Part 3: Slouches Toward Bethlehem

Author's Note: This may very well be the final chapter of this story. See below for explanation.


She was sick of New York.

For the last week and a half, Ziva had been stuck in the city along with the rest of the DC counterterrorism team for a major conference regarding the state of the War on Terror – or whatever it was the new administration was calling it these days. Initially, she had been looking forward to this gathering – it was always a good idea to pool resources, and she had hoped that the Americans had finally learned the bitter lessons that Israel struggled with on a daily basis – but even before the first day had ended, she could see that this was a waste of time and money. Most of the bureaucrats attending seemed more interested in networking to improve their career and establishing their own credentials rather than dealing with the actual threats facing their nation, a myopic mindset made worse in her opinion by the new American administration's shift back to the failed policies of treating terrorist strikes as criminal actions as opposed to acts of war. Even worse, however, were those that seemed to think this entire conference was a singles meet-up and aggressively pursued anyone they found attractive. Despite the year and a half since what she thought of as the 'Russian Incident,' Ziva found herself extremely uncomfortable with the attention from unfamiliar men, which led to her temper flaring at inopportune moments. As a last ditch effort to ward off unwanted suitors without having to resort to violence, Ziva donned the wedding ring that had been part of her cover as Elisheva Stavi D'Agostino, but even that only eliminated the less persistent ones. Threats of bodily dismemberment in a cold and entirely serious voice chased off the rest.

The conference did not turn out to be a complete disaster, though. On no less than three occasions in the first day alone, her intimate knowledge of the Middle East and the weekly intelligence reports she received from Mossad allowed her to identify important misconceptions several high-ranking officials had about the political atmosphere of the region, as well as point out holes in their various contingency plans. Once her credentials were verified, she was suddenly deluged by would-be experts, many of whom had never even left American soil, all wanting her official opinion regarding their operations or threat assessments. Ziva was bluntly honest to anyone who sought her expertise – this was far too important a task to step lightly – which ruffled some feathers and probably made her a few enemies along the way, but she closed out the first week with a sense of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, her success led to her stay being extended as deputy directors for various agencies and other bureaucrats logged official requests with both Mossad and NCIS for her to coordinate with them. The counterterrorism team leader she answered to – a grizzled supervisory special agent named J.D. Thompson – lodged formal protests as her stay in New York delayed her normal duties in D.C., but, in the interests of inter-service cooperation, Director Vance signed off on it.

Which led to Ziva's current, hellish living conditions: sharing a hotel room with Special Agent Nikki Jardine.

When she first saw Tony's old apartment shortly after first joining the team – it had been after their undercover assignment as married assassins and she had driven him home – she had thought he was the worst kind of slob. There were unwashed dishes in the sink, partially filled food containers on the living room coffee table, clothes scattered on the floor in the bedroom, and the sight of it had cemented her opinion that he was an immature bachelor (which ultimately led to her unintended snub of him for the dinner party some weeks later), but Gibbs' tendency to call the team in at all hours of the night eventually led her own apartment to bear a startling resemblance to DiNozzo's. Invariably, the call would come while she was eating or in the shower, and she would rush out, leaving the mess behind to clean up later only to put it off a little longer when she dragged herself home once the investigation was closed or moved to cold cases because the leads had evaporated. Admittedly, Tony's years of living as a confirmed bachelor had not encouraged him to be more sanitary, but in the months since they had moved in together, Ziva had trained him fairly well in that regard.

Living with Nikki was like sharing a room with seven or eight DiNozzos, all of whom were either drunk or even more slovenly than their namesake.

On Jardine's side of the room, clothes were everywhere, tossed haphazardly on the floor or hanging on top of the fold-down ironing board. Empty water bottles were littered around the trash can, although Ziva doubted a single one of them had actually been put into the container. And the folders? They were everywhere.

Ziva stood in the doorway leading into the hotel room, staring at the mess with appalled horror. She could hear the sound of the shower running, but did not bother announcing her presence. Instead, she picked her way through the disaster area that was Jardine's side of the room, gathered the two suitcases she had packed earlier this morning containing all of her belongings, and headed once more to the door. She pulled it open just as the technical expert of the CT team, Daniel Keating, was about to knock. He stood there for an extended second, his eyes wide and his hand up.

"Did something explode in here?" he asked as he took in the mess.

"Not yet," Ziva replied coolly. "May I help you, Daniel?" she asked, and Keating blinked.

"J.D. wants to talk to you," he said. She nodded and pushed by him, ignoring the curious look he gave her suitcases. To his credit, he did not offer to take one of them off her hands; he had tried that the first time the team made an out-of-state visit to which Ziva had simply shot him a foul look and ignored it. After pulling her door shut, he jogged up the hall to fall into step with her, though, as usual, he didn't actually make eye contact.

Special Agent Thompson was on the phone when they arrived at the room he shared with Keating, and he gave Ziva's bags a quick but unsurprised look before gesturing for both of them to enter. A short, squat man, he was near Gibbs' age, with gray streaks in his short-cropped hair and stress lines on his dark face. In her short time with the CT team, Ziva had quickly come to respect J.D. – for him, this job was all important and nothing – nothing – mattered more than preventing terrorist attacks made against American interests. The death of his son aboard the U.S.S. Cole in October of 2000 at the hands of Sudanese members of al-Qaeda had turned combating terrorism into his life's work, and the murder of his brother-in-law along with nearly three thousand other civilians the next year on September 11th only cemented his obsession. His marriage of twenty years had disintegrated in the wake of his sudden shift of priorities, but at no time did he show a hint of remorse over this fact. All that mattered to him was stopping further attacks.

It was a very Israeli sort of mindset.

"I take you've already heard about the bank job," Thompson said as he snapped his phone shut. Ziva blinked at him, frowned, and glanced once at Keating who was looking particularly uncomfortable.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," she replied. "Until ten minutes ago, I was in a conference room with Director Morrow from Homeland Security and three Middle East experts who were more interested in listening to themselves talk than to admit they have no idea what they talking about." She spat out the term 'experts' with abject contempt and J.D. shook his head in disgust.

"And these jackasses wonder why we keep getting hit," he muttered. Despite being African-American himself, he had never concealed his disdain toward the newly elected president's terrorism policies, a fact that had gotten him into trouble on several occasions. "Director Vance wanted me to inform you that Special Agent DiNozzo was not injured," Thompson said, his words causing an instant frisson of fear to spike through her. Ziva swallowed her first, instinctual response – to demand to know what had happened in as loud a voice as possible – and drew in a deep, steadying breath before pinning her current boss with a cool look. J.D. smiled at her poise. "He was involved in a bank shoot out," he said in response to the unspoken demand for answers, "but wasn't hit or injured."

"It's been all over the news," Keating said.

"And I have been sequestered in meetings all day," Ziva pointed out, her words a shade harsher than she intended them to be.

"Anyway," J.D. said quickly, "we're sending you back to D.C. on Gibbs' recommendation." He flashed a bright grin. "I think he'd like you to give DiNozzo a piece of your mind since you seem to be the only person Tony listens to." Ziva blinked at the ridiculous statement – he certainly did not listen to her when she asked him to stop leaving the toilet seat up – before finally shaking her head and smiling.

"Today was his first day back in the field," she admitted ruefully. "Gibbs should have known better than to let him out of his sight." Thompson chuckled and shook his head.

"The director also wanted me to pass on a message that Tel Aviv moved up your weekly debrief to Wednesday," he said. Ziva's straightened slightly, any hint of humor instantly vanishing.

"Did they say why?" she asked calmly. Inside, however, she was trembling with either anger or fear – she couldn't quite tell which. Mossad's new director, Ehud Ayalon, had made no attempts to hide his utter disinterest in maintaining the liaison position, no matter the benefits it provided for Israel, and Ziva was at least partially convinced that the man's opposition to it was personal. He had never liked her, regardless of her nearly flawless mission record, and had let it be known that he considered her very presence within the Institute as a sign of nepotism. When her father was forced to tender his resignation to the prime minister fifteen months ago, Ayalon had been there, waiting to take over. Thus far, he had not made too terrible of a mess, although his utter lack of finesse when it came to intelligence ops was not gaining him any allies.

And it simply had to sting that the man he had replaced was promptly elected to the Knesset on the Likud party platform and now chaired an oversight committee overseeing Mossad operations.

"I didn't ask," J.D. replied. He frowned. "They're not planning on calling you back, are they?"

"You know as much as I do," Ziva replied. "When do I leave?" she asked.

"Keating will drive you to the airport," Thompson said. "We'll follow tomorrow." Ziva nodded and picked up her bags. At the doorway, she paused.

"In the future," she announced, "I will not share a room with Agent Jardine. If necessary, I will pay for my own lodgings." J.D. smirked and his eyes sparkled, prompting Ziva to suspect he had paired her with Nikki just to see what would happen.

"So noted," he said.

The drive to the airport was silent apart from the NPR broadcast that Keating was listening to, which Ziva tuned out so she could think. Director Ayalon moving up the weekly briefing could not possibly be a good thing, no matter how she looked at it. Over the past three months, he had steadily increased the number of threats regarding his cancellation of the liaison position, but, at the same time, had taken every opportunity to block Ziva's attempts to end her association with Mossad. It was not as if she truly wanted to leave the Institute – the intelligence agency had been a part of her life for so long that she could scarcely imagine a time when she would not operate under its aegis – but the forced ouster of her father left her with the uneasy feeling of no longer being welcome. From the time Tali was taken from her to her assignment as Ari's control officer, Mossad had been home.

But now, she had Tony.

"You don't seem worried," Keating said abruptly. Ziva glanced once at him before returning her attention to the road ahead. "About Agent DiNozzo, I mean."

"J.D. said he was not injured," she pointed out. "Worrying about something I cannot affect is unproductive." Daniel grunted, as if he understood, but Ziva could see the furrowed brow she had come to associate with him not fully comprehending her meaning. If she were not distracted by concerns about her future with Mossad, she might have actually been amused (and flattered) at Keating's constant but remarkably unsubtle attempts to determine the exact nature of the relationship between her and Tony. Though he tried to hide it, Daniel had not hidden his attraction to her particularly well, despite her having done everything in her power to let him know that she was uninterested shy of having sex with Tony on Keating's desk.

Mmm … Tony on a desk at NCIS. She filed the fantasy away for future consideration.

"But they're flying you back…" Daniel trailed off, obviously unsure where to take the conversation.

"If Tony were injured," Ziva said calmly, "Gibbs would have called me." She smiled. "I am listed as Tony's next-of-kin, after all." That had been a shock to find out, especially when a few minutes of research online revealed that DiNozzo's father was still alive (and working on wife number seven.) She had been unsurprised to learn that Tony had given both her and Gibbs power-of-attorney in case of an accident – she had done the same shortly after being released from the hospital in the wake of the Russian Incident – but for Tony to have tossed aside any chance of future reconciliation? That had truly startled her.

"I didn't know you'd gotten married," Keating remarked after a long moment of silence. His eyes darted to the ring Ziva had forgotten to take off and she laughed.

"We're not," she replied as her phone began buzzing. She glanced at the caller ID and flipped it open. "Shalom."

"Hey." Tony sounded annoyed but otherwise healthy, although the slight strain in his voice caused Ziva to suspect his shoulders were hurting more than normal. "You heard?"

"I did," she replied. "I am on my way to the airport now," Ziva continued, "so expect me in a few hours."

"Fight night?" Tony asked excitedly. Ziva smiled.

"Fight night," she acknowledged. "Make sure your paperwork is done when I arrive. I am in no mood to wait."

"See you in a bit!" The line went dead and Ziva snapped her cell shut, a bright smile on her face. Nothing – not her worries about what Director Ayalon wanted, or Daniel's awkward smiles, or even the worse than normal traffic of New York City – could ruin her mood.

She was going home.

A/N Explanation: Final chapter? Say what? Look, I'm going to be honest. Season 7 has bored me, insulted my intelligence, or just flat out annoyed me far more than it has engaged my attention. While I will freely admit that it started out very strongly ("Truth and Consequences" and "Reunion" were both very good ... even if Ziva's physical and mental conditions were WILDLY unrealistic after being a female Jew & member of Mossad who has just spent several months in the hands of Islamic terrorists) and has occasional flashes of the old NCIS flare ("Flesh and Blood" was generally solid, and I was astounded that "Ignition" was actually quite fun despite the horrific advertisements), the show has spiraled back into mediocrity for me (akin to the boring, insulting or outright character assassinations that were season 6). I am apparently the sole Tony/Ziva fan in existence who thought "Jet Lag" was complete and utter drivel. Not only did Tony & Ziva systematically fail in their jobs as protection detail (how many times did they leave the asset unwatched while they went off to chase the various red herrings aboard the plane?) which is patently stupid given what happened the last time they were on protection detail together, it seemed to be nothing more than a calculated attempt by Shane Brennan to have his cake and eat it too. Now, rather than the tired, cliched "will-they-won't-they" nonsense between the two, he's going to replace it with "did-they-didn't-they" which is equally inane. And that's not even taking into account the utter stupidity of them taking a commercial flight back to the States with a valuable witness in the first place; the US Navy has MAC flights running all the time and if this woman was supposed to be so important, then taking such a flight would have actually made sense instead of this dross. Seriously, it's like they aren't even trying anymore in regards to the procedural aspect of the show. If you can't pick out the Bad Gal/Guy in the episode as soon as (s)he is introduced anymore (especially if the episode is being apologist toward Islamic fundamentalists as was the case with the ridiculous Christmas episode centered around a Christian honor killing, something that DOES NOT happen in the U.S.), then you're not actually paying attention. It's becoming more and more apparent to me that NCIS has moved on from me and the higher the ratings climb, the less I seem to like the actual episode.

With the (IMO) rapidly declining quality of the show (and I honestly don't understand why the rest of the viewers don't see how bad the show has become; even season 4, with the stupid Frog storyline and Jenny the Nutjob, was all around superior to the dross being produced under Shane Brennan), it is very hard for me to maintain interest in this story or the show in general. Every time I try to come back to it (say, after a very solid scene between Tony & Ziva on the show, like the long overdue warehouse scene in "Masquerade" which was patently superior to anything between the two in "Jet Lag" or "Jack Knife"), the show takes another step toward mediocrity by injecting rampant stupidity into the character interactions. (See: "Jack Knife" which was so badly written that even the Gibbs/Fornell interactions couldn't save it from stinking.) With that in mind, I am putting this story in official hiatus rather than continuing to try and force it when I so intensely dislike what the characters (and the show) have become. I wanted to put this chapter up because it at least ends on an upbeat, happy moment.

So I extend my most heartfelt apologies for leaving this story incomplete and humbly ask for your forgiveness.