A Life for a Life
Written for the NFA Impossible Choices Challenge
Characters: Ziva and Gibbs mainly, with Tony and the others
Warnings: Major character death
Word Count: 5,000
Thanks to Jems for betaing this. I am sorry I upset you.
"I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime." Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Tap . . .
Tap . . .
Tap . . .
He drummed his fingers on the edge of the surveillance van table as he stared at the slender white object lying innocently to his right. With its soft curved head and ten digits, it was the link between him and the outside . . . because the outside, at this very point in time, was any thing not in this faux room, was anything that stood in his way, was anything that prevented him from getting to her.
Tap . . .
Tap . . .
Tap . . .
The other lone agent in the van looked up at him with sympathy. He glowered at the agent, who shrunk back into his chair and turned away. He did not understand . . . none of them could understand. His gaze returned to the phone, as if his staring – and his pleading – would make it ring, close the hole, restore his faith.
Tap . . .
Tap . . .
Ring . . .
The white object whimpered on the table, shaking slightly as it continued to ring. He fumbled with the phone; if he dropped it, he would drop a life. He steadied himself, took a deep breath, pressed the tiny green button, and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.
It was, as he thought later, the longest minute of his life. The ominous silence on the other end was louder than anything he'd heard before. As the seconds ticked by, hope also ticked by. And, just as the other agent was going to force him to hang up, a monotone voice, chilling and hard, rang out.
"Special Agent Gibbs," the voice said, steely and cold. It was the closest thing that had come to chilling Gibbs. The sinister voice with its monotone voice continued, "There is only one thing that we desire, and we know that there is one thing you desire. That makes it simple, painless even, if you know what you want. You can have what you desire, dear Abigail returned to you . . ." Gibbs' breath hitched. He knew it would come with a price, a deadly price . . .
"Only if you give us what we desire . . ." He shuddered and waited . . . waited for these animals to name the price that would guarantee Abby's safety.
"And we desire Officer Ziva David," the voice finished, making his blood run cold, and perspiration appeared on his temples and forehead. There was no way . . .
"Abigail for Ziva, Special Agent Gibbs," the voice, now low and dark, said, breaking into his thoughts. "It is your choice . . . one life for another . . ."
"Night, Ms. Sciuto," Barry, the night guard, called as Abby flashed her NCIS pass and walked through the metal detectors.
Abby waved enthusiastically. "G'night, Barry," she replied with a grin. "Don't stay up too late," she added cheekily, as she always did.
"Wouldn't dream of it, Ms. Sciuto," Barry replied cheerfully, as always.
"Have a coffee on me," Abby said, following the nightly script.
"Will do," Barry replied with a smile as Abby gave him one last wave and continued out the building.
As she reached her hearse, Abby pulled out her key and clicked open the driver's side door. She slid into the driver's seat, the worn out leather comfortably resting under her. Abby gripped the familiar steering wheel, turned the key and pulled out of the parking lot. She flashed her ID card again once she had reached the gate and the Marine Policeman waved her through. Abby turned right, and took the familiar path home, turning up her music to a level that would have had most covering their ears.
The lights were off as she turned into the garage of her apartment block. It was dark, and the only sound was the soft call of a bird she could not quite identify. She cautiously exited the hearse, locking it tight before looking around.
"Okay, this is a little hinky," Abby muttered to herself and looked about.
The lights were never off at the apartment block. They must, she theorised, not be working . . . she had no reason to think otherwise. Maybe she should have. Maybe she should have listened to her gut and the events that followed might never have happened. But it wasn't Abby's fault, not really, and they would tell her that countless times in the years that followed. She would smile, nod her head, turn away, but deep down she felt guilty . . . guilty and angry with herself that she had not been more on guard, hadn't tried harder, hadn't fought. But most of all, guilty for what she felt she had caused, and nothing anyone said could change her mind . . . It was a heavy weight that she took with her to her grave many years later, a weight that was always just there, never going away . . . never dying.
Abby sighed, rolled her eyes and headed in the direction of the stairs. She never even noticed the two men who stepped out of the shadows before it was too late. She was walking casually as felt a hand on her shoulder. She yelped and spun around, only to find herself staring into the cold looking eyes of a man who couldn't have been older than herself. She froze all of her natural instincts and mandatory NCIS self-defence went flying out the window. Fear pulsed through her body, creeping its way to every nook and cranny, filling her with feelings of dread, horror, coldness. She gasped as a rough hand was clamped over her mouth and someone grabbed her waist from behind, shoving her into the arms the other man. She whimpered, as a heavy object seemed to come of nowhere, hovering over her head for a slipt second . . . and then . . . nothing.
Tony, McGee and Ziva were talking quietly to each other when McGee spotted Gibbs exit the surveillance van out the corner of his eye.
"Boss!" McGee yelled, half surprised, half worried. They had not seen, or heard, from Gibbs since that first phone call. In his fury, Gibbs had smashed his mobile and stormed off in the direction of the surveillance van . . . and none of his agents were brave enough, or dumb enough, to follow.
Gibbs ignored McGee's cry as he strode purposely towards his team. As Gibbs reached them, his fast gait coming to a halt, Tony asked, "What's going on? D-did they call?" He looked concerned and upset, and McGee's face mirrored Tony's. Ziva was the only one who had a face showing no emotion. Mossad had taught her to keep her emotions to herself in situations like these. Emotions would get in the way, and emotions would kill.
Like he had ignored McGee before, Gibbs ignored Tony and turned to Ziva. "Ziva, with me," he ordered, yet there was something different about his voice, the way he said it. He sounded . . . pained . . . almost. Sad, maybe. Angry, definitely.
"Ah, of course," Ziva replied, looking perplexed. Gibbs stormed off, motioning Ziva to follow. Ziva shot Tony and McGee a look, at which Tony shrugged and McGee shook his head. Sighing, Ziva followed.
Tony watched her leave, his mind racing . . . Six years and Gibbs had only acted like this twice. First, when he had been chasing Ari and second, when he quit. His move to take Ziva alone had scared Tony . . . After all, he was Senior Field Agent and something bad must have happened for Gibbs not to consult Tony, or even admit him into this private conference. Tony did not protest as he watched them leave, although he desperately wanted to. This was something that Tony would later regret.
"What is it that you want, Gibbs?" Ziva asked curiously, if not a little defensive, when they were alone. She stood close to him, invading his personal space. This gave her a chance to study, really study his face. He looked tired, worn, pained . . . something she, and the rest of NCIS, rarely saw. He was tense, as Ziva noted, and he looked like he was battling an inner war.
"I –" he started, but then faltered, also something rarely seen by his co-workers. Ziva couldn't help it as a flurry of worry flashed over her face. Something was wrong; she had never known Gibbs to be like this.
"What is going on?" she asked again, slightly more concerned than defensive.
Gibbs sighed wearily and ran his right hand through his silver hair. "I-I received a phone call," he started, determinately pushing his rising emotions to the bottom of his soul.
"From the captors, yes," Ziva nodded. It was typical procedure. They would call and demand money, secure information, safe exits, planes . . . the list was endless. "What is it that they want?"
He remained silent for a moment, and Ziva could see that whatever was keeping him from talking to her was really tearing him up inside.
"They want money?" Ziva tried, but got no response from Gibbs. "Top secret files? Released prisoners?" When Gibbs didn't answer, Ziva flushed and got a little riled up. "What is it that you can't tell me," she snapped. "Why did you have to drag me away from the situation? This is Abby we are talking about! Abby, or do you not care?!"
"You," Gibbs snarled, more harshly than he intended. Her implying that he did not care had angered him and therefore, he said the next few words with little emotion besides anger, "They want you."
Ziva was floored. They what? Never in her career with Mossad or NCIS had a comment stunned her as much as those three words had. They want you.
"They what?" Ziva whispered, not quite following, or more accurately, willing not to follow.
Gibbs sighed. This was not the kind of thing he had signed up for when he had joined NCIS all those years ago. "They want you in exchange for Abby," he said flatly.
Ziva faltered. So she had heard correctly. They, whoever they were, wanted her for Abby. Her. Ziva. Ziva for Abby. Abby for Ziva. No matter how many times she ran those few words through her head, they always came back to the same conclusion . . . be killed, or let someone else be killed in her place.
"No," she breathed, backing instinctively away from Gibbs. "You cannot . . . I . . . It is not . . ." Her words came out in a jumbled mess and caught in her throat.
Gibbs shook his head. "I am sorry, Ziva," he said, breaking one of his own rules. He looked her in the eye, and never breaking that bond said, "That is what they demand. You for Abby. There is no alternative."
"No alternative," Ziva yelled, the shock, frustration, horror and anger of the situation making itself known and rolling into one. She tore her gaze away from Gibbs, kicking at the air in frustration and anger before turning and glaring at him again. "It is as if you have given up, as if you want me to walk into that building as a martyr!"
"That is not what I want," Gibbs yelled back, the stress of the situation finally catching up. "When I said no alternative, I meant that there was no alternative for them! What I want is both you back at NCIS as soon as possible!"
"How do you intend to do that?" Ziva bit back, not caring how loud her voice got. She was angry, but more importantly, she was worried . . . not only for herself, but for Abby, and for Gibbs.
"How the hell should I know?" Gibbs retorted as his eyes flashed dangerously. Ziva, for the first time, flinched under his glare. "Do you think I have all the answers?"
Ziva whirled on him. "What does your famous gut say . . . hmm?"
"I don't know, do you?" Gibbs questioned her, his voice rising in pitch as it had that night in the hospital, after the explosion.
"No, no, I do not," Ziva muttered softly, the level-headed Mossad officer inside of her finally taking a hold of her feisty alter-ego . . . plus the look Gibbs had given her had scared her more than she would ever admit or would have imagined. "I do not know much of anything at the moment . . ."
"Oh, Ziva," Gibbs said, his voice changing from angry beast to father-like in seconds. "I'm not asking you to do anything . . ."
"I know," she whispered, backing up and sliding down the trunk of a tree. Suddenly, she was feeling very tired. "I know . . ."
Gibbs hesitated, and sat down gently next to Ziva, but not too close. "We will find a way to get Abby, I will make damn sure of it," he said determinately. "McGee and DiNozzo are not just pretty faces . . ."
"I am sure some may disagree with that," she smirked lightly as her mind's eye perceived Tony. She could almost hear him say, "This reminds me of a movie . . ." She . . . she would miss that. She shook her head, freeing herself of those thoughts. The moment passed and the harsh realities set in. "Do you have any idea as to how you are going to get Abby?" she asked, ever the Mossad officer.
Gibbs shook his head. "No," he replied gruffly. "They have the building rigged with booby traps, gunmen at every entrance. There is no way we can get in there without the risk of losing life.
Ziva sighed. "Are you sure?" she asked, even though she had down half the sweep of the building herself.
"I am damn sure," Gibbs snapped, wincing at how harsh his own words sounded.
This time, however, Ziva looked unaffected. Mossad, and her father, had taught her from early on that it was her job, her duty, to protect the ones who could not protect themselves. She was sworn to protect and defend the innocents, the women, children, and even the men of her country, of her home. And now NCIS was her home, and the people who worked there were the innocents. Could she really live with herself if she did not do her honoured duty . . . if she did not serve her country and home as she swore she would?
And death? Well, isn't it life's next great adventure? Ziva, along with the rest of Mossad, had learned not to fear death, for death could come a knocking on any day of the week, any day of the year, at any time. It was silly of them, naïve of them, not to take this seriously. In a world of growing tension, of growing unrest, of growing war, there were going to be casualties, and if you could not face death and accept as part of the job, as part of life, it would severely hinder your ability to do your job. And the job was what many officers of the Mossad lived for, they had nothing else, no one waiting for them at home. It was dangerous getting close to people, and they all knew it. Family . . . and friends could be used to get to you, used to manipulate you, and once you had given your heart to someone, it is very hard to take back. And Ziva knew this well, first Roy and now . . . She shook her head. Now . . . she did not know exactly what now was.
Ziva was one of these people. She had lived an unsheltered life, exposed to the horrors of the world at an early age and taught the principles of Mossad from an early age. Thus, Ziva had learned from a young age not to fear death, not to get too close, but to protect and serve your people as if they were your own. Then she had moved to America, joined NCIS, and been part of a real team for the first time in her short life. And something inside of her had changed.
Yes, she still did not fear death, and yes, she would serve and protect the citizens of America as if they were her own, but she let herself get too close. Close to her co-workers and friends . . . Abby, Gibbs, Tony, Jenny, McGee, Ducky, Palmer and the others at NCIS headquarters. Close enough so that when it came down to the three underlying, unwritten rules of Mossad, they would merge as one, merge into one super rule that trumps all else. Protect and defend friends and family, even in the face of death, especially in the face of death. And it was this super rule that had helped her come to a decision, make peace with what she was about to say.
"There is really only one option then, isn't there?" Ziva offered after a moments of silence. Like Gibbs, she now looked weary, defeated and too old for her age.
"Ziva . . ." Gibbs started, but she waved him silent.
"No, Gibbs," she said strongly, locking eyes with him. She looked thoughtful for a moment, before saying, "In Mossad, we were taught to protect and serve our country, to remain emotionally distanced and to not fear death. However, in coming to America, and seeing what Mossad had done to my brother, I do not see it like that any more . . ."
She took a deep breath and then continued, "I now know what is important in life, and that is family and friends. There can be nothing without people around, to support you and to protect and defend. That is the reason why I must do this."
Gibbs opened his mouth to argue, but stopped as Ziva shook her head. She knew, that deep down, Gibbs would feel the loss of Abby more than he would feel the loss of her. She was expandable, replaceable, but a daughter, they were not replaceable. Gibbs knew of this feeling well, the death of his daughter and his wife had shattered his very soul. Ziva, far from being Gibbs's keeper, that was more a Tony job, wanted to protect him from further heartbreak . . . and she was sure, totally sure, that it was what Gibbs wanted too, deep down . . . not that it would ever be admitted. Ziva for Abby, it was a simple choice really; someone just needed to say what they were both thinking.
"I will do the swap," Ziva said with conviction, without wavering.
"Ziva, you don't have to . . ."
"You know I have to . . . Jethro," she said softly, using his first name. A tear slid down her cheek, but it was not out of fear, but out of mourning . . . mourning the time she would not get with her team . . . with her friends . . . with her family . . . the time she would not have.
Gibbs reached up and brushed the tear off her cheek. Ziva looked at him and smiled, the tears on the corners of her eyes sparkling in the sunlight. She reached up and covered his hand with hers, his resting on her cheek and hers resting on his hand. They sat there for a few minutes, in that position, in complete silence, in quiet reflection, strengthening a bond that already existed.
Tony and McGee looked up as Ziva and Gibbs returned from where they had gone. They rushed over to the pair, desperate questions on their lips.
"What's going on?"
"Why did you take Ziva?"
"Why won't you tell us?"
"Just tell us!"
Gibbs sighed for what seemed like the hundredth time and shared a look with Ziva. "They want to exchange Abby for Ziva," he said, trying to say it in a tone of voice that would break the news gently to the boys. It didn't work.
"They what!?" Tony exclaimed, flabbergasted. Ziva avoided eye contact with him as he tried to look into her eyes. He looked horrified at the thought, as did McGee. His mouth was opening and closing, like a fish, but McGee could not find the words to express what he wanted to say.
"Man, this is messed up," Tony muttered angrily, earning a smirk from both Gibbs and Ziva.
"Trust Tony to put it simply," Ziva said.
"W-what are you going to d-do?" McGee finally managed to ask, his eyes wide with terror.
"What else can I do, Tim?" Ziva answered softly, offering him a sad smile.
"What? No!" Tony clearly looked upset as he realised what Ziva intended to do. "Ziva you can't . . . please, you can't . . ." his voice broke and he turned away. He punched the air angrily and shouted a few obscenities towards the building, before his shoulders sagged. McGee also looked like he was on the verge of tears, or at the very least, ready to throw up his lunch.
"I am doing this for Abby," Ziva explained quietly. And for Gibbs, she added to herself.
"But . . . but . . ."
"It is my choice, McGee," she said as she looked at him carefully. "If I go in there, they will release Abby." She reached over and whispered in his ear, "I think you and Abby make a very nice couple. I think you should give it another shot . . ." She pulled back at looked knowingly at McGee. She smiled . . . peacefully.
"Tony, Tony, Tony," she sighed, turning to her partner who was struggling not to cry. "H-hey," she said softly, holding back the tears herself, "do not cry. I thought real men did not cry."
He did not take her little jab at his ego. "Why do you have to do this?" he whispered, bitterness evident in his voice.
"Because I took an oath long ago," she replied, lifting his face so that his face was level with hers. "You do know that I . . . that I . . ." She struggled to say the words. "That I love you . . ." she finished, although she did not know how she loved him, in what way, in what sense, why she did. All she knew is that she loved him . . . be it platonically or romantically. They would never know.
"I-I love you too, Ziva," Tony mumbled hoarsely, and like Ziva, did not truly know how or why he loved his partner. It was just . . . there.
Ziva reached out a brushed the tear that had fallen down Tony's face, much in the same why Gibbs had down earlier. Then suddenly, Tony's hand was intimately brushing softly over her cheek as they looked at one another. Ziva pulled his hand from her face and brushed her lips against his cheek, taking in his smell for the last time. She pulled away and instinctively Tony's had reached up to caress the spot where Ziva had just been.
She turned to Gibbs. "Thank you." The way in which she said it, conveyed more emotion that ten thousand words would have. He nodded, that was all that was needed. He knew what she meant.
"It was an honour working with you," he said, saluting her.
Ziva nodded and smiled. "Likewise, Jethro." Then her smile faltered and she hesitated before saying, "Say goodbye to the others for me. Tell . . . tell Jenny that there is a letter for her waiting in a place that she will know, and tell Ducky . . . tell Ducky, just tell him thanks, for everything. And Palmer, well, tell Palmer that he should make a honest woman, as you say, of Michelle. They think nobody knows, but everyone knows." She smiled.
She turned and walked a few steps in the direction of the building. "I will make sure Abby is returned unharmed. Shalom." Without looking back, Ziva walked towards the building, head held high, knowing that she was returning Abby safely to the people who loved her most.
"Boss, aren't you gonna stop her?" Tony looked both horrified and devastated as he said those words. He looked at Gibbs with pure disbelief.
And, in that moment, Gibbs made a choice that would haunt him for the rest of his life . . . press down on his heart . . . taint his conscience. He would question himself, time and time again, day after day, for the rest of his eternal life. Had the means justified the end? Had the sacrifice been for the greater good? Had there been another way to save them both? Looking his two fearful agents in the eye, Gibbs uttered the word that made Tony believe, for a long period of time, that he had condemned her to death.
McGee gasped, he couldn't help himself. Tony blinked twice, wondering if he had misheard his boss. Tony slunk to the ground and watched her walk out of his life, forever. A teardrop splattered onto the ground, symbolising a relationship that might have been. But still Gibbs said nothing else, he merely turned away from his agents and walked, leaving two stunned and horrified agents behind. He did not stop when he heard Tony's strangled cry for him to stop, or at McGee's whimper. He just kept on walking, as if it would absolve what he had just done . . . what he had done to Ziva. And, as he walked, a teardrop splashed gracefully upon the ground. He ignored it and kept going . . . walking away from what he had caused, what he had done.
That moment would henceforth define his life. How he acted, what he did, what he said. All thoughts, all actions were hereafter affected by a simple two-letter word, no. He would never hear that word in the same context again. This was the choice that he had made, and now he had to live with it.
Later, Tony would yell at him, scream at him, break down and cry. "Why didn't you stop her?" he would cry, waving his beloved sander around widely, even throw a punch and chip a flake off Gibbs' boat . . . drunk.
He would be silent and ask himself the same question. Why didn't he stop her? Why did he let her walk in to that building? Why did he resign himself to sacrificing one of his for another? Why? But they all knew why, one gaze into his eyes and it was clear. Abby was the second-chance daughter that Gibbs never had. The little girl he could coddle and spoil and love as if she were his own. She was Kelly, in the form that Kelly had never been . . . never would be. And that was why he had said no, he didn't want to lose another. But the price for gaining a daughter had been losing a sister. The price had been too high, yet, in that moment, it had not concerned him. The price for saving Abby, his second chance daughter, had been Ziva.
And more simply than any of this, Ziva had asked.
The gunshot came as Abby ran out of the building, hysterical. Besides a cut on her forehead, she was relatively unharmed. She flew into Gibbs' arms, crying and shaking and gasping something about Ziva. But Tony did not hear this, he was already running towards the building, SIG in hand, and determination on his face and vengeance in his heart. McGee grabbed his arm, pleaded with him not to go it, but Tony shook him and gave him a sad smile.
"They will be gone, Probie," he said, his voice ice-cold. "They have gotten what they wanted. There is no reason for them to stay . . ."
"Then-then, I will come with you," McGee said determinately.
"You sure?" Tony asked sceptically. "It-it won't be nice."
"I know," McGee said softly, "but I have to do this."
Tony nodded; he knew what McGee meant. They had to do this for themselves . . . and for Ziva. They walked, side by side, into that building. The gasped simultaneously as they saw the perfect round hole in Ziva's head. And the tears fell together as the reality set it. Ziva was dead, but Abby was alive. A life for a life.
It was almost fitting that Ziva had left in the same way as Kate . . . it, in the worse possible sense, completed the circle. Ziva had arrived in the aftermath of Kate's death and had effectively brought about the end of that tragic period in NCIS' history. She had then worked her way into their hearts, filling some of the hole that Kate had left behind after her death. And now . . . Ziva had gone in the same way that she had come, completing a chapter in life that almost seemed poetic. When Kate had died, a life had been lost, yet a life had been gained. And when Ziva died, a life had been saved.
Tony ran his hand over her clammy cheek and whispered, "I'll kill them. I'll kill them all, the . . ." Tony collapsed his knee, his resolve gone, and without hesitating, McGee reached and placed a hand on his shoulder . . . They were thinking, and feeling, the same thing . . .
A life for a life.