Author's Notes: Okay… a few important points about this story.
I'm not sold on it.
You may notice that Ziva sounds different when talking with Michael or her father then with the NCIS crew… this is because she is speaking her native tongue when with them, so contractions and colloquialisms wouldn't be a problem for her.
Please, please, PLEASE give me some constructive criticism with this. I've been fighting it for DAYS. It's finally getting posted because I just got sick of the damn thing.
And… I think that's all. So with no further ado…
reap the whirlwind
For they sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. Stalk it hath none -- a shoot not yielding grain. If so be it yield -- strangers do swallow it up. – Hosea 8:7.
Her mother will recall later that she was born dry-eyed, refusing to cry or scream as she regarded the world with unafraid, disappointed eyes. All her other children would herald their births with loud screams and flailing limbs, but little Ziva David simply accepted that she would never again feel the warmth and protection of her mother's womb and set about carving herself a place in the world she'd been forced into.
She can walk by her first birthday, run by the age of two. She is her father's little warrior, rarely smiling or laughing unless it benefits her. Eli David knows from the moment she first turns those wide eyes on him that she will be unlike any of the other daughters of Israel. Perhaps as a joke, and perhaps not, her first toy is a little stuffed rifle, its safety disarmed.
When pressed, Eli laughs and says, "She can't shoot it if the safety's always on."
At the age of eight she gets into her first fight. Her opponent's name is Shmuel Rubenstein, an older, larger boy who tries to put his hand under her dress as he tells her that he likes her.
Ziva draws her fist back and lays a killer right hook to his nose. Her father, watching from the balcony, applauds and then opens his arms wide, inviting her into them. She leaves her victim in the dirt and runs to him, obediently pressing a kiss to his cheek.
"Why did you hit Shmuel?" He asks her gently, rustling her hair.
She looks back at him, unafraid and unashamed, and shrugs. "He didn't quit when I asked nicely."
He cups her face in his hands. "That's an important lesson, Zivalah. Sometimes you have to hit people to get them to listen to you. Pain is a great motivator."
She nods solemnly, accepting her father's words as God's own truth.
Two months after her tenth birthday, she sees her first assassination. The man is walking through the streets when a bullet rips through his brain. He falls hard into the dirt, without a sound, and instantly the market is thrown into a panic, everyone screaming and running into buildings.
Ziva huddles beneath a vegetable vendor's stand, clutching her knees to her chest and shaking uncontrollably. Her mother finds her there, hours later, and sweeps her into her arms with gentle persuasion. "You're all right, Ziva," Yael David murmurs, stroking her daughter's hair. "Shhh. When a woman is afraid, she does not show it. When you most want to close your eyes and cry, you must instead open them and smile."
Locked between her mother's arms and chest, Ziva is overtaken with a strong sense of calm. She vows to never be helpless like that again, never to let herself feel that same fear. She will put herself on the other side of the gun and hold all the cards.
Later that night, she asks her father to teach her out to shoot. "You are still afraid from the upset in the market today," he guesses, ruffling her hair.
"No," Ziva tells him honestly, batting his hand away. "But I will become Mossad, like you, and kill the people who want to hurt us." And despite the fact that she is a small, slight for her age girl of ten and he the Deputy Director of the Mossad, Eli David feels somehow that he is not the authority in this conversation, that whether or not he agrees to her terms her future will unfold just the way she has planned.
In the army she learns how to move, how to smile, how to seduce a man without ever opening her mouth. She learns that manipulating a man is easier than tying her own shoes—and that when asking fails and violence is not an option, sex is the easiest alternative.
When she returns home she is nineteen, curvy, graceful in a way she'd never been as a girl. But she still has that something, that nameless quality which draws men to her and then keeps them at just the right distance.
She is always controlled, always alert, always in charge. When she steps into the house for the first time a free woman her first deed is to draw fourteen-year-old Talia into her arms and squeeze. A wide smile stretches across her face. "My little Tali, you've gotten so pretty!" She cries. She gives no outward indication that she is aware of the stares as she embraces her mother and kisses her father.
Shmuel Rubenstein comes to her window that night. She lets him climb inside. "You look beautiful," he murmurs to her, reaching out to stroke her arm. Then he hesitates. "Are you going to hit me?"
Ziva feels detached from the decision, thinking it through logically and without emotion. "No," she tells him after a moment of deliberation. "I'm giving you credit for persistence." She studies him, mentally running a list of pros and cons, and then leans in, her breath hot against his ear as she says, "You'll spend the night."
Then she leads him to the bed.
She joins Mossad as much to satisfy her childhood desire as because she is bored. Being at home doesn't suit her. It leaves her antsy and restless, and she knows that if her whole life adds up to nothing but this then she will go crazy.
She spends a year in training. By day she learns how to lie, how to steal, how to kill a man eighteen different ways using just a paper clip; by night she helps her mother cook dinner, braids Talia's hair, entertains her father's guests.
It is at one of these dinner parties that she meets Michael Rifkin. He is the son of her father's best friend, soft-spoken, gentle in a way that few men have been with her. Most of her boyfriends have felt like competition, as if she is a challenge they are constantly trying to beat. But Michael treats her like any other woman, with politeness and dignity, not leering and innuendo.
His words are honest, gentle, almost reverential when he speaks to her, and when his hand touches her bare skin she can see the wonder in his eyes.
"You cannot be real," he murmurs, awed, as he looks up at her. They are wrapped in her sheets and she is wearing nothing but a tank top.
Ziva thinks of the hours she spends pretending to be someone else, coated in a thick layer of false identity, and whispers, "Perhaps I'm not."
It is her father that tells her Talia is dead, his voice low, hands on her shoulders. Ziva cowers beneath the words as if they were blows and it is only Eli's grip that keeps her on her feet.
"The target was a nearby coffee shop. Tali was walking home from school. The bomb, it… it landed only a few feet from her."
Ziva trembles. Twenty-one years of training have made it nearly impossible to cry, nearly impossible to let go of the taught, strained control she wraps her emotions in, but her knees are weak and she cannot life her head. "Are the bombers dead?" She asks, voice tight and fists clenched.
"One of them. The other is being held for questioning. We want to know who it is he's working for, but he won't talk." Her eyes snap to her father's and there is no question in them, only a demand. It is clear that his will and opinion is of no consequence and so with a resigned sigh he steps aside and leads her to the interrogation room.
After an hour she has the man babbling like an idiot, spilling every secret he has ever heard, begging to be killed and offering whatever intelligence he can. Ziva is snarling, shaking, restrained only by Michael's gentle hands as the Hamas officer vomits his secrets onto the ground at his feet.
"Zivalah," Michael murmurs into her ear as she strains against him, her knife pointed at the bloodied bomber, "Zivalah. Come back. Come back. Talia would not want this."
At those words the knife clatters to the floor and Ziva falls back into Michael, letting him support her, letting him carry her home.
In the morning she wakes up in a pool of tears that she shed in her sleep. Michael is stroking her hair. She feels, for an instant, like a human being and not the envelope of burning rage that she has become. She curls against him and he doesn't let her go, not even when she begins trembling so hard that the bed shakes.
She makes a good sniper because she is able to separate herself from her actions, able to turn off her emotions and think with reason alone. She does not regret a single kill, because there is no room for regret in a life like hers and she has no time for doubt.
She spends two years in Germany, one in Spain, sixth months in France, and countless days and weeks across the world. There are a few memorable missions—her time as a cage dancer in Croatia, a fisherwoman in Greece, a nanny in Bulgaria. May of them are less interesting, pure hit-and-runs, and these are her favorites because it means that she can go home afterward.
Ziva is sure that there must have been a time before this was her life, but if there was she cannot remember it.
She sleeps with Eschel. She'll regret it, in the years to come, but from Paris, Israel seems so very far away.
"You know," Ari says to her the day before he flies to the States, grabbing her hand with some urgency, "Eventually you'll have to quit."
Ziva raises her eyes from her book. Her brother's face is close, scrutinizing her own with eyes that look like her father. She puts a hand on his cheek. "Eventually," she agrees. "Perhaps I'll marry Michael. It would make sense."
And Ari, always the romantic, asks, "Do you love him?"
Ziva considers it. Romantic love is too powerful an emotion for a good agent to allow herself to feel. It makes you weak; it makes you likely to lose control. "No," she tells him gently, and strokes his cheek. "But he will not make me unhappy."
Ari embraces her. "Then that is enough," he says, firmly, and she does not see him again until they are both in Washington.
The NCIS agent reminds her of someone, although she can't say who. It is just a mindless familiarity that leads her to know instinctively what to get him at the hotel's coffee bar.
"Espresso. Take it. It's not a bribe."
Anthony DiNozzo stares at her. "How long have you known I was…"
"Following me?" She laughs. "Since I left the Navy Yard." She feels sorry for him, stuck following her around in the cold wet rain. She hates being a tail, always made Michael follow the targets while she did the extra legwork. She never minded. There was something far too pleasant about being the match which lights the cigarette, about putting into motion things which cannot be undone.
He would follow the targets and she would control them. It was how they worked.
It is the unexplainable feeling of familiarity that allows Ziva to speak of Talia to Agent DiNozzo. He's friendly enough, apologetic of his mission—but if anyone knows what it means to follow an order, it is Ziva David. You are given an order and you obey it. If you are afraid, you open your eyes and smile.
When Agent DiNozzo leans into her and says quietly, "I'm sorry," he means it. He can't quite meet her eyes and looks instead at the espresso in his hands.
"After Tali's death, I was like Gibbs. All I wanted was revenge."
She thinks of her application, sitting on her father's desk, and his eyes as he looked at her, as if h had known all along that she would wind up here, waiting with open hands for him to put a rifle in it.
He seems genuinely curious. "Is that why you joined Mossad?"
"No. I was Mossad long before Tali's death." She thinks of the nights curled up beside her sister, running her fingers through the young girl's hair and giving her advice on boys. Teaching her how to cook. Laughing at Ari, who was balancing a spoon on his nose. And then waking up in the day and learning how to fight, to manipulate, to kill. Consciously making the effort not to use those same manipulation skills in her day-to-day life. Whispering to Michael, perhaps I am not real. "It was an old…"
"Israeli sense of duty," she corrects, although perhaps it was a little bit of both.
DiNozzo leans in. She can see the street lights reflecting in his eyes and she shakes her head to clear it of the thought. His breath is warm and he smells of aftershave and perhaps she will have him here, now, in her hotel room—perhaps she will press her lips along every curve of him and lick the salt from his skin. Perhaps…
Ziva leans into DiNozzo and drops her empty cup of espresso into his own. "I volunteered," she tells him. She could have said: I wanted to never be afraid. She could have said: I refused to become my mother. She could have said: When I was just a baby, I slept with a stuffed rifle. But 'I volunteered' is all that she will give him. "Laila tov."
His eyes follow her. She has felt his gaze all day. Perhaps it belongs there. "Buena notte," he murmurs, and she thinks, briefly, of the way his eyes reflected the city's artificial light.
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs is the first human being to ever see her cry. He is a good man, a deeply—if privately—loving man, but in that instant, he could have been anyone. Not even Ziva David, taught from birth never to show to weakness, never to lose control, could have prevented the hurricane of sorrow that breaks loose.
She has killed her brother. She has killed Ari, gentle Ari, sweet and clever Ari. She has betrayed her father, her family, her faith. Herself.
"You killed your brother to save my life," Gibbs murmurs into her ear, as if this is something to cling to, something to be proud of. He does not understand that the words make her sick, make her want to vomit until the stain inside her is washed away.
That night Michael calls. He heard about Ari. "I'm sorry, Ziva," he murmurs into the phone, and she clutches it to her ear like a lifeline. She wants to jump through the phone back home and into his arms, into the only place that makes sense.
"It is my fault," she tells him in English. "It is my fault that he is dead. I was supposed to be his Control Officer, Michael, I was supposed to get him home. It is my fault that he is dead."
"No," Michael murmurs, but he does not know the truth, and he could not possibly learn of it. His voice is inside her ear, and yet she feels the thousands of miles between them. He is impossibly far away. "When are you coming home?" He asks.
"I don't know. My father has a telephone appointment with the NCIS director over here tomorrow morning. They'll be discussing terms of my return." His silence says everything that needs to be said of his displeasure so she adds in a gentler tone, "I'm sure it'll be soon, Michael. You know American politics. It takes a year to decide on the color of the president's tie."
He laughs. "It's just—they've got me working with Uri," he complains, trying to lighten the mood. "And, while he is about your size I'm not nearly as excited about the prospect of taking him home every evening."
Ziva laughs. It feels good to laugh, so she stops. "I'll let you know what happens," she says shortly, and hangs up before he can finish saying goodbye.
Anthony DiNozzo is an asshole, Ziva decides halfway through her first day as the official liaison between NCIS and the Mossad, and yet somehow she only reaches for her knife twice. The problem is that whenever she imagines murdering him, the preceding fight quickly deteriorates from dangerous to amorous, and though her thoughts are far from tender or emotional she can't help but be distracted by the—draw of Tony.
And they do have sex. The FBI surveillance team certainly gets more than they paid for, that night. After—as she lies bathed in his heat and her own—she feels herself starting to laugh.
"That bad?" Tony asks dryly, ruffling her hair with his hand with unearned familiarity.
She says, "No. That good. Poor Michael."
He looks down at her, interested. "Michael?" He asks, curious, and then his face lights. "Aha! The boyfriend who recruited you!"
"I volunteered," she tells him again, crossly, and then kisses him to silence a reply. She remembers Eschel and feels a years-old pang of guilt. "We can't ever do that again."
"But we might."
She worries he might take it as a challenge, but he simply smiles at her and turns off the light.
She almost gives up six times, that first year at NCIS, but something always stops her. Sometimes it is as large a reason as finally being accepted by Abby; sometimes it is as small as an unasked for coffee refill; sometimes it is simply because Jen won't let her leave. Either way, she stays, and ever day it gets easier to ignore the draw of Israel.
Michael calls twice a week, in the beginning, then twice a month, then once every two months. She begins to forget the details of him. She begins to forget the importance of him.
But when things come together, Ziva has learned that there is no alternative but for them to fall apart.
The day that Gibbs resigns, Tony shows up on her doorstep. It's a warm night, balmy, but he's in a coat anyway and he looks like he's been run through a shredder.
Part of her thinks that he needs to learn to control his emotions, that all the NCIS agents need to learn what it means to stay focused, but a larger part thinks that he could use a Caff-Pow.
And she lets him in.
"I knew you couldn't resist me," he jokes weakly when they've finished, lying in her un-air-conditioned apartment with the windows closed. She laughs gently, not because the joke is funny but because tonight is about comfort, about finding something that is real and tangible and solid and won't slip away, about getting a grip on something that won't dissolve beneath their fingers. Into the silence, Tony murmurs, "I don't know if I can do this, Ziva. I don't know if I can be Gibbs."
She rolls on top of him and rests her chin on his chest. He runs his hand absently along her spine and she realizes that this might be a tender moment, for anyone else but them. "That is because you can't," she tells him bluntly. "You have no military training and even less tact. You are too controlled by your emotions, rather than the other way around. You do not know how put doubt aside and just act off of instinct."
He chuckles weakly. "I should have known you'd give shitty pep talks."
She brushes his hair out of his eyes and presses a kiss to his chin. "But you are a good man, and an even better agent. You will do fine and I will have your eight."
She confuses the numbers intentionally, because she knows he likes correcting her. He clutches her tighter as he laughs, "Yeah, Zee-vah, I've got your eight, too."
And that's how it starts. It was supposed to just be one evening, one moment of comfort and desire and not wanting to hold back anymore. One night of taking, of giving in, of reaching for whatever holds they could when the world was falling to pieces.
But he came back the next week, armed with movies and popcorn. The week after, she cooked him dinner. He spent the weekend in her apartment and her bed, and somehow they managed to act no differently at work. Somehow she ended up with his toothbrush in her bathroom and his boxers in her drawer and it felt… like an accident. Like one moment they were partners and Gibbs was saying rule number twelve and the next, he was… sort of a permanent fixture.
Sometimes Michael calls when he is over, and Ziva isn't sure who she is supposed to give priority to.
It is two weeks before it all comes crashing down. They are in her apartment, surrounded by horror films and cookies, and Ziva can't remember the last time she was fully clothed. "This is a horrible video," she complains midway through Friday the 13th. "I mean actually, Tony. I have seen bar mitzvah videos that are more frightening."
"Are you kidding? This is one of the best horror movies ever made. Evil little Jason and his creepy revenge-obsessed Mom… come on. It's a classic!"
They are on her couch, popcorn bowl between them. She'd cooked him shrimp tempura for dinner because she knows it's the only way he'll eat vegetables without complaining. He's got one arm cast lazily over the back of the couch and the over on the arm rest, and he looks like he belongs here.
"So is Chinese Water Torture, but you do not see many people singing its praises," she points out. "And anyway, the girls in this movie are too stupid. I would never do those things."
He throws a kernel of popcorn at her and it bounces off her nose. "That's because you aren't a woman, Sweetcheeks, you're a super-being sent to take over the world."
She laughs and leans in, lowering her voice. "How did you know?"
"Please," he scoffs, enfolding her in his arms and locking her against his chest. "Nothing gets past me. I know all your dirty little secrets, my little ninja."
Ziva thinks of Michael, of Ari, of the way she sometimes feels dizzy when she looks at Tony and she says, "Not likely."
"Did you or did you not sleep with him?"
Please, God, she prays, don't let Michael know about this.
"What I did, or did not do, is none of your business," she spits, panicking, frantically trying to come up with an excuse. Romance and sex have always been like objects to her. She manipulates them to get what she wants and afterwards, what is left is merely fleeting pleasure. Ziva is not cold-hearted, she is not cruel; but to squander her gift of luring in the weaker sex would be idiocy. And when she is on a mission, Ziva David does not fail to perform, no matter what the cost.
But Tony is…this thing with Tony is…it has become far more complicated that comfort sex and she is unprepared to consider what that might mean, for her, for them. For the way things are.
Seeing Eschel at the bombing had thrown her for a moment. Her own manipulations had been turned around and used on her, but it would not happen again. It didn't matter that once, she had perhaps loved him, in her own way. He had betrayed her, and the Mossad, and Israel, and she would deal with him the way she was forced to deal with Ari.
Thinking of her brother still brings a stinging sense of shame and guilt, and so she says again, "It's none of your business."
"I didn't tell Michael," her father says the instant she picks up her phone. Ziva feels drug-like relief flow through her and she collapses on her couch. "But you are better than this, Ziva. If you cannot keep an emotional objectivity, then—"
"I didn't sleep with him, Papa," she lies forcefully. "But thank you for not telling Michael."
"The visits will stop."
Ziva looks out her window. It's raining. The perfect day to watch a movie. She sighs a little as she says, "The visits will stop."
She never gives Tony a reason. Simply begins declining his offers and feigning plans whenever he invites her out. She can't quite bring herself to tell him about the photos, the surveillance, her complete incompetence as a soldier. She should have known she was being followed. She's slipped since joining NCIS. Become more investigator than sniper, and that's… well, that's how it is.
Tony, in his usual fashion, brushes off the sudden rejections with a casual air. It's almost too easy for the two of them to destroy the relationship they'd built over the past year, and before she knows what's happening it's as if it never happened, as if his toothbrush isn't still sitting by her sink at home.
Well, that's fine, she decides, that's just fine. It's better this way. Love is a weakness in an agent. Love will get you killed, and your partner killed, and if you don't allow yourself to love someone then it never hurts when you have to say goodbye.
Tony DiNardo breaks two hearts.
After everything, Vance's reassignment to is almost welcome. Ziva built to fight, to do, and she has done nothing for the past year but sit and watch Tony fall in love with a Frenchwoman. she has been a million people in her lifetime, never keeping one persona long enough to get hurt.
That was obviously her mistake here. A change will do her good.
"I'm gonna miss you so much," the Abby wails when Ziva goes to say goodbye. She's not one for hugging, but she makes an exception.
"I will miss you, too," Ziva murmurs, and finds that she means it. But her life has been a constant wheel of motion, and she is more used to parting than Abby is, so she adds a kind-hearted lie: "If you need me, feel free to call."
"Right back atcha, sister."
On her way out, Ziva thinks that Abby would have liked Talia.
McGee is easier to say goodbye to. He pulls her into a hug and says, "I always had a crush on you, y'know."
She laughs. "I know."
"Well, they're exiling you to Israel and me to Siberia—oh, sorry, I mean the basement—so at least we'll both know that we're alone together."
She punches him on the shoulder, smiling so much it hurts, a fierce ache springing in her chest. "I'll email you, crimewriter76."
He blushes and turns away. "I'll email back, ninjagirl."
Tony is the easiest. Neither of them is prone to showing much emotion with one another, especially not lately. She sticks out her hand and he takes it and they stay that way for just one moment before letting go. She thinks back to that first visit, standing on the steps of her hotel, and seeing light reflected in him.
"I'll see you around, Tony," she murmurs.
He says nothing. Just swallows once and nods.
They both turn at the same time and walk away in different directions.
"You'll be back," Gibbs tells her, "so don't do anything stupid."
Her father sends her undercover four seconds after she gets home. She wonders if he expects her to return from this one, if it's the type of mission where she's supposed to get her affairs in order first.
But, no. Just undercover as a singer in one of the bars where her target frequents. It's a throwaway assignment, and she knows it, Michael knows it, everyone knows it. It's her chance to prove that she hasn't gone soft, that she is still the sharp dagger she was when she left.
She will never see Abby again, McGee again, Ducky again, Palmer again, Gibbs again, Jenny again. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo again.
They all think she's gotten weak, even gentle Michael. She sees the look they give her—half curious, half disappointed. That Ziva David, ruined after just a couple years in the States. She had been such a good asset.
Ziva grits her teeth. She'll show them, she'll show them. She's the same as she used to be, she's still as sharp and as lethal. She's got something to prove and she's going to prove it, if only they'll stop treating her like a mourning woman and remember that she knows eighteen ways to kill them with just a paperclip.
"Do you remember," Michael asks, perched on a pile of dresses and feathered boas in her dressing room, "Talia's twelfth birthday?"
He's her handler in this assignment, not her partner, but it has always been easy, with him. Where Tony pushes and prods and gets under her skin, Michael gently strokes and eases answers out of her. Ziva laughs. "Yes. It was the night we met. My father was bringing his work home and pretending it was her birthday party."
He approaches her, running his hands up and down her arms and gently pulling her to him. "You were wearing a green dress, and I remember thinking you were the most intimidating beautiful woman I'd ever met," he tells her, reaching for her hand.
Ziva bites her lip. So many years of history between them, so many promises—both broken and kept. "We were young," she murmurs.
"You have never been young," he teases with a laugh. "You were born a spy, an international heartbreaker."
She thinks of Tony. "I have never busted any hearts," she tells him with a soft sigh. "Only heads."
Michael cups her cheek in his hand and she leans into it. It's not Tony's, but it's warm, and soft, and there. Perhaps she has gone soft, after all, for needing this. "I've always been in love with you, Ziva. There's never been anyone else, not seriously. I wanted to marry you the moment I saw you."
NCIS was a dream and a wonder, and she will remember those people for the rest of her life—how she loved them and how they loved her—but she will not be that person again.
She asks, "Would you still have me?"
His smile is blinding, but she doesn't let herself look away.
If her father is pleased, her mother is jubilant. "You know," she confides one night back stage at the club, "I was always a little afraid that you would never marry Michael. That he would tire of waiting for you and find someone else."
Ziva makes herself laugh. "I was always a little afraid of that, too."
"He is a good man," Yael murmurs. "He will not make you unhappy."
"No," Ziva agrees. "Not unhappy."
The day she is blown up, Ziva is wearing a dress that she chose because she secretly thought that it was something Tony would have loved.
The date is set for January 25, one year from now. She makes the choice not to tell the NCIS team as she flies back. She does not want her last year with them to be a counting clock.
Before she gets on the plane Michael kisses her cheek. "You'll come home to me," he tells her, confident, happy. "And we'll marry."
"I promised we would," She agrees. He hands her a photo of himself and she presses it against her chest, tears gathering. But for which life—the one she is leaving behind, or the one she is stepping into—she has no idea.
"Four months," Tony muses, "That's more than long enough to hook up with someone."
A sense of hysteria has been building in her since she got back to America, rising like the slow Atlantic tide, and his jealously is but another wave. For the second time in her life, Ziva feels out of control, like she is huddled beneath that vegetable stand as bullets rain on the dirt inches from her feet.
She spends the week trying to commit to her own decision, to believe her own lies because she has learned nothing if not that if you don't believe yourself, no one else will, either.
Michael will not make her unhappy. He loves her, he knows her, he is sewn so tightly into her history and she's not sure that he isn't the only thing she really has left.
She catches a reflection of herself the day before she leaves and thinks: oh. This is what losing control looks like.
It's an ordinary Tuesday. They're at a crime scene in Bethesda. She rounds the corner and doesn't have time to draw her gun before the perp gets a chance to pistol whip her across the mouth. Tony shoots the fleeing man in the back and doesn't bother handcuffing him; he simply drops to his knees beside Ziva and pulls her head into his lap.
"You all right, Zee-vah?" He asks, stroking her hair. She flashes back two years to her apartment, lying on his chest and kissing his chin.
She struggles to her feet, annoyed at herself. "I am fine," she says curtly, clutching her jaw. "I should have been prepared."
Tony chuckles, running his hand along the cut. "He was hiding behind a corner, Ninja Girl. Not even your spidey senses could have detected him."
He gives her a ride back to his apartment, because it's close. She lets him take care of her because they're coming on a time when that won't be possible anymore. He finishes wiping the blood away and then, impulsively, presses a gentle kiss to her jaw.
Then another one. Then another. Then another, until he's at her mouth. He stops a millimeter from her lips and she closes her eyes, breathing him in, wanting to do The Right Thing, but—but it's Tony and it's been so long since they've been this close and without stopping to consider the consequences, she launches herself at him.
It's fast and sticky and feels like that first time, so many years ago. He carries her to his bedroom and it almost feels like she never left, like there aren't miles of separation between them, like this is just how it is supposed to be, forever.
He is solid, and real, and she has this, for now.
Afterwards, they lie tangled in his bed and she can't bear to move. He's holding her tightly, like he's afraid to let go, and she braces herself against the tightness in her throat and the burning that's gathering behind her eyes. Tony's breathing is rhythmic and calming and she lets herself be lulled by it, by him, by his hand stroking along her spine like it used to.
The ache, the longing for what she has and what she must give away, comes so strong and so fast that she cannot resist it. A gasp, a shudder, and Tony DiNozzo becomes the second person to ever see her cry.
She runs home. Tony offer to drive but she refuses. She can't stand to look at him, can't bear to have his eyes on her and not be able to say everything that she's been thinking for the past four years.
The run calms her, controls her, steadies her. It clears her head.
When she gets home there's an unfamiliar car in her driveway and she frowns when she finds that her lock has been jimmied. She wishes she'd come home armed with more than just her customary knife. "Hello?" she calls out.
There's a noise behind her and she reacts before she thinks, subduing the intruder and putting her knife against his throat before he can retaliate.
"Wow, you just get better every time, don't you," Michael laughs, his voice choked.
She stares down at her, not understanding, and before she can control the words coming out of her mouth she blurts, "I can't marry you."
She throws the knife to the side, dazed, and climbs to her feet. Michael rises slowly behind her. "Ziva," he says gently. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"I can't marry you," she says again, covering her mouth as tears begin to build. But this time she won't let them fall. This time she will control them, she will be the sniper and not the victim. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Michael. I don't—I don't know why I said yes in the first place. I don't… I don't love you."
He stares at her. "I don't understand."
"Oh," she gasps, collapsing into one of her kitchen chairs, "Neither do I. Neither do I. It didn't used to be like this, did it? I didn't used to be like this. I used to be so sure of everything. I used to know—I always assumed I would marry you. Did you know that? I told Ari… I told Ari that I would marry you. I know you're—you're the best choice for me, you're kind and you love me. You love me. But I just… I can't write my life away for something that I don't believe in anymore."
Michael's voice is low, harder than she's used to it being, and she's hurting him and she knows it but she just. can't. stop. "Is there someone else?"
Ziva drops her head into her hands, and a tear drips down her nose, but only one. "Yes," she murmurs. "Yes. There's always been. He's—oh, God—"
Michael moves slowly, bending to pick up her knife and walking towards her with a contemplative look on his face. She'd be surprised if he strikes her—it's not in his personality—but she's not certain that she wouldn't deserve it. But no; he simply drives the blade into the wood of her counter.
"Everyone told me not to love you," he tells her darkly, eyes boring into her forehead. "They said that a spy has no room for love, no room for anything but their missions. They said that a spy loses who they are in what they do. I didn't want to believe them, but, well. I guess we've seen who's the fool."
On his way out he says over his shoulder, "I knew you couldn't be real."
Her voice breaks as she answers, "I want to be."
She turns off her phone after her father's eighth call. She informs Gibbs that she's taking a sick day. She closes her shudders and leaves the lights off and lies on her living room floor, eyes closed, listening to the gentle ticking of her clock.
Everything seems so very far away.
Tony, Michael, her father, the world. Everyone is light years away and for once—for once—it is only Ziva. Ziva, thinking about Ziva. Not about a mission or a target or a partner or a crime scene.
She thinks about Talia. Bright, beautiful Talia, laughing with her, begging to brain her hair. Talia, walking home from school and blowing up, her last second in the world spend in unimaginable pain.
Ari, betrayed by the one who loved him most. Gentle Ari, working for the very people that had torn her baby Talia from her. He deserved to be killed, but not by her. Not by her.
Michael, gazing at her in awe, that first time, running his fingers down her arms and across her cheeks, murmuring, you cannot be real. Perhaps I am not, she had said. Perhaps I'm not.
Abby, laughing, clutching a Caff-Pow, so like Talia in so many ways and always the favorite. Gibbs, McGee, Tony, even Ziva—all favored her because she was their every-loss, she was everyone they had ever loved and would never see again. You're not emotionless, she had told Ziva softly. I didn't mean that.
McGee, grinning at her, I've always had a crush on you. Sweet McGee.
And Tony. Tony, who she had loved and slept with and hated and feared for and fought for and run from and understood and then not understood and played with and laughed with and—for the first time—cried with. Tony, who was not as simple as Michael, who confused her and made things more difficult than easy and love shouldn't have to be this hard, but maybe it was, and maybe it did, because otherwise, maybe it wasn't worth it.
She lay on the floor, clutching a pillow, feeling like she was huddled beneath a vegetable stand and bullets were everywhere. It was the third time.
He didn't knock when he came in and they didn't speak at first. He knelt slowly beside her and muttered, "So this is what falling off the wagon looks like."
"I did not fall," she tells him. "I decided to lie here."
And he laughs. "It's an expression, Zee-vah. I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Michael told me that I was not real, and I am starting to believe him." He lies down beside her and gathers her in his arms. Four years ago she would have resented being treated like a person with feelings and weaknesses but now she curls into him, clutching at his shirt and murmuring, "I want to be real, Tony. I want to be real."
He kisses the top of your head. "You're the realest thing I've got, sweetcheeks," he says.
They wake up at 0500h in the same place they fell asleep. Her alarm is blaring from her bedroom, so she gets up and turns it off. When she comes back out he's standing in her living room, hands in his pockets, and he takes one deep breath before saying, "I think we could make it work, you know, as long as you promise to teach me all sorts of ninja tricks."
She smiles as she moves to kiss him. "I will teach you ninja tricks if you teach me how to use contractions."
"You drive a hard bargain, Officer David, but I'm willing to negotiate. I do have this sort of weird quirk, though, that you should know about." She arches her eyebrow. "I only negotiate when naked." And Ziva laughs. For once, everything seems remarkably clear.
"That's funny," she says, "I have a similar problem."