of her neck and violently forced her head into the murky water. Tony's back straightened, his teeth grinding and his hands forming tight fists.
Pockets of air escaped her desperate submerged mouth and made horrid blub blubsounds as they reached the surface. She fought against the man holding her under at first, but even then it was a feeble attempt. It seemed as though her strength, her fight, had left her long ago. Her efforts died as the last bubble broke the surface, making hardly a noise.
She had been under for too long. Tony was shaking now, eyeing the man's malicious face with fury.
"Stop." His voice was tight and low—he tried very hard to keep it under control. If the man heard, he made no movement to indicate that he did.
"Stop," Tony repeated, his voice less regulated this time. When he was not acknowledged yet again, the seething anger and fear erupted and his protests climaxed in a furious yell.
"You're killing her!" His cry echoed off of the cinder block walls, reverberating in his eardrums. His body was shaking as adrenaline coursed through his veins, nails digging into the palm of his hand—he was oh so very closeto snapping and intervening, despite the terrible odds. He would not let this woman be murdered not five feet away from him.
The man looked at Tony for the first time, and had the audacity to look merely annoyed. He yanked the woman's head out of the basin by her hair, which from what Tony could see in the low light was plastered every which way on her head, veiling her face. The man roughly threw her down onto the hard-packed dirt floor. She was coughing now, her entire body seizing up as she tried to expel the water from her lungs. They were violent hacks, ones that brought up all too recent memories of blue-tinted quarantine and inevitable death.
The man picked up the basin, dumped the water on her convulsing body, and left the room.
Molten hatred coursed through Tony's body—he could not sit on the sidelines any longer. He left his spot against the wall opposite the door, scooting a few feet so that he sat next to her. She lay face down on the ground, her body wracking violently.
"It's okay," he whispered, pulling her gently into his lap. She continued to sputter, her forehead resting on his thigh. Her fingers knotted in his shirt, grasping it tightly as if she was trying to pull herself out of some imagined ocean. "You're okay." He gently laid his hand on the back of her head, running his fingers through her wet hair. Besides comforting lies and consoling gestures, there was not much he could give her. Meanwhile, her body tried desperately to expel the water she'd taken in. Every now and then, in between frame-wracking coughs, her body would seize up and she would heave, her stomach convulsing. Nothing ever came up, and Tony wondered how close she was to starving to death.
It took a few minutes for her system to recover from such a close brush with death. Her breathing became slower and less ragged, and he felt her tense muscles relax. Even through the thick material of his cargo pants, he could feel her hot, shallow breaths on his leg, in deep contrast to the cold night air.
"There'ya go," he muttered. Under his hand, her neck turned so that she laid the side of her head on his leg. Looking down, he noticed that her wet hair, freezing now due to the frigid night air, still stuck to and obscured her face. His mother's voice floated back to him, recounting cautionary tales of the perils of wet hair in cold climates. He wasn't sure if it was because of this or because of simple curiosity, but with a tender hand he pulled the soaked tendrils away and smoothed them off to the side. And when he finally focused his eyes on her…
It was dark, but he swore it was her. He swore.
Phone sex, no. Uh, charades.
Never on the telephone.
There was much that was the same about her: the widow's peak, the gentle curve of her lips, dark, curly hair—but the similarities stopped there. Even in the dark room he could see the grey pallor of her once perfectly olive skin. She wore the evidence of her starvation in her sunken cheeks and pronounced collarbone (which sported hideous red marks that looked too much like bite marks for his comfort).
"Ziva," he breathed, his voice colored with disbelief. At this, her weary eyes immediately opened, and she looked up at him, startled. Astonishment settled in her expression when she placed his face, and he wondered if she could also smell coffee and pepperoni pizza, and hear far-away rain striking far-away pavement.
And in her deep brown eyes he found the biggest discrepancy between Ziva-then and Ziva-now. The provocative, stubborn, and dangerous nature of old had eroded during her stay here, leaving her with a vulnerability that made his heart ache.
For the longest moment she looked as if she was about to say something—anything—but in the end words seemed to elude her. He understood this fully, because there was not one thing he could think of saying that was not hideously inappropriate.
The Ziva David he remembered would not have stayed one second in their current position. When they first met, he deduced that self-reliance had been important to her, and she would have never allowed herself to find comfort in his arms like this.
But the Ziva David in his arms, exhausted not just in body but in spirit, did not move a muscle.
On the second day, he woke up to the door being pushed open and the man named Rahim grabbing Ziva, who was until that point asleep on the floor next to him. Tony's gut twisted into a knot as he watched her struggle to keep up with the pace her captor set, so as to not be dragged on the filthy ground like a ragdoll. The door slammed shut.
The sound travelled well enough from the adjacent room that he could hear talking, but not well enough that he could distinguish the words (which were most likely not in English anyway). It sounded like a one-sided conversation, the only participant he would assume being Rahim, judging by the oily timbre. A few minutes later, he stopped talking. It seemed as if he was waiting for something.
That something came in the form of halted, pained cries that made Tony swear under his breath and punch a wall.
He was pacing now, wearing a path into the dirt floor.
So, come on. Who recruited you? Father? Uncle? Brother? Boyfriend?
Aunt, sister, lesbian lover…
You're good. You almost got me off the question… almost.
She'd been gone maybe twenty minutes when they tossed her back in with him. There were no visible signs of trauma, no bruises, no blood.
Save, of course, the tiny rivulet stemming from the pinprick in the crook of her left arm.
Whatever they'd given her, it was wearing off. The tiny whimpers that fell from her lips were an improvement to the sounds he had been hearing through the concrete wall. Her eyes were still wild, though, betraying that she was most likely in more pain than she was letting on.
He sat down, back against the wall, and pulled her into him. Her head fell gently against his shoulder, her entire right side pressed up against his torso. Ever so tenderly, he wrapped his arms around her and interlocked his fingers, his grip loose enough to not seem threatening but tight enough to feel secure. It was how his mother used to hold him when he would climb into her bed in the middle of the night, scared because there were shadows on his wall. It never failed to comfort him, and he hoped that now in Ziva's hour of need it could provide at least some semblance of comfort, even as she trembled and grit her teeth against the fire in her veins.
The shaking stopped eventually, and he could feel her breathing even out. Every now and then, however, she would shudder involuntarily. When that happened he had to force himself not to tighten his hold.
"You okay?" he asked once, not fully expecting an answer.
Her only response was to close her eyes and relax further into his aching chest.
They took her away from him again that night. One minute she was warm against him, and the next…
He did not sleep after that, and when she was brought back he had enough common sense to know to give her space. They both shivered their way through the rest of the night.
On the third day, he attempted conversation, figuring anything was better than the oppressive silence.
"How long've you been here?" he asked, leaning back against the wall with the window. She was on the opposite side of the cell, sitting near the door with her knees pulled to her chest. She'd been staring at the floor for hours, her gaze empty of emotion.
To his surprise, she looked up at his question. He detected a twinge of sadness in her expression as she shook her head—she did not know. Her silence worried him, nagged at the back of his mind and alerted him that this is not the Ziva we know.
But he had already come to that conclusion, so he paid it no mind.
Her gaze fell back down to the ground, staring at that infinitesimal spot that seemed to capture her attention so fully. It was hard to miss the complete absence of hope in her gaze, and he surmised that she'd long ago let go of the notion that she would ever survive this.
"Hey," he whispered, "we're gonna get out of here." She looked up at him, but despite the conspiratorial smirk he offered and the certainty he expressed, she did not look like she believed him.
"I mean it," he added. "You remember Gibbs, right?" When she did not respond, he took it as a yes. "He doesn't give up. Ever. Especially on his people. I mean, you know that. You saw how he got after…"
Her eyes shifted, and he decided to steer clear of that particular event—which was, admittedly, difficult to do since the only time they met was because of it.
"And Jenny—you know Jenny?" At this, she looked back up at him, and for the first time he saw a flash of intrigue. That's something, he mused—and then he remembered. "Oh yeah, you two knew each other before. I forgot. Hell, you probably know her better than I do. Actually I know you know her better than I do. Well, in that case, you know how damn stubborn she can be. Once she sets her mind to something, you'd better be sure you're not in her way." At that, the corner of her mouth twitched, encouraging him to keep talking; it was the best response he'd gotten from her yet.
"She was really distracted for these past few months. We all knew something was up. Then she came to me and asked me about this mission—all secretive about it, of course. She didn't even tell me half the story. But, you know how these things go. You get orders and you follow them, even if they end up landing you in some terrorist base in Iraq."
There was a quick flash of somethingin her eyes, and Tony knew that she understood that far too well.
"So I got here and it went South—but you know Jenny's not just gonna leave it like that, if not because of me then because she's got some serious stake in how this whole thing goes down."
She looked away from him again, but this time instead of spacing out she seemed deep in thought. Then her lips parted and her eyebrows rose, as if she'd come to some sort of conclusion that Tony had missed.
"Anyway, you've just gotta hang on a little longer. We'll be out of here in no time, promise." And of course, Tony couldn't truthfullypromise anything, but he did not feel guilty for his words.
For someone with nothing, there were worse things than a bit of potentially false hope.
On the fourth day, he realized what he'd missed.
They were sitting in much the same positions as before—the lack of food and water completely destroyed any desire to move—, and Tony's muddled thoughts had had drifted back to the threshold of the Director's office. The day she had given him the assignment she had called him upstairs—
You've been distracted since she died; it'll do you some good to get away from here, to recollect your thoughts
—and since Cynthia was on her lunch break he'd simply walked right in and caught the tail end of a telephone conversation. At the time he hadn't thought much of it, but in retrospect it might have been more important than any single sentence spoken in the debriefing that followed.
This is my friend we're talking about—don't worry, I'm not giving up.
And it suddenly seemed so glaringly obvious.
"Of all the cells in all the terrorist camps in all the world, I get thrown in yours, huh?" he mumbled under his breath. She looked up at him from across the room, which really was only maybe eight feet away. "Except…" he continued, speaking a bit louder now, "it's never like in the movies, is it?" She responded simply with a small, sad smile.
He could almost feel the sting on the back of his head as the words rule thirty-nineechoed in his ears.
On the fourth day, he swore he was losing it.
The burly man had brought them two bottles of water the night before, which despite the strange brownish tint they both drained completely. He was still severely dehydrated, however, which apparently made him just a bit talkative.
"So then Probie threw up all over the crime scene," Tony recounted, finishing up his most recent anecdote. She seemed to be listening, but he couldn't be sure. Either way, he figured listening to his pointless stories was better for her mental health than staring at a spot on the ground all day, wallowing in whatever terrible thoughts her brain managed to conjure up. Sometimes her mouth would twitch in an almost-kinda-smile, and it only urged him on.
He made the mistake of mentioning Kate fairly early on. When he said her name, Ziva's eyes darkened perceptively and he swore he saw a flicker of remembered betrayal in them. From then on, he tried to keep the one-sided conversation on a path that wouldn't make her dwell more in her obviously troubled past.
Thinking about her past got him thinking about something else, however—where was Mossad in all of this?
Ziva, Deputy Director David is on teleconference for you.
Deputy Director David? Wouldn't be Daddy, would it?
She'd been here months, that much he knew from how long Jenny had been… preoccupied. He had last seen Ziva towards the end of May and it was now the end of August, meaning that she couldn't have been here any longer than three months.
Months,and still she remained here, out of sight and out of mind of the ones who shouldhave loved her enough to save her.
On the fifth day, he began to worry.
He had to consider the fact that there were only two more days left on the clock. His stay of execution was frighteningly close to being over, and his confidence was faltering.
He tried very hard to keep Ziva in the dark when it came to his growing uneasiness; it would be cruel to so prematurely rip away any sense of hope he was responsible for giving her. However, he was never quite sure that he had been successful at this.
He spent that day much like he had the day before. He recounted stories of old cases and humorous pranks, explained to her in detail the plot of Forrest Gump, debated the best episode of Magnum P.I. and the pros and cons of dating a dentist. He told her about his preteen years spent terrorizing the administration at various boarding schools across the Eastern Seaboard, and when they sent him home, terrorizing his assorted stepmothers.
"It was like… the Parent Trap and Sound of Music wrapped into one. I mean, minus the frogs and the mattress in the lake, but still pretty damn close," he boasted. He was almost positive she did not care about anything he was saying, but he continued to talk for the sake of filling the silence.
They continued to drag her away in the dead of night, and she never fought them. Perhaps she had, in the beginning, but at some point she must have learned that the best way to fight was by not fighting at all. Then after they had finished they would dump her back into the room with her clothes disheveled and eyes so terribly vacant.
He had no idea how she could possibly sleep after that.
The sixth day brought catastrophe.
He heard the footfalls in the hallway getting louder and louder, each step sinking Tony's heart just a little bit more. Footsteps in the nighttime were a common occurrence, and while horrible they were at least predictable.
This was not predictable, and the various worst-case scenarios that ran through his head in those few seconds made the hairs on the back of his neck curl.
Right before the door opened, his gaze settled on Ziva, who was sitting in the corner with her knees pulled to her chest defensively. It struck him then how tired she must be to be letting her mask slip so far down—he could tell at a quick glance that she was afraid, just as he was.
The man who entered was the thickset one who had tied Tonto the chair that first day. He spared Tony not a glance, eyes searching predatorily for his target. He lifted her by the underarm as if she were made of feathers, and dragged her away without a word.
All there was left to do was wait.
There was no sound except footsteps from the adjoining room for a change. She was only gone for a few minutes when he heard the footsteps again and the door swung open. The man released her arm and she collapsed to the ground. He moved the few feet over towards her, and with a quick glance at her arm he found the small rivulet of blood the flowed from the injection site.
"Damn," he muttered, sighing heavily. A quick glance at her face revealed cloudy, unfocused eyes that were saturated completely with pain. Her lips were moving slightly, forming nearly inaudible words in what he assumed was Hebrew.
It was not physical pain this time, but emotional. He passed the next hour or so rocking her in his arms, trying futilely to coax her away from whatever she was seeing.
"It's not real, Ziva, I promise," he whispered to her, petting her hair gently and holding her tighter than was probably necessary.
It got worse before it got better.
"Abba…" It was the first real word he'd heard from her mouth, and he'd gone to enough Sunday School classes to know what that one meant. He was almost certain now that it was her father that was to blame for this whole mess, and it only made him clutch her tighter as if to absorb some of her pain. How long had it been since someone had simply held her? Far too long, he suspected.
Occasionally she would grasp at empty air, reaching out for some illusion that disappeared just as she thought she had it within her grip. Sometimes she would struggle against him, for it was probably not his arms she was feeling around her—when that happened he simply relaxed his grip to calm her but continued his attempts to shelter her from harm.
It was very difficult to do when the harm came from within her own brain.
And then, there came a point where she began to cry. That was what broke him, seeing the little drops of water cut silent paths down her dirty cheeks. He wiped them away as they appeared, because it was what his mother used to do and really he had no other experiences to draw from.
She continued to mumble all through this, words so strained that they were barely words at all. One word that kept popping up was Tali.
I lost my little sister Tali in a Hamas suicide bombing… she was sixteen and the best of us.
He could not possibly understand all of the monsters that lurked under her bed, but he had a feeling that most of them had been let loose by whatever hallucinogen those sadists had pumped into her veins.
Gibbs had had McGee look her up after she appeared in their squadroom on that rainy afternoon. What little information that had been available painted a horribly tragic picture of what her life had been like up to that point. Her young life had been punctuated by deaths of loved ones, and he could only speculate what it had been like growing up with the Deputy Director of Mossad as a father. And now she was here, crying in the arms of a man she hardly knew, mourning all those she'd lost and reliving unspeakable pain… helplessly waiting to be saved. He had a feeling that if Death arrived before rescue did, she would not shed a tear.
She was only twenty-two years old.
By nightfall, she still had not recovered from the drug.
The crying and trembling and mumbling had eventually stopped, and from what he could tell she was no longer hallucinating. However, she was fundamentally absent. While he was grateful that her eyes no longer held the pain he'd witnessed before, he was seriously concerned, for her eyes held nothing. They were unfocused and blank.
They reminded Tony of the eyes of a corpse.
The important thing was, however, that she was still breathing. He was no doctor, but he had a feeling that this was only temporary, some sort of after effect of the drug.
And then it hit him like a train—this could very well be his last night.
Tomorrow made a week since his ransom video was sent, and so far no rescue had materialized. He leaned his head back against the wall behind him, closing his eyes against the flood of emotions, letting them wash over him.
At some point that night, she became just as much of a comfort to him as he was to her. She made no effort to move from his arms; her muscles had gone slack long ago. He was content to let her sleep curled up against his chest. When the air outside was still and quiet, he could hear her heart beating, which for some strange reason helped him deal with the fact that there was a good chance he would die tomorrow.
God, please don't let him die tomorrow.
He was only human, and he was so very afraid. He had faced death hundreds of times in his life, and so far he'd been nothing but triumphant. At some point, though, the penny had to drop. Really, with his hero-complex and annoying personality it was a miracle he'd survived this long.
Still, he did not want to die, and he was infinitely grateful that he had her to hold onto through that long night.
The seventh day came without any sort of fanfare. The sun rose in the exact same way it had the day before, and come evening it would set once again.
He made his peace with it, relatively speaking.
When the light of day dawned, the early morning sun reached out to touch Ziva's face. All it did, however, was enunciate how emaciated she looked and emphasize her coma-like state. She was still virtually unresponsive, he found, and she did not seem to register a word he said. But she was moving a little now, blinking when necessary and shifting positions periodically.
Then came the footsteps, each one like a tick of the clock counting down the remaining seconds of his life.
Rahim threw open the door—it swung on its hinges and made a loud noise as it struck the wall. In his arms, Tony felt Ziva jump.
"Time is up, Agent DiNozzo,"Rahim growled, crossing the tiny room in one large stride and yanking her off of Tony's lap and tossing her out of the way. He was by no means gentle, and she landed with a dull thud against the back wall.
Tony, wanting to at least head to his death with dignity, tried to stand on his own. It had been a while, however, and his legs trembled underneath. Rahim, holding a zip tie and a burlap sack, roughly spun him around so that he could secure Tony's hands behind his back.
With his back to Rahim and the doorway, Tony was facing Ziva, who had somehow managed to sit herself up on the floor. He studied her face, memorizing every aspect. Despite the grime, malnourishment, and unfocused gaze, she was still one of the most beautiful women he'd ever met. It would be the last thing he'd see, he decided. He only hoped that Jenny would not be too late to save her, as well.
He gritted his teeth as the too-tight plastic dug into his wrists. He heard the rustle of the burlap sack and soaked in life one last time before it was placed over his head and he could see no more. Rahim moved in between Tony and Ziva before turning his prisoner around to face the door and gave him a shove forward between the shoulder blades.
And then the captor began to exclaim something, but was cut off by a deafening, unexpected gunshot that echoed off the barren walls. Out of instinct, Tony dropped to the ground, then as quickly as possible shook the bag off of his head.
He turned around to find Ziva sitting in much the same place as she had been a few seconds ago, the smoking gun in her hand aimed at the terrorist lying between them, blood spilling from an angry wound right between his eyes, the holster at his ankle empty.
She looked directly up at Tony, and in a rare moment of complete lucidity, spoke to him for the first time.
"I am sorry, for this."
He knew she was not referring to the terrible man dead between them, but for all that had happened in the last week and all that would happen as a direct consequence of her actions.
Because when she'd pulled that trigger, she had not saved him, not really—she had only condemned herself.
However, he could not fault her for her actions; in her place he would have done the same thing. She had suffered here long enough, and he knew she was ready for it to end. Killing one of her tormentors had just been a bonus she was not expecting.
God, he bet it felt good.
"Never apologize," he told her, offering a final sad smile. Turning his back, he grabbed the knife from Kareem's belt and cut the zip tie binding his hands. He knew people heard the gunshot, and they only had moments before more men arrived. "What do you say we go down with a fight, Officer David?" At that, a fire was ignited in her eyes and she gave a nod of her head, raising the gun—which had maybe four bullets left at best—and aiming it at the door.
Then all there was left to do was wait.
They arrived at the eleventh hour, in a hailstorm of bullets and shouts and wind from helicopter blades so strong that Tony could feel the gusts through the tiny, barred window. He barked out a relieved and disbelieving laugh when he first heard the rapid gunfire and shouting in a language he actually understood. A large, elated grin spread on his face, cracking his dry lips.
Ziva's eyes were wide and uncomprehending as he choked on his relief. He grabbed her shoulders, giving her a gentle shake and telling her I told you they'd come with a mouth that couldn't seem to stop smiling.
They were not going to die today.
He could see her spacing out, becoming less and less lucid. Her gaze kept returning to the corpse of her tormentor lying a few feet from her in a pool of his own blood. Tony wondered if perhaps her brain was going into overload—this was a lot to take in, after all.
There were footsteps in the hallway again, fast enough that the person must have been running. Just in case, Tony grabbed the gun from her loosening hand and stood, barrel aimed squarely at the door.
It swung open, and Tony had never been so relieved to see those tan camouflage uniforms in his life. He lowered the gun immediately.
"Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS," he identified himself.
"And the woman?"
"Mossad Officer Ziva David. Don't think she can walk, I might need some help."
One of the men helped him hoist her up so that her arms were draped across their shoulders. Her mind was slipping, he could tell.
"Hang in there, Ziva. The cavalry's here, we're goin' home." He reached up and gave the hand resting on his shoulder a reassuring squeeze; he swore he felt her squeeze back.
And onward they went.
To be continued