A/N: In which I quietly return to writing NCIS fanfiction just to vent my everlasting frustration over the treatment of the "Somalia arc" –or lack thereof– and try to justify Ziva's departure from the series using bad segues and dubious logic.

This may be my new standard for crack!fics.

It had all been a very bad dream, she decided. Nobody ever asked her about it, and it hadn't seemed to affect her health or her demeanor in any noticeable way, and so the only logical conclusion, far as she could figure, was that Somalia had just been a very bad dream. Or, perhaps: an elaborately choreographed play? Some sleight of hand? A collective overdose of powerful hallucinogens? In any case, it clearly never happened.

It seemed, at first, like a very real thing. Likely, too, given the nature of her work and previous experience in espionage. There was a logical set-up to her departure from Israel, her covert trip through Aqaba, the cargo ship, her capture. Logically, it should have checked out.

And the healing process had seemed appropriately prolonged. She could remember most of it, the images broad and unwavering: the awkward, miserable flight back to the 'States, that first time she'd re-entered the Bullpen, Abby's welcome arms, her visit to the hospital. She could easily recall a few weeks of distance between herself and her co-workers. They had clearly given the impression that something terrible, indeed, had happened to her.

But from there, the memory got a bit fuzzy. She came home, made amends, spilled her guts about the Damocles, and then…

…well – have you ever had a dream that seems more and more absurd the longer you try to remember it?

If it was a dream, it was a dream that several of them had shared; or at least a dream that her teammates had heard about, somehow, and decided to play along.

Sometimes, they were even better about remembering it than she was. The would act funny around her. They would worry in strange and inappropriate bursts of pity.

Abby had baked cookies. Tony had given her his very best, most serious stare.

And that was the first time that her brain had done that little hiccup, because she'd almost completely forgotten about Somalia. About Saleem. She had been tortured…right? Why wasn't she having trouble sleeping? Why wasn't she having flashbacks? Nightmares? Therapy sessions?

"It's fine," she had told them with a wave of her hand, the words forming in her head as if by magic. "I am over it."

And that was true, somehow. She was over it.

A few days after that, while Daniel Crior's body was being dredged up from the ocean in a shrimping net, Ziva's brain did a funny thing: it paved right over the trauma that was Saleem's camp –which clearly should have been the most significant part of the whole ordeal, not the mention the longest– to make room for the memory of the fiasco on the Damocles.

Suddenly, Saleem hardly mattered. Her torture hardly mattered. The pain and deprivation and degradation and fear of being a POW was, the longer she thought about it, small peas compared to the frenzied shootout that lasted approximately twenty minutes on a drab cargo ship in the Indian Ocean.

So Ziva's brain did a funny thing, and shifted that memory up the tier, just shoved it right up there as far as it would go, until the whole nonsense of Saleem's camp just sort of teetered on its edge – and fell clear out of her brain.

But that was okay; she only noticed the difference in hindsight, and it didn't seem to bother her very much, after all.

"You never talk about it," Tony said in the low light of the warehouse. She had just given a miniature monologue that for some unknowable reason had defended the actions of a dead man who had once tortured her to within an inch of her life. Or – supposedly, anyway.

And then for just a moment, that little light sparked in her brain, and she remembered big, bright flashes of her experience in Somalia. She remembered and thought this may be her only chance to validate their authenticity.

She stared at him, suddenly desperate, and asked, "What is there to talk about?"

"Come on, Ziva," he said. And she could see that look in his eye – he was begging her to play along. There was, after all, nothing to talk about…right?

And then the annual blood drive came around, and she felt some prickle of anxiety. She knew she'd be asked to participate, and any failure to comply would earn her the scorn of her teammates.

But there was the problem of the hazy memory that was Somalia.

That experience would earn her a few negative strikes on the phlebotomist's checklist, she was sure: first, for having been to Africa at all; second, for having been administered an unknown chemical in an overused syringe by a man of nefarious motives; third, for having been exposed, via torture and open wounds, to blood that was potentially contaminated with HIV. It seemed clear to her that she would be indefinitely ineligible to donate blood to anyone. Very clear, in fact.

Knowing that Tony was also subjected to the mystery injections in Somalia, she brought her concerns to him. She told him that they may not be eligible to donate blood for a while – perhaps not ever.

He gave her a look, and then looked over her shoulder, and then waved dismissively at her.

"Yeah, don't worry about that," he said.

She began to object; he interrupted her.

"It's no big deal. It'll be fine."

"No big deal? Tony…the syringes were filthy…"

"Yeah, it's fine."

"…I was there for months…"

"No problem."

"…God only knows what I might have been exposed to…"

"Hey!" he said, his face suddenly bright and happy and off-putting. "How about we go grab a quick lunch before we head over? My treat."

She eyed him.


"I hate giving blood on an empty stomach," he continued, undaunted, his face pinched in faux pain as he rubbed his abdomen. "It makes me all…queasy."

And he had dropped it, and pretended it never happened, which had scared her just a little.

But then the nurse in the bloodmobile had done a very similar thing. Ziva had confided in her about the experience in Somalia. The nurse had pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.

"That never happened, Agent David," she had said. "Remember?"

And that had scared her just a little bit more.

Gradually, it seemed, her confusion over her parsed memories of Somalia brought into question the authenticity of all her memories. And as she sat in her living room and sipped a cup of tea, it occurred to her that there were other things she didn't quite remember.

For example: when did the rest of the team become aware of her relationship to Ari? How had Agent Lee known about it? Had Ziva told them? She couldn't remember telling them. Surely Gibbs hadn't told them.

And hadn't her father been under the impression that Gibbs had killed Ari? Why, then, if it was common knowledge in D.C., had her father, head of an organization famous for its intel, been left out of the loop?

And when had she and Abby first become friends, really? Hadn't they hated each other for more than a year? All she could remember was being at the woman's throat one day and then joyously having sleepovers the next. What events had filled that gaps?

What had filled any of these gaps?

It wasn't just the big points, either. It was little things. She knew that she was terribly devoted to her job, and proudly so, but when did she ever have time to go home and rest? Did she shower? Use the restroom? Call her friends in Israel?

Where did the time go on their long drives to visit suspects? How was it that all she remembered of those commutes was going down the elevator, and then being at the suspect's doorstep? Sometimes, they wouldn't even see the suspect at all. She and Tony would go to the elevator and push the button for the parking garage, and then they'd be walking back into the bullpen a minute later. Claiming to have met the suspect, though she was sure that neither of them could remember having gone anywhere at all.

If she focused on those hazy parts just long enough, if she really knuckled down and put her mind to work, they became increasingly thin. They stretched out and lost all substance. They became not just blurs, not just gaps, but gaping, black holes in her memory.

And wasn't most of her life, now, just speaking and acting as if in some trance? Wasn't it all just a script? She and her teammates were objects of great substance in a shifting and insubstantial chasm of existence.

Well – wasn't it true that she could only remember Somalia when it was written into the script?

When she decided to get the hell out of dodge, to try to escape the weirdness of it all and her pocked and fragmented experiences in D.C., she tried to bring Tony with her. To escape with him.

She tried to convey to him her desperation; tried to convince him that it was urgent they flee from the half-hearted stage play that had become their lives. But as soon as she found the words to tell him, he had gotten that goofy, nervous look. Like he wasn't sure how to respond. Like it hadn't been written into his script. And he looked over her shoulder as if searching for something – but when she turned to look she found herself staring in a broad, black nothing where the back of the building should have been. Stage lights glowing hot and ethereal around the edges. And it terrified her so that she had to look away.

But Tony seemed not to notice at all.

He stared, entranced for a moment, and then grinned very suddenly and started talking to himself about movies. Or something.

Well – she was sure that Somalia never happened. The rest of it? Maybe. But it made no sense to her that she could have been kept in a prison camp, could have been tortured, could have been left to die, could have suffered alone for months only to return to D.C. and become suddenly and inexplicably better. That she could have magically healed and then forgotten the whole ordeal.

It was possible, she supposed, that they could have all been drugged. That they had hallucinated the whole thing; that the memory of those hallucinations had gotten fuzzier over time, and that their brains had been somehow damaged by the experience. It was also possible that they had been brainwashed. Or that they had been possessed.

But it made too little sense to her. And then her whole world made too little sense. She had seen the strings; had seen the particle-board walls of the stage.

So she left, and she retired and became a florist back in Israel. To hell with her training and temperament. She was done with that whole charade.

She only hoped that Tony and the others would eventually see it for what it was, and they'd manage to escape it, too.

A/N: Did you know that any large collection of reviews can be fashioned into a weapon with which to smite your enemies? It's true. All you have to do is leave me a whole bunch of reviews and then you can scoop 'em all together and wrap 'em with packing tape and voila - victory!