Disclaimer. I don't own the characters or NCIS. I'm just borrowing them for an hour.
When he looked back on that night, Tony DiNozzo would want to kick himself. A knock on the door past midnight should always be approached with trepidation. It was the kind of thing that had spelt doom since he was a cop in Baltimore. Past midnight was when you got news that the bad guy you'd been chasing had killed again. Or the news that you had to get on a plane to Iraq in three hours. Or that your little sister had been in a car wreck.
Or, as was the case on that night, the news that your partner was returning to Israel.
For whatever reason, Tony hadn't been thinking of doom on that warm spring night. Instead, he'd jumped up from the couch to answer the door with a cocky smile. He knew who it would be, but didn't bother to question what brought her there. He supposed that was because he was always pleased to see her. But that would change.
"What brings you to my neck of the woods?" he asked as he'd opened the door. As soon as he saw her face, he knew the answer would not please him. If he'd just waited three seconds to look at her before opening his stupid mouth, he wouldn't have made a joke. Damn it, why did he always have to joke?
Ziva didn't look at him immediately. For a few moments, her dark eyes studied the doorknob, his apartment number, his shirt as she scrambled for some courage. When finally her eyes met his, Tony was surprised by what he saw: guilt.
"Tony," she said. Her voice was scratchy, and she had to clear her throat. "I'm sorry to bother you so late."
Gently, he took her elbow and drew her inside. He shut the door and locked it, feeling a sudden urge to keep her there. When he turned around, Ziva was leaning against the kitchen counter, her arms tightly crossed around her and her head down. He wanted to hug her. She looked like she needed the comfort. But Tony didn't need the broken arm that move would likely get him.
"What happened?" he asked, point blank. Dispense with the pleasantries. They weren't needed between them anymore.
She swallowed and he watched her stiffen. He knew what that meant. She'd just put up her defensive shields. Tony's gut twisted. Ziva didn't do that much around him anymore.
"I wanted to tell you in person," Ziva said, her voice and face now all business. "I'm returning to Israel."
He stared at her, not quite understanding the big deal just yet. "Oh. For a vacation, or…?"
"No," she said firmly, eyes not leaving his. "My father has terminated my assignment at NCIS."
He blinked at her, trying to digest the information. His chest panged as his heart rate increased with panic. It couldn't be right. Ziva was his partner. She couldn't just…go.
"Can he do that?" He shook his head. "I don't think he can do that, Ziva." He knew it sounded like a third-grader's argument, but sometimes you had to ask obvious questions.
To her credit, Ziva refrained from rolling her eyes. "Of course he can do that. And he has."
Tony crossed his own arms in defence to the pain she was starting to inflict. "When are you going?" He didn't completely succeed in keeping the anger out of his voice.
Her shield cracked enough for her eyes to drop from his. "Tomorrow morning."
The air whooshed out of Tony's lungs as if she'd just punched him in the gut. That couldn't be right. That wasn't enough time. His head felt light as he tried to put it all together. He had so many questions and arguments to make. How could she just be gone? They'd just started a case that morning.
"You're leaving me?" he finally asked.
Ziva looked up quickly at his phrasing, and Tony just as quickly looked away. He'd bared too much and had to cover his ass.
"Does Gibbs know?"
She nodded. "Yes. My father spoke to him this morning after informing the Director."
Tony's eyebrows shot up, and he stepped in to her. After denial comes anger. "This morning? You and Gibbs have known about this all day?"
Ziva's hard shell was falling down. Tony was close enough to see the tears come to her eyes. "Yes," she admitted.
"When were you going to tell me?" he demanded to know. How could either of them keep this from him when they only had hours left as a team?
"Now," she shrugged. A tear broke free and she quickly swiped it away.
He stepped in closer, right into her personal space, unconsciously trying to intimidate her with his size and put her off balance. Ziva just lifted her face to meet his eyes.
"Do you want to go?" He had to ask. He needed to know how far he could push her. When she didn't answer, Tony thought he knew why. His face hardened. "Is this about Michael Rivkin?"
Her eyes widened momentarily before she shook her head firmly. "No, Tony. Not at all."
He held her gaze. Ziva was a good liar. She'd been trained to trick her body into fooling others. But Tony had trained himself to be a living Ziva lie detector. He'd gotten pretty good at it in the last four years. He decided she was telling the truth--he just didn't know if that was because she really was, or because he desperately wanted to believe her.
But the fact was, Ziva was letting this happen. If not for Rivkin, then why? What else had she been hiding from them? And for how long? Since she joined the team? Had she been spying on them the whole time? Had she played him?
His lip curled. It was so much easier to be angry. "You do want to go," he accused. "You think we made you soft. You want to get back to your real life as an assassin. Right? Killing without remorse. No attachments."
She flinched at his words and another tear broke free. He shoved aside his disgust at himself and focused on the anger. Had he hurt her? Good. Because she was killing him right now. He expected her to yell back at him. That was the Ziva way. You pushed her and she bit back, hard enough to leave marks. He wanted her to leave marks. He wanted a reason to hate her right now.
Instead, she gently laid her hand over his and lowered her voice to almost a whisper. "Don't, Tony," she pleaded, understanding why he'd lashed out. "Of course I want to stay. I have a family here. A father, a sister, a little brother, and…whatever you are to me. I don't want to leave now."
Her tone broke through his anger, as did her way of singling his out as something else. He didn't take offence at her vagaries. The two of them were something other than family. Something other than partners. They just been able to work out what, exactly.
He jumped on her admission and gripped her hand. "Then don't go, Ziva," he begged. "Don't get on the plane."
She threw her other hand up in frustration. "My father requested my return, Tony. What am I supposed to do?"
"Stand up to him," he replied, exasperated at how obvious this would be to anyone but her. "Tell him what you want, and then do it."
Ziva dropped his hand and brushed past him to pace the room. "It doesn't work like that, Tony. My desires are not important compared to the needs of my country."
Tony twisted his lips and defaulted to his old standby when feelings were involved: sarcasm. "So…that's it?" he asked, incredulous. "Thanks for dinner, I'll call you sometime?"
She stopped pacing to look at him. "I will visit."
"Oh, you'll visit. How nice. I'll look forward to that."
His arms again crossed his chest and his eyes bore into the kitchen floor. He couldn't look at her. He'd burst into tears if he did. He was shaking, and his chest was so tight he thought he might have a heart attack.
After long, silent seconds, Ziva stepped over to him. She put her hand on his arm for balance, and rose up to press a kiss to his cheek. "Goodbye," she whispered, then pulled away.
Though she'd only been against him for seconds, the loss of her warmth made Tony shiver. He raised his eyes, but held himself back as he watched her take the few steps to his door. He kept holding back as she reached for the deadlock and turned the knob. But as soon as he saw the light of the hallway, his body moved of its own accord and went after her.
He reached over her shoulder and slammed the door shut, then wrapped his arms around her tightly. He dropped his face into the crook of her neck. "Don't go," he begged. If it took force to keep her from going, then so be it.
He felt her take a shuddering breath, and heard the tears in her voice. "It's out of my hands."
Tony couldn't understand how that could be it. There had to be something they could do. A light bulb went on over his head and spun her around.
He shook her by the shoulders. "Quit Mossad. Join NCIS properly."
Ziva didn't let herself be caught up in his sudden excitement. "I can't do that."
Before now, Tony was sure he'd never heard Ziva say "I can't". That wasn't the kick ass warrior princess he knew her to be. "Why not? You wouldn't notice the difference. Everything would be the same as it is now."
"Tony!" For a moment he thought she was going to yell. But once again, she controlled herself and spoke in a low, gentle tone. Tony wondered how long she'd known that worked on him. "First, I am not an American citizen. That means I would not be eligible to become a special agent. Second, I would notice the difference very much. It would be life changing."
"Life changing isn't always bad, Ziva. Sometimes it's the only way to move forward."
She smiled ruefully, as if she appreciated the effort, however misguided. "I don't think you understand exactly what it would mean for me, Tony. Everything I would have to give up. I still have deep ties to Israel. Bonds of family. History."
Tony thought she probably had a point. He couldn't understand how it felt for her. But people moved across countries and even hemispheres every day. And they survived. "Maybe you have to work out whether what you have to gain here would be worth more than what you're leaving behind."
She sighed and dropped her head. "Please don't put this pressure on me right now."
What did she expect him to do? Thank her for the laughs and then give her a handshake before shutting the door in her face?
"Ziva, if you didn't want to be talked out of going, why was it my door you came to?"
"Because I could not have you find out from Gibbs. Or through an email or voicemail. I had to say goodbye in person."
"Are you heading over to Abby's next? Then McGee's?" Was Tony special, or just a name on a list?
She looked at him seriously. "No. I said goodbye to them this afternoon. After you left." She took a deep breath. "I had planned on staying here until my flight. Unless you're too angry. I can leave if you--"
"Stay," he cut in. "I've been saying it for ten minutes. I want you to stay."
Ziva nodded, then burst into tears when Tony pulled her into a tight, possessive hug. She didn't fight it. She needed it. "I want to," she sobbed into his shoulder.
He kissed her head in what was meant to be comfort, but desperation soon took him over. He kissed her forehead, then her temple, then two kisses down her damp cheek. By the time he kissed her lips, Ziva's hand was on his jaw, pulling him closer and leaving no doubt that it was what she wanted. And suddenly Tony knew with absolute certainty: he was saying goodbye to the love of his life.
Just after 11 the next morning, Ziva tiredly took her seat in first class on the flight to Tel Aviv. She hadn't had a wink of sleep in 30 hours, and she doubted that the next 15 would be any more restful. She wasn't sure what to expect when she'd knocked on Tony's door last night, but now she knew what she'd been hoping for. A sign of what he felt. Of what he wanted. And now that she knew, she was able to make her choice.
For the first time in her life, Ziva David was about to face unemployment.
Note: I don't think we've heard of Tony having a sister, I just thought I'd throw it in there as a life-changing example.
Honestly, I'm not totally happy with my writing here. But I'm medicated to the gills for a head cold that will not die, so it'll do for now.
Reviews? That'd be lovely. They'll fuel me for one of the other seven stories I'm blocking right now.