Her mind was a dangerous place, she had come to realize. Left idle for too long it would wander, the darkest portions that she constantly pushed away away away seeping like ink into the forefront of her consciousness. They colored her thoughts black and conjured torturous images that ran chills down her spine and made little goose bumps arise on her pale arms. Cruel, obsidian eyes and tar-like liquid in filthy syringes became the only thing that felt real, despite the bright-lit hospital room and pristine sheets under her shaking body.
The hold the images had on her was fragile, however, unlike the waking nightmares that the doctors had diagnosed as panic attacks. The slightest thing could force away the encroaching black—the honk of a horn outside, the yell of a nurse, the air conditioner kicking on…
Movement in the doorway.
Her heart nearly stopped, because in her peripheral vision the man in the threshold was a shapeless mass whose only defining feature was a shock of gray hair. For a moment she allowed herself to hope, to believe; to live in a world where a father would fly halfway around the world just to see his resurrected daughter's face; where he would kiss her forehead and her scars and promise he would never allow himself to let her slip away again; where he would embrace her like she was a child—his child—and beg forgiveness for discarding her like a broken bird in the desert sand and for allowing her wings to be snapped in two in the first place.
But instead her father was Eliahu David, Director of Mossad, and in the doorway was Gibbs.
"You okay?" His voice was as gruff as she remembered, contrasting strongly the yellow bouquet of flowers in his hand.
"I am fine," she answered, the response hardwired so long ago into her brain that it was almost automatic.
He extended his arm and stepped fully into the room, brandishing the bouquet awkwardly. "Jenny," he explained ambiguously, laying them on her bedside table.
"They are beautiful," Ziva granted with her still-hoarse voice.
"Thought that you could use something colorful," he explained, and Ziva looked away to hide her reddening eyes and cheeks.
"I am not a victim, Agent Gibbs." She saw the way he walked as if on eggshells, treated her as something other than—less than—the Mossad officer he had known her to be. He was not a man to coddle, she knew that much. But yet, his tough love attitude was suspiciously absent. She took offense, for nothing hurt more than the confirmation of her own fears that she was irrevocably damaged.
"Just Gibbs," he corrected, "and I'm not sure that's true."
Her eyes widened, nostrils flared. "I am not a victim," she repeated, more forcefully this time.
"They captured you, tortured you, broke you. Sure as hell sound like one to me." The words were so casually spoken but felt like a serrated knife against her already-bleeding heart. And so she did something she had not done in a miserably long time—she fought back.
"And what do you know, Agent Gibbs?" she erupted, voice forceful and furious despite the cracks. "How dare you insinuate that… that I am somehow less than I was before? How dare you, who would not even be alive if not for me, assume that I am unfixable? That I am damaged beyond repair?!" The vehement words flew from her mouth and were flung at the man before her, who suddenly looked less like Gibbs and more like her father. Her voice broke and lowered. "How could you dare to… to say such things to my face?"
The words caught her off guard, the lips and face from which they fell changing back into their rightful owner's. It was Gibbs in front of her again, and he was smiling gently. Her brow furrowed and she took a shaky breath. "What?"
"You're not a victim, or unfixable, or in any way less than the Officer Ziva David that I remember," he offered, "Just needed you to say it yourself."
She swallowed, speechless. Her throat hurt, partially from the outburst and partially from the pressure building there and in her jaw. "It is just Ziva, now."
"Doesn't change anything. Except maybe your obligations."
She looked up at him with pained eyes, noticing how his steely gaze fell on the red scratches that marred her sunken face. "Obligations?"
"You can put yourself ahead of your duties now, Ziva. Your number one priority should be healing."
She let her head fall and the words resonate, trying to grasp their meaning. At this she succeeded, but while she understood, she did not necessarily know how to go about it. Mossad came first—that was the way it had always been.
Gibbs interrupted her thoughts in his usual blunt manner. "Jenny talked to your father today, he wants to make a video call to you tomorrow morning."
Her heart leapt into her throat at the words. Oddly enough, it was not joy that provoked her reaction, but anxiety. "Did he… did he say anything else?"
"Not that Jen mentioned. DiNozzo'll swing by with a laptop tomorrow morning and Jen and I will use MTAC."
Ziva swallowed, squaring her jaw and looking up at him. "Did Jenny mention how he… Did he seem…" she trailed off, trying on various adjectives—relieved, happy, angry, regretful—but none fit.
Gibbs placed a large, sympathetic hand on her bony shoulder. "She didn't tell me anything else, Ziver." She knew it was a polite way of saying no. She let out a shaky breath.
"Okay," she responded, not sounding okay at all.
Gibbs wanted to hurt something. Punch, strangle, kick, stab—the method didn't matter, as long as the something was Eli David.
He would have given anything in the world for his daughter to have lived to see twenty-two. He would have given anything in the world for his daughter to have lived to see eight and a half. If he knew it would bring her back, he would give up woodworking, swear off bourbon, quit NCIS, sell everything he owned. He would crawl through hell and back just to see Kelly for one more day.
But then there was Eli David, whose daughter had been alive and suffering and very much rescuable, and the bastard hadn't done a goddamn thing.
She was just a girl, dammit—girl who loved her father but whose father did not love her. If he had, she would not by laying emaciated and abandoned in a foreign hospital with hollow, lonely eyes and long, deep scars marring her mind and body.
He was so consumed by his fury that he almost ran right into a smoothie-toting DiNozzo.
"Boss? You see her yet?"
Gibbs' eye twitched and he turned on his agent. "We aren't going to let him take her."
Tony blinked. "I kinda figured that wasn't our decision to make."
"Ziva's not going back to him, DiNozzo. He already abandoned her once, threw her in the lions' den and walked away. Nothin' stopping him from doing that again, especially when he realizes how much they hurt her. He won't give a damn about helping her get better."
Tony stared. "Boss, it's her decision." He did not look any happier about that than Gibbs did.
"Then influence her decision. You, Jenny, and me are the only ones she's got watchin' her six. We're in her corner, but Eli sure as hell isn't. She might not get that now, but she's gotta learn to put her own needs ahead of his demands." When Tony hesitated, he continued. "You don't want to see her hurt, do you?"
Tony laughed sardonically. "I think I've seen enough of that, thank you."
Gibbs then looked directly into Tony's eyes, and the chilling effect was evident. "Then help her help herself."
He entered the room to see her staring emptily at a yellow bouquet of flowers on her nightstand. It caught him off guard—who would have brought her flowers? Surely not Gibbs?
"I'm back," he proclaimed, as usual taking it upon himself to attempt to cheer her up. To some degree he knew he would never be successful—the hurt ran far too deep for that—but to not at least try was unthinkable. "One Berry Mango Madness smoothie for the lady." He handed her the Styrofoam cup, and it looked enormous in her fragile, bony hands. She sipped with hollow cheeks and, to his relief, smiled minutely.
"It is good," she praised in a soft voice. "It feels nice on my throat." That little bit of information seemed to him like a triumph, for he did not have to poke and prod to get it out of her. But his eyes settled on the finger-shaped bruises that decorate her neck and he sobered once again.
"Good. Would you believe how long it took me to get this? That place gets crazy busy at lunch hour. It's ridiculous. The line stretched for miles—well, not miles maybe, but still—and then once I ordered they screwed it up and had to make it again. So sorry it took so long."
"Do not fret it," she responded.
"I think you mean 'don't sweat it.'"
She looked up at him quizzically from the straw. "It means the same thing, does it not?"
"Yeah, but… You know what, never mind. Just drink your smoothie."
She offered him another little smile and his heart fluttered.
She was okay until he made a move towards the door. Her muscles tensed, eyebrows furrowed, and mouth twitched.
"Tony," she began swiftly, voice falling away when she had nothing else planned to say save that reflex exclamation. In her eyes he saw an unspoken plea of please, do not leave me, that fear of being alone that overrode all shame, and he took pity.
"Just wanted to throw this away," he assured her, holding up his empty cup. He left things unspoken, as well, and hoped she had seen the rest of what he did not dare to say in his eyes.
You will not be alone.
The ground beneath her bruised skin was cold and unforgiving. She lay curled up in a ball on her side, breathing in dust and dirt and despair with every expansion of her obstinate lungs. All she heard was the wind, howling as it blew sand this way and that. The sand was everywhere—in her clothes, in her ears, in between her dirty toes. She shut her eyes against it.
The voice was curt and harsh, the consonants spoken sharply by a blade-like tongue. She winced.
Her eyes opened then, and in front of them were shiny black shoes, so out of place here in this desert cell. Her eyes travelled up, up, up the black dress pants to the leather belt to the business suit jacket until, finally, her sandy eyes met his. They looked down on her as he towered, disapproving and menacing, his expression one of disgust.
"Look at you, wallowing in the filth like a pig," he scowled, his shiny shoe nudging her concave and bruised stomach, prodding her like a child would a dead bird. "You're pathetic, weak! You don't even fight them anymore. What kind of soldier are you? You are nothing more than a disappointment, Ziva, and you will die here alone because of it. You will suffer, then be killed and discarded like yesterday's newspaper, and no one will ever think of you again. You're damaged goods." His razor-edged voice cut each and every word into her flesh, and she wore each one like a bloody reminder of the truth he spoke. He prodded her again, this time more forcefully, and she whimpered. "You're worthless!" His voice was a shout then, and the winds died instantly so that the scream could echo loudly against the concrete walls. He leaned down then, squatting beside her and pushing her knotted and blood-soaked hair back from her ear. He brought his mouth to the side of her head, and breathed a whisper.
"You brought this on yourself."
Tony was startled from his sleep when the mattress under his head moved. He was sitting on one of the hard chairs with his head in his arms and his arms on Ziva's bed, and when he sat up his back creaked and groaned in protest. He was going to be a very grumpy old man one day.
It was still dark out, the room lit only by the moonlight filtering in through the window. It landed on her face and he started.
Her eyes were wide open, wild and desperate and so hauntingly afraid. They darted back and forth, unseeing and lost. Fragile fingers grasped desperately at thin cotton sheets and heavy breaths fell quickly from cracked lips.
He acted instinctively then, grasping her tiny shaking hand in his. Her fingers curled around his knuckles. They tightened and tightened and then loosened; he looked up to find her muscles slack and eyes cloudy. He remembered the doctor's words about seizures and suddenly the situation was much more frightening.
Because he did not know what else to do, he got up from the chair and sat on the edge of her bed, reaching out to pull her unresponsive body into his. It was the only thing that had worked in the past. He began drawing soothing little patterns on her sweaty palm and her head fell to his chest. Tiny, hot breaths warmed his shirt and it felt far more intimate than he had expected.
It took only a few minutes for her to come back to consciousness, and this time it was characterized by shivers that ran down her spine. He felt her shudder against him and he untangled himself from her, tugging the blanket up to her chin. His hand lingered on her shoulder.
She nodded, wetting her lips. "I am sorry for waking you." It had been days and yet her voice was still hoarse.
"Nah, don't apologize." He waved his hand. "I needed to move out of this position, anyhow. If I hadn't I probably wouldn't be able to walk tomorrow."
Her brow furrowed and she gulped. "You do not need to stay."
He shrugged. "If I were at home I'd probably just fall asleep in front of the television, anyhow." When she did not respond, he patted her hand gently and sat back down in his chair. "Go back to sleep, Ziva. You're gonna need your rest."
In the moonlight he saw the precise moment she remembered, and he almost felt bad for reminding her.
Her breathing did not even out until sunrise, and neither did his.
She woke to an empty room and a gnawing feeling in her gut. From the door came a knock, most likely what woke her, and in came a nurse with a tray of bland food.
"Breakfast," she exclaimed all too cheerfully for such a rainy day. The turbulent gray outside matched the growing unease in her stomach.
The food was bland but she preferred it that way. She had been so near starvation for months that her body was having a very difficult time adjusting. Only a few bites made it down her throat before she pushed the tray away.
Tony appeared in the doorway then and she let out a breath she didn't quite realize she had been holding.
"Sorry," he apologized, holding the laptop in his hand up for her to see. "Had to run home and grab this." Her gut twisted.
"Uh, when…?" she trailed off, unable to force the words up her suddenly dry throat. She reached for the glass of water next to her with slightly trembling hands.
"He said he'd call at eleven, so about two hours," Tony estimated, heading over to his chair by the window and sitting the computer on the broad windowsill. She swallowed thickly.
"And Gibbs and Jenny?"
"They'll be joining us from MTAC." He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, studying her. "Are you sure you're okay with this? I know no one really asked you, and it's gotta be hard—"
"I will be fine," she cut in sharply.
He frowned. "We don't have to do this. He doesn't…" His voice faded and he did not look like he was going to continue. Ziva cocked her head to the side, prompting him to finish his thought. "He doesn't get to make this decision for you, too. It's your life, you could just say'to hell with him' and never speak to him again, if you want."
She shook her head vehemently. "Of course I can't."
"It's your life," he insisted. She blinked, wondering how he could possibly be so naïve.
"I am only alive because I am my father's daughter," she explained, looking down at her fidgeting hands. "I am a guest in this country, only here because of some diplomatic arrangement that led to my rescue and—"
"Ziva," Tony interrupted, and she looked up at him. "You're not here because you're the Director's daughter, you're here because you're Jenny's friend. Diplomacy's got nothing to do with this. Your father's got nothing to do with this, which is precisely why I think you should never speak to the bastard again!"
Ziva withered, looking slightly offended. "He is my father."
"You've got to look out for your own best interests, Ziva," he pleaded. Ziva bristled. Her own best interests? The thought was so foreign to the woman used to following orders and nothing more. Her life was jam packed full of decisions and difficult situations but very rarely had she had the option of asking what would be best for me?
Just then, Dr. Aiken walked through the door, a manila folder tucked under his arm. She straightened in the bed, fingers curling into her palm. Her jagged nails imprinted red marks into the sensitive skin.
"Good morning, Miss David," he greeted, sending her a cordial smile, "Agent DiNozzo."
"What's the word, Doc?"
His expression and posture changed as he at once became business-oriented. He pulled out a few slides and held them up to the window, letting light shine through to form an image of a brain.
"Well, the results from your PET scan came back. We had some experts study them and they found some interesting things," the doctor began delicately. His finger traced an area around the bottom middle of the scan. "They've concluded that there is some amount of damage to your parietal lobe."
Ziva's shoulders slumped, her eyes fluttering. Her father's words, thrown so carelessly and maliciously in her dream, were irrefutable now, she supposed—she was damaged goods. She swallowed. "It is… permanent?"
"The brain is an interesting thing. It's been known to adapt, form new connections in place of those it lost. But… I can't honestly say that you will be one-hundred percent again. For now, the epilepsy is going to have to be something you deal with. I'll prescribe you some medication to help combat them. But I also don't want to throw out completely the possibility of PNES. Some of these seizures may be caused in part by the trauma you endured."
"That's good, right?" Tony cut in. "I mean, that can get better." She can get better.
"It's certainly a possibility. I'll schedule you for an appointment with a psychiatrist today. She can get you started on healing, prescribe you some medication to help with what I suspect is PTSD."
Ziva looked down at her hands and took a gulp of air. "I do not want a hundred different medications."
The doctor nodded. "I understand that. We'll keep it as light as possible, only giving you what we deem necessary to give you the best shot at a healthy and prosperous life. This is by no means a death sentence," he assured her. "You can still live a normal life. But I think you should consider a career change. This problem isn't going to go away any time soon, and putting yourself in the line of fire isn't a wise move especially with the symptoms you're exhibiting."
Ziva let the words sink in, her ears filled with an empty ringing that seemed to come from anywhere and everywhere. "Okay." Her voice was tiny and coarse. She stared blankly at her broken fingernails.
"If there's anything you need, any questions you want to ask, please let me know."
She nodded, he left, and Tony's hand was suddenly lying on top of hers.
"Your own best interests," he reminded her.
She snorted sardonically. "I do not even know what that means." Her voice came out thick and heavy.
"It means looking out for yourself, because no one else is going to do that for you." She frowned, knowing full well that he was correct. To her memory, others had hardly ever kept her best interests in mind. She had survived this long off of pure dumb luck. The question still remained in the back of her mind, however: was surviving truly in her best interests? Everything she had, everything she ever was, had been turned to sand and blown away on a powerful desert wind. Was what was left truly worth the colossal effort it would take to save it?
On the wall, the hands of the clock crept closer and closer to eleven. The tension in Ziva's muscles built up further with every tick, and when Tony opened the laptop she looked down to find her knuckles white, the sheets bunched up in her palm. A ringing noise came from the speakers and soon he had sat the computer on her lap. She saw her own face on the monitor as they waited for the other end to accept the call, and she shrunk away.
Her face was thin, sunken and scratched. Long bruises wound their way up her neck, their purple hue matching the dark bags under her eyes. Her straggly hair hung limp and greasy, the dull locks only emphasizing her sickly pale complexion. She was not usually one to be insecure about her appearance, but when it came to her father his opinion was everything. Surely he would think her weak and pitiful if this was the image he would see? She gripped the sheets harder and took a shaky breath. It did not escape Tony's notice.
"Hey," he whispered, reaching out and tilting her chin up so their eyes would meet. He placed his warm hand on top of her fist. "Relax. He's not in control here, you are."
Oh, if only he had any idea how wrong he was.
Before she had time to respond, the call was accepted and two rectangles appeared on the screen side by side. The one on the left was a broad view of a dark room, Gibbs and Jenny staring up at her from the center. In the other was her father, sitting at his desk and drinking a cup of tea. Her mouth went dry.
"Ziva!" Eli spoke after a moment's hesitation. "So good to see you." Even over the video call she could tell that he was searching her face, taking in her haggard and emaciated appearance. She knew that in those moments he made his judgment.
She swallowed, trying to find enough moisture in her mouth to speak. "Abba." It rang with coarse cordiality.
"You are doing well?" His words were grainy and slightly distorted from the miles and miles of ocean that separated them, but even despite that she could still detect the complete lack of emotion in his voice. There was nothing there—no regret, no anger, no sadness at seeing the physical proof of the suffering his only remaining child had endured; it was simply an empty greeting, as if they were old friends who bumped into each other on a street corner.
As if she wasn't his daughter that he had left to die a brutal and merciless death.
Was she doing well? She did not dignify that with an answer, not even to verbalize her costomary I am fine. It felt like all of the rage that she had kept buried was suddenly bubbling to the surface. The anger had never had a place before. She justified his actions and blamed her own and buried the lingering fury under layers and layers of this is no one's fault but mine.
But now, as she stared at his slightly blurry and apathetic face on the monitor because he could not be bothered to see her in person, she could no longer subordinate her anger at him to her own feelings of self-doubt. He was no God. She had raised him up on a pedestal, treated him as such, let him control her life because she thought it would please him. He took advantage of her, however, and used his high ground to reach down from his pillar and smite her.
He left her to die like a dog in the desert, and now that she was by some miracle alive he did not bat an eyelash.
Her rage boiled and seethed and she clenched her sore jaw tightly shut. Her knuckles, if possible, became even whiter. Tony's hand rubbed even broader circles against them.
"What is it you want?" she demanded, her voice sharp. Eli blinked in what must have been surprise.
"I need you to write up your report of the events. It is essential that Mossad know what information they might have passed on. You understand?"
Ziva felt as if he had smacked her. The realization of what he was demanding stung like salt in her wounds. "What information?" For a moment the hurt overpowered the anger and her face crumpled.
"It is standard procedure, Ziva, you know that—"
She would hear none of that. Her eyes went wide and wild and her voice shot up an octave. "I told them nothing! Not one word, in the months that they tortured me! And this… This is the thanks I get from you?! A video call from halfway around the world and a demand that I tell you just how badly I failed you?!"
Tony's fingers on her knuckles stilled and out of the corner of her eye she noticed how wide Jenny's eyes were. Eli's face, however, was set in stone, his jaw tense and straight and his eyes narrowed. "Calm yourself, Ziva," he ordered. "Do not overreact."
Her eyes felt as if they were going to pop out of her skull. Overreact? He had abandoned her and was now making demands of her from the other side of the world, without even having uttered a single word that showed any sort of regret or guilt of his actions.
Her rage colored the white room blood red, the images in front of her distorting as she remembered the months and months of endless agony. Her only thought during the unfathomable suffering had been do not tell them anything. She was a good soldier, a good officer—she let them crush her bones, carve filthy words into her skin, inject poisons into her body, inject themselves... she let them destroy her instead of saying the few words which could have stopped it all. She allowed herself to be beaten and broken and trampled upon so that she would not betray her homeland, her people, her father who was now looking at her as if she was nothing but a disobedient, obstinate little girl.
There was no doubt in her mind that he would have preferred if they had killed her.
"You will have it done for me in a few days if possible. I have already made arrangements for your flight home. From there we will discuss where we will move forward with this…"
She stopped listening. The words and shapes around her distorted and the protective bubble encapsulated her once more, threatening to leave her floating and disconnected and black. It felt like static on a TV screen as the signal faded, the self-preserving part of her mind frantically trying to cut the connection to save her any more emotional pain. She fought that traitorous instinct with all she had, preferring her father's harsh and carelessly slung words to the prospect of him witnessing her shameful weakness.
Through the static she heard his voice, "Ziva? Ziva listen to me." She fought harder to focus, to not drift away and show him how worthless she truly was. A small part of her cried out —let him see it! Let him see the pain he has caused you, his only daughter. Throw it in his face, make him see for his own eyes what he has done. But she suppressed this easily, trumped it with the desire to please and impress him that had been instilled in her brain since she was a child. Besides, the idea that she could make the mighty Eli David feel guilty for his crimes, no matter how guilty he truly was, was naïve and illogical.
So instead she fought to remain in the here and now, battling back the panic and static by concentrating on the gentle hand cupping her face and the rhythmic, coaxing words of the man it belonged to. "You're okay. C'mon, come back. You're okay." The world slowly faded back with a startling clarity, and on the screen she could see the slightly fallen face of her father.
"Ziva, what is going on?" The concern in his voice was not directed towards his daughter, but towards his weapon, his protégé. When a few moments passed without her moving to reply, Tony answered for her. She was grateful, for she never would have been able to verbalize these words, let alone to her father.
"When you left her there," Tony began, doing very little to disguise the accusatory nature of his words, "they tortured her." Ziva had a feeling that he was not above attempting the guilt-trip angle. She could feel the anger leaking off of him, the disgust dripping from his words. His fingers wound tightly around hers, something which she knew probably provided him with as much comfort as it did her.
"Agent DiNozzo, was it? I am well aware of the methods—" her father began, but Tony, in a daring move that even she would rarely attempt, cut him off.
"They injected her with poisons, neurotoxins." He practically spit the words. "She's got brain damage, probably permanent. And epilepsy. Most likely post-traumatic stress disorder, too." He took a breath, but Ziva could see he was not finished. Once he began, it seemed as if he could not stop. "They broke her bones. Didn't feed her, didn't give her water. And of course, they're men and they get bored, so every day they—"
"Tony." It was Ziva who interrupted this time, her voice soft but assertive enough to make him stop in his tracks. He pulled back, shoulders slumping as he realized just how much he had revealed—and almost revealed—without her consent. On the screen she saw Eli's muscles tense, however, and she knew he had filled in the blanks to confirm what he had no doubt already assumed. In his eyes she could see that he was mourning, as he finally realized that his spear had been broken. He looked at the splinters of the girl he forged in fire and his eye twitched.
"You will be returning to Israel." It should have been a question, and from anyone else it would have been, but to put a question mark on the end of such a statement would mean giving the illusion that she had the power to choose her own future. She'd never had a choice, not when her father was involved.
Now, though, he was wrong to assume she would blindly follow his orders. He was frantically grasping at the remnants of days passed where she would obey him without a second thought. The year since Tali's death seemed to have been a gradual process of him losing that power, as one thing after another weakened it before the final blow was to be struck.
The final blow was now.
"No." All shakiness disappeared from her voice. It was steady even under the weight of the words she was finally saying. "I will not."
"Ziva, you need to come home—"
"Why?" she cried, face crumpling. "So you can throw me out like yesterday's newspaper again and again? So you can send me on yet another dead-end mission and leave me to rot?" She nearly shouted the last word, her voice breaking from the strain. On the screen Eli leaned back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap.
Jenny did not give him a chance to reply, speaking for the first time. "She is getting good care here—the best, actually." She was wearing her diplomat hat, attempting to persuade with logic. "There are still more tests to be done to give her the best chance of living a normal, happy life. I see no point in uprooting her now. She can stay here, take a few months or however long she needs to get back on her feet. Then you can discuss with her where to move from there." Ziva appreciated the last statement, for it implied that she was more than just a bystander in her own life, that she was in charge—even if Jenny had been speaking for her.
Eli looked from Jenny to Ziva. "This is your decision?" She almost scoffed. So now he cared about whether it was her decision? Not trusting her voice, she nodded. Tony's grip relaxed slightly and she looked up at him. He offered her a small smile and she reciprocated, glad that at least he thought she had made the right decision.
Her father blinked, then took a breath. "Well then, I will arrange the paperwork." He paused. "Ziva?"
She looked back at him, brows drawn together. His face softened for a moment, his eyes for once in his life genuine. "I hope you can live a good life." She blinked and leaned back against the pillow, absorbing the words. Perhaps it was her imagination, or simply wishful thinking, but almost sounded like he was saying, I hope you can still live a good life despite how badly I have messed it up, which if she tilted her head and squinted almost sounded as if he was apologizing. Almost.
Even then, she knew it was as close to an apology as she would ever get.
"Goodbye." His little box disappeared and the words rang in her ears with a haunting finality, as if he was saying goodbye for good.
"You okay?" Gibbs-on-the-screen asked, the first words he had said the entire conversation. She nodded distantly.
"I am fine."
And none of them knew her well, but somehow they all seemed to see right through it.
They sat in silence with the computer shut on her lap for more minutes than she cared to count. Their hands were still joined, lying on the mattress near her left hip. Neither cared to separate them—it had somehow become so natural and comfortable.
"I know you are not fine," Tony finally whispered, gently tapping the back of her hand with his index finger.
She swallowed but did not respond, staring blankly at the pulsing orange light on the side of the computer in her lap.
"You can trust me, you know." His voice was not much louder than before, but it was more confident. It was met with static silence.
Until eventually, what felt like hours later, it wasn't.
"I feel so lost." Her words surprised even herself. She had not been planning on talking, but after months and months of dealing with her thoughts and doubts and insecurities by herself, the need to verbalize was almost irresistible. She felt weak and needy but dammit she had to talk to someone. "I do not know who I am, anymore."
"You aren't any different—"
"Do not lie," she interrupted, cutting him off swiftly, the volume of her voice increased drastically enough that it made him start. "Look at me in the eyes and tell me I am the same Ziva David you met in May."
He shook his head. "Everybody changes. I don't think I'm the same guy I was three months ago. It's how things work. People grow and develop constantly."
Her eyes narrowed. "Do not patronize me. This…" she gestured vaguely towards herself, "This is not growth."
"You just stood up to your father," he countered. "I'd consider that growth."
She exhaled sharply through her nose. "I am lying in a hospital bed, unable to walk without help, having seizures almost every day. This is not growth."
"All this physical stuff heals, and when it does you can go to the gym all you want and build up your muscle mass. I'm not talking about you being stronger physically, and you know that."
"My brain will not."
"My brain will not heal. That is what the doctor said."
Tony took a deep breath. "He didn't say that for sure. And I don't want to argue with you over semantics, Ziva. That's not the point here."
"You are right," she concedes, looking up at him directly. "The point here is that I will never again be what I was."
"Is that truly what you want? To be Mossad? An assassin, a soldier?"
She looked away, focusing idly on her free hand which was fidgeting with the comforter. "I do not know how to be anything but." Her voice was low and almost timid once again.
"You can learn."
She opened her mouth to reply again, but the words got stuck halfway up her throat, leaving a lump that made it difficult to swallow. Her jaw tightened and face heated.
The forced words came out almost sounding like a squeak. She fought hard against the rising panic and fear that came with this tumultuous uncertainty, but her face was getting hotter and hotter and her eyes were burning and her hand was shaking and—
"I don't know what to do." The trembling words fell from her quivering mouth just as the first tears fell from her eyes. Everything was shaking and blurry. "I don't—" Her strangled voice was cut off by a rising sob. It wracked her whole body and she doubled over, arms wrapping around her bruised and aching abdomen. She vaguely felt Tony's strong hand begin to rub comforting circles on her back. Her straggly hair fell in limp waves around her face as she curled into herself in a feeble attempt to hold herself together. Another sob came, then another and another…
She allowed herself to cry for all of those days that she lay abandoned in the dust, for all of the unspeakable horrors she suffered at the hands of unspeakably cruel men, and for all of the times she wished for nothing more than a bullet in her brain. She allowed herself to cry for Tali and Ari and her mother and even her father. And finally she allowed herself to cry for herself, for the tragedy her life had become.
She remembered the little girl in a tutu, a broad grin painting her face as she squinted against the bright stage lights in the hopes of seeing her father's face in the audience. How could she have known what lay in store for her? Could she ever have imagined that one day, that same father that was simply too busy to go to her recital would one day be simply too busy to rescue her from the throes of death? Could she ever have imagined that only a decade and a half later both her siblings and her mother would be dead?
Could she ever have imagined this to be her life—one so full of suffering and violence and unanswered, desperate screams that it would barely be fit to be called a life in the first place?
On the stage, the little girl bowed and the audience clapped. In the hospital bed, Ziva doubled over from the weight of all her suffering and there was nothing but the sound of strangled sobs.
The crying drained her so much that when she finally ran out of tears, all she could do was lean limply against the pillow and stare blankly at the wall with red eyes. Every now and then she would hiccup but other than that she remained motionless.
The circles Tony had been rubbing on her back had drifted to her palm. He had no idea if it helped at all, but he couldn't simply do nothing. He was never one for silence, so when his patience ran thin he grabbed the computer off of her lap, wiped a few stray tears from the lid, and pulled up a file of one of the many movies he had downloaded.
"Want to watch a movie?"
"What movie?" Her voice was still clogged with tears.
"I was thinking Forrest Gump. It's one of the ones I told you about before." He avoided the words in Iraq at all costs. She did not say yes to his proposition, but she did not say no either, so he pressed the little triangle and turned up the volume. After setting the laptop back on her legs, he leaned back next to her. She scooted over to the right a little to make room for him.
He settled in next to her and allowed himself to take a deep breath. She was here to stay, at least for the time being.
She was safe. The only danger to her now was her own mind.
She sent him home that night. At first he feared that she was somehow upset with him, but her brave, steely gaze told him otherwise.
"You cannot sleep in a chair every night. It is not healthy."
"Are you sure? I mean I can—"
"I will be fine. I do not need a babysitter," she insisted, her chin stuck up in the air. He got the impression that she would rather he did not protest too much. This was something she had to do, and he understood that. The Ziva he remembered from three months ago hated relying on others. She was independent at the very least and he knew that was not something that would disappear, even after months of brutal torture.
So he submitted to her will and pretended not to notice the brave face she was putting on as he walked out the door that evening.
He got the call at half past three in the morning. He held the receiver a few inches away from his ear as the voice of one of the night nurses burst through it.
He arrived at the threshold of her room to find her in the midst of a seizure, her eyes clouded and empty and her body limp. He silently cursed himself for allowing her to talk him into leaving. Screw independence. Her health and safety were far more important than her ego.
"You okay?" he asked once again as she came around. Her eyelids fluttered and she struggled to focus her vision on his face.
"I am fine." He was not quite sure why he continued to ask that question when he knew all he would get out of her was a half-hearted dismissal.
He hesitated for a moment, then asked, "What do they feel like?"
She looked up at him and studied his face, searching for an underlying meaning to his question. "Nothing. It feels… like nothing."
"That's it?" he wondered. For some reason he thought it was more than that. She shrugged.
"I feel everything fading, and then… it is like I am floating." There was no trace of emotion on her face, just statement of fact. She was regaining her ability to shut down, he realized. Mossad had trained her well.
"Ziva… you went through a lot. We…" he trailed off, not wanting to sound as if he thought what he had endured was somehow anywhere near what she had. "I was there with you for a week. You know… that you can talk to me about it." Somewhere in his reassurance he hid his own plea. Please talk about it. I realize it's the elephant in the room but I can't just not talk about it forever.
She shook her head, looking down at her lap to study her hands. She picked absently at torn fingernails. "There is nothing to talk about."
"I was there," he reminded her. "There's plenty to talk about."
She grimaced. "They tortured me, yes?" Out of the corner of her eye she looked up at him. "Would you like me to tell you all the gory details?"
He winced, her insinuation cutting him. "I just want you to be okay."
She pulled her head up to look him square in the face, now. "Why?" she asked, brows knit together. "What do you care about me? Why do you do this, come in in the middle of the night to sit with a mess of a woman you hardly even know?"
It should not have been a hard question, but it was.
"I don't know, human decency?"
She shook her head. "Human decency would have been rescuing me and dropping me off at the ER. This is…" she trailed off, gesturing vaguely to their surroundings. "More."
"What do you want me to say?" he asked. "Because I don't have an answer."
She pursed her lips. "I want you to understand that you should not… put all your eggs in one bucket."
"It's basket, Ziva, but I'm still not sure I'm following."
"You want to see me get better, yes?" She took a breath. "I cannot make any guarantees. This? Me? It may not be fixable, Tony." Chills ran up his spine when she said his name. She looked back down at her hands. "I do not want you to put all your hopes in something that can never happen."
He blinked, slowly, and swallowed loudly. His fingers itched to wrap around hers. "Well then it's a good thing I'm stubborn then, huh?"
She was silent. He gave in and leaned forward, taking her hand in his ever so gently.
"Look, you might not see it now, but you will be fine. One day. We'll be just fine."
She simply nodded, exhausted and tired of arguing with him, and leaned her head back onto the pillow. It was not until she drifted back to sleep that he noticed his slip up.
Yeah, we'll be just fine.
She woke up to bright light streaming through the window and birds chirping. The sky was still a light pink, the color of cotton candy and pale roses. It was pleasant.
Her view drifted and suddenly she realized that the person in the chair under the window was not Tony.
"Yep. Tony went home to wash up, have some breakfast. I thought I'd drop by before work."
Ziva was silent for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts, which were thick and languid from sleep. "Thank you, for uh… for yesterday."
Jenny just shook her head. "I didn't do anything. It was all you." She smiled gently and continued, "I was proud of how you stood up to your father like that. Took a lot of guts. You ever done that before?"
"No," Ziva replied softly, averting her gaze slightly.
"You did what was best for you. That's a good thing, don't let him make you think otherwise."
Ziva wet her lips, rubbing them together nervously, but made no move to reply.
"The doctors told me on the way in that they're planning on discharging you tomorrow."
Ziva's head jerked up and focused on Jenny, unable to keep her eyes from going wide. Discharged? Already? As glad as she was to get out of this stark white room, the situation arose a whole set of complicated uncertainties that she wasn't sure she wanted to have to face.
"It's okay, a change of scenery will be good"
Ziva was not so sure. Her hands fidgeted with one anther. "I do not have anywhere to go."
Jenny frowned scooting forward in the chair. "Ziva, you'll stay with me. I thought that was implied, I'm sorry."
Ziva just shook her head. Another person to inconvenience, another person to help her in ways she hardly deserved and probably could never repay. She thought of Tony, who woke in the middle of the night and drove twenty minutes just to sit at her bedside and who sacrificed days and days just keeping her company. She thought of her rescue in the first place. Jenny had spent time and resources and Tony had been captured and imprisoned and very nearly killed. And then there was the collection of flowers on the windowsill, the yellow bouquet Gibbs had brought her sitting in a vase next to another, new multicolored bunch.
She owed them so much already, and had so very little with which to repay them.
"I do not want to overstay my welcome," Ziva responded, eyes shifting.
Jenny just sighed and patted her hand. "You're always welcome here, Ziva. Always."
Abby stood outside the room with a bouquet of orange and pink flowers in her hand and an uncertain expression on her face.
"Timmy, are you sure this is a good idea?"
McGee rolled his eyes. "Yes, it is. We are being good people."
"She's friends with the guy that killed Kate," Abby hissed.
"She also means a lot to Jenny and Tony and even Gibbs. You don't even have to talk to her, just drop off the flowers and say get well soon. Okay?" he coached. Abby pursed her lips and shifted her weight.
"Fine," she responded stubbornly. "But that's it."
They walked through the door and into the bright hospital room. Upon seeing the woman in the bed, they stopped in their tracks.
Abby's breath hitched and her grip on the flowers slackened as she took in the sight before her. This was not the woman she remembered. This woman was skinny and tiny and unimposing. Her eyes were no longer vibrant and daring but sunken and uncertain. Long, red scratch marks ran for inches down her cheeks and neck and arms. Dark, splotchy bruises were visible around her neck, on her prominent cheekbones, at her wrists. Abby's sympathetic side flared, and suddenly she could not find it in herself to be angry and resentful with this fragile, broken woman. She noticed the way that Tony hovered over Ziva and saw the protective glint in his eye that never seemed to waver.
"I… uh… I don't know if you remember me," she began. "But I'm Abby. I'm the forensic scientist with NCIS."
Ziva nodded. "Ari tried to kill you."
Abby blinked, startled at her bluntness. Well, at least she was admitting his guilt. "Yeah. I, um… I brought you flowers."
"Thank you, Abby." Ziva looked visibly surprised, and Abby offered her a comforting smile in return.
The smallest of smiles crept up on Ziva's face and another bouquet was added to her collection.
The next morning there was a set of clothes sitting on the chair next to her bed. They were Jenny's, she realized as she swung her legs over the side and picked them up.
A nurse came in and offered to help her to the bathroom to get changed, but Ziva denied the help. Her legs had gotten slightly stronger in the past few days, but not by much. It made the whole process so much more time consuming and difficult, however the feeling of independence she gained from it was worth it.
When she emerged slowly from the bathroom, she was dressed in real, clean clothes for the first time in months. The drawstring sweatpants had to be knotted tightly and the t-shirt hung loose on her emaciated frame, so she dutifully avoided any reflective surfaces.
She finally made it back to the bed and she collapsed, breathing heavily. It was a good feeling, however. She leaned back against the pillow and let the tension drain from her muscles. To finally be leaving this room was a liberating thought, and it put her in high spirits.
Tony appeared in the door with the words Ready to go? and she smiled.
A/N: I really hoped you enjoyed Part III! Part IV is the next and probably final part, then there will most likely be an epilogue. That all is subject to change, though.
Sorry this took so long. These chapters take me easily 9 hours total to write, and I don't have that kind of time that often. Exams are next week so naturally that means I'm procrastinating, though, so here you are with a new chapter!
I didn't get as much feedback as I would have liked on the last chapter, honestly. But those people who did review gave me wonderful ones so I appreciate it ! Thank you to sunnyside2, dvd123, amaia, prince bishop, skydancer81, PCN, clestaffordt, born30, greeny13, nevergiveuphope2, talimom1997, aquasm, and Tapes and Records! You guys are fabulous.