A/N: Last one, here we go. Thanks for sticking with it if you made it this far.
Dr. Kohler wrung her hands together lightly, sending a smile toward her patient as the young woman took a seat opposite her desk.
"It's good to see you again, Ziva."
After roughly three weeks of being at the mercy of mandatory counseling and being surprised to find that she was no worse for it, Ziva knew enough to interpret such statements as sincere. The degrees scattered around the walls said enough, but Dr. Kohler seemed more than that. She had this aura of unflinching compassion, firm and yet not overdone. Like it was incredibly easy to trust her.
Ziva was unfamiliar with that particular concept, but it came as a relief nonetheless – she had enough to deal with without playing the part of reluctant cop in a typical battle of wills.
("Yeah, she knows her shit," as Tony had so kindly put it once.)
"How have you been over the past few days?"
A moment of hesitation.
"Placeholder," reminded the doctor softly, not unsurprised. Officer David made an effort, which was more than could be said for a lot of her past clients in law enforcement, but her progress was slow.
She released a breath, trying to come up with a plausible answer.
"Okay. Tired we can work with. You're having trouble sleeping?"
"Any particular reason?"
Frown, eye contact lost. Hands fidgeting unknowingly. Dr. Kohler considered this for a moment, nodding her head briefly.
"I take it you're still having nightmares?"
The third man stared wide-eyed, horrified, at his two bloodied comrades - dead. In one fluid motion, she stepped toward him and drove the blade up through his chest. He dropped, gurgling, having only seconds.
The fourth man tried to move away in a flurry of fear but he was thrown down before he could even stand, hilt of the knife – flung with ease – buried in his heart.
She wrenched it from his body, hands no longer shaking. She turned.
Her attention snapped back to the present, heart beating much faster than she had remembered it doing just moments earlier.
"I – some nights. Not every night."
"Where were you just now?"
"I lost you for a second. What did your mind jump to?"
"Nothing," she snapped out of habit, still trying to reorient herself after her brief memory lapse.
"Placeholder. Work with me."
(Still, there were some days she would rather not be doing this at all, no matter how much she respected Dr. Kohler.)
"My sister," she amended, which was mostly true. True enough.
"Okay. And she died recently, correct?"
It was strange, and difficult, to hear the words spoken out loud. So calmly. So truthfully.
"Okay," Kohler repeated, tone thoughtful. "And do you usually lose focus like that when you think about her? About her death?"
Lose focus was certainly one way to put it – Ziva considered herself lucky for not doing any more than that.
"My neighbor called the police one night because she heard yelling and glass breaking and I would not open the door," she explained, distant, not really knowing what prompted her to share.
"I remember – what do you call it – coming to? As the officers found me on the floor. I broke three of my windows without realizing. I told the officers who I was and they let it go. I think one said he had a brother in the Marines. I promised the landlord I would pay for the damages."
"Did he agree to that?" asked Dr. Kohler, more out of curiosity than anything.
"Yes. He also told me I should see someone about my problems."
That earned a small laugh.
"You thanked him for his concern, I'm sure," she mused, grateful at any chance to inject a little humor into these sessions.
"I was very polite, yes."
(Actually her exact words were fuck off in Hebrew, but – semantics.)
"Alright. Do you remember what you were doing before that episode?"
"I went to physical therapy in the morning."
"Anything after that?"
She strained herself, but trying to pull out anything with detail was like trying to move when paralyzed.
Dr. Kohler sighed, slightly disappointed at the lack of an answer.
"Ziva. You have to work harder to figure out your triggers. I'm not saying it will somehow cure you, but you can better control your reactions if you understand what's happening. Have you tried doing what we talked about before? Getting out of the room, physically doing something –"
"Interrupting the thought process, yes. I have tried. It is not very easy to do."
"No one said it would be. You have to forgive yourself if you screw it up. Practice and patience, remember?"
"Have you ever had to try it?" challenged Ziva heatedly, flustered at her transparency.
"Once. When I was younger. And don't deflect."
She sighed, anger gone as quickly as it had come.
Dr. Kohler smiled thinly, not even having to say it.
"Alright. Yes," she corrected, "I need to understand what sets me off."
"Good. You'll get there. Practice and patience."
"I will try."
"I know. Keep working at it. Now," she started, tone switching back to strict professionalism. "You mentioned physical therapy. Is that going well?"
However poorly her mind was cooperating, Ziva was happy to report that at least her body was showing promising signs of returning back to normal. There had been a definite low point during her stay at the hospital in Cairo. When she needed two nurses just to go to the bathroom, and they had to remove one of her kidneys, and the bruising made it impossible to sleep without drugs, and they were worried about nerve damage in her hand, and she was waiting on all those tests –
Well, that part was over now.
"They tell me that it is."
"And it gives you something to work for. Does that help you, during the day at least?"
Ziva nodded, finding no reason to contradict that assumption.
"I'm glad to hear it. And what about the alcohol?"
"It does not bother me. I have not touched it since the last time."
"And the dangerous thoughts that went with it? Any more of those?"
She paused for a moment, considering, remembering with a sharp twist the conversation she had with Tony in autopsy weeks ago, how she'd let him hold her hand in silence as he drove her home, how she'd been somehow managing to function normally – slowly, painfully, but normal enough – these past few weeks.
"No," she replied, feeling honest and raw all the sudden. "I have no desire to feel that way again."
Dr. Kohler looked her right in the eyes as she spoke, relaxed and thoughtful.
"You know? I don't think you will."
Tony strode into the office casually, humming a low tune to himself as he approached his desk. It had been a beautiful morning, and he actually walked for most of the commute, which made the fact that it was Monday at least mildly bearable.
"Hey," he muttered lightly to his partner, who was already sitting at her desk and focused on her computer. No surprise that she had arrived earlier than him.
"And why are you so happy?" she asked, not looking up from her work. Tony dropped his bag next to his desk and pulled out his chair, grinning.
"Oh, just thinking."
He relaxed into his chair, moving his hands behind his head in a gesture of complacency.
"Well, with us being on desk duty until the good doctor clears us, Agent McGee here has to strap on his boots. Man up. Handle the big guns."
"And this excites you."
Fortunately (or – not), McGee was not currently in the room.
"Oh yeah. It makes me proud seeing Timmy all grown up."
She arched her eyebrows at his odd display of big brother humor.
"And I like watching him do all the legwork," he conceded, bringing his arms out from behind his head and sitting forward in his chair.
Ziva chuckled lowly, satisfied.
"So…" began Tony, starting up his computer. "I tried to call you a couple times on Saturday."
"Yes," replied Ziva, hesitating before answering and sending him a brief glance before going back to her work.
"So did you lose your phone, or…"
"I had errands to complete," she lied, trying to reel in the metaphorical bait before he could bite. Of course, this was Tony, so he refused to go for that.
"For forty-eight hours straight?" he questioned, tone disbelieving but still appropriately light.
(At least, he thought so. She thought he looked stupidly smug.)
"Okay so where were you really? Come on, you can tell me," he replied defensively, putting up his hands humorously as if to say you know me.
She considered for a moment, staring, before giving in.
"I was at the synagogue," she replied, waiting for his reaction.
"And now you are going to make some stupid Jewish joke about yarmulkes or gold, yes?"
"No," he answered seriously, getting up from his desk and heading towards hers. "I just…didn't know you did that."
"It had been…many years."
He decided not to ask her what brought on the sudden desire to revisit that part of her life, as he was fairly certain he already knew. Then his attention was drawn to her neck.
"You're wearing your necklace again," he pointed out, nodding his head to indicate her Star of David chain that had made a reappearance and was now hanging from her neck. He hadn't seen it since she had taken it off when they left Tel Aviv for Cairo.
"Not getting all spiritual on me, are you David?" he joked lightly, happy enough to be eliciting any sort of reaction, even if it was to call him a string of names in another language or something.
"Not likely," she returned, gracing him with a smile they had all seen too little of lately.
But she did arrange to have Tali's small collection of possessions packaged and shipped from wherever she had been living (she'd used up two of her favors in the CIA favor-bank to get this information temporarily un-classified). When she got them, there was nothing too special about it – there was only one box. She kept a few photographs, and put the rest in the back of her closet, unsure if she wanted to look at any of it again.
The flowers she had put next to the framed photos were enough of a reminder.
"Why do you say that was the hardest part for you?"
"Come on, really?"
"Tony," began Dr. Kohler, straightening her posture slightly and trying to get the full attention of her patient, who was even more prone to deflection than his Israeli counterpart. "I can only help you if you talk to me about it."
Tony sighed, rolling his neck on his shoulders and taking a deep breath, trying to calm himself.
"Did you ask Ziva about this?" he asked, wondering briefly what she would say.
"You know I can't tell you that. But trust me, this isn't any easier for her than it is for you, okay?" she reminded him firmly.
He frowned, scratching the back of his head subconsciously.
"So what was the question again?"
"Now you're just being an ass," she smiled, conceding that at the very least, Agent DiNozzo was capable of providing entertainment value. "You said your captors separating you and Ziva was the hardest moment. Why?"
Dr. Kohler was waiting for him to answer, not altogether impatiently.
"It was…violent. I watched them bash her face in and I couldn't move. Not with my leg. Or the weapons in my face," he added with a look that might have been disgust.
"You explained why you couldn't move, as if I'd accused you. Is that guilt, Tony? Do you think you should have done something?"
"How could I have?"
She shrugged, eying him with an indulgent look, knowing she'd caught him.
"You tell me."
"Hmm. I see what you are doing here, Doc."
"Do you? Good. You're the senior field agent. You're as much a leader as Agent Gibbs, if maybe in a different way. You feel the same responsibility he does. But – you describe having these thought patterns, these compulsions to feel that way all the time. But is that fair? Didn't you just as good as tell me that you were as much of a victim as your partner?"
Tony stewed for a moment, pensive, chewing the idea against the side of his cheek.
"I doubt Ziva prefers that word."
Dr. Kohler snorted.
"No. She despises it."
"For good reason."
"And what reason is that?"
"She is the last fucking person on this Earth that I would call weak."
The doctor sighed, not unused to his brusque tendencies toward loyalty. Even hostility.
"Being a victim doesn't make you weak, Tony. All it says is that you experienced a trauma and lived to see the other side. You get to decide what that means."
He nodded, trying not to reveal how much he hated the word trauma, too.
"It means that if I'm reading the signs right, you're going to warn me about interdependency."
That earned him another smile.
"It crossed my mind."
"Well, perfect. Point taken. I have to accept that my feelings of responsibility are compulsive and not logical, and they force me to hold myself to unrealistic standards. Got it."
"Sounds like you're already halfway there."
"Maybe. So what do I do now, ask Ziva to marry me?" he asked casually, gauging her reaction with his trademark schoolboy smile.
"Do you want to marry her?"
Tony laughed, suddenly realizing how stupidly inappropriate that must have sounded.
"No. No – please don't scribble that into one of your notepads. I was kidding."
"Relax. So was I."
"Huh," he mused, eyeing her with a new appreciation. "Is messing with me supposed to be part of my therapy?"
"Call it a bonus. You already know what you have to work on."
"Yep. I'm on it. Next time we meet, you won't even know who I am."
"Good. Practice and patience, okay?"
"Do you have that motto tattooed somewhere?" he wondered, feigning seriousness.
"Lower back. Right side," she answered quickly, going along with his charade.
"Remind me what it says again? I think I need a refresher. I'm also a visual learner."
She gazed at him expectantly, mouth turned downward slightly, unfooled.
"Thanks for calling. Yeah. I'll let him know as soon as he gets back to the office," said McGee into the receiver, holding the phone to his ear tightly with one hand and jotting something down on a scrap of paper with the other.
The person on the other end muttered something, and McGee was met with the dial-tone soon after. He hung up and finished writing down the message, not looking up as one of his colleagues entered the bullpen.
"As soon as who gets back to the office, Probie?" questioned Tony as he strode back to his desk, clipping his own cell phone back to his belt with a teasing glint in his eye.
"Gibbs," McGee answered, heading over to the currently empty desk across from him to deliver the written message.
Ziva, who had been working diligently at her own desk, perked up curiously at the building interaction between Tony and McGee.
"I see," replied Tony, interested. "Do we have a case?"
"So who was it then?"
"Fornell. He tried Gibbs on his cell but I guess he didn't answer."
"Oho, the FBI? Not sure if I like where this is going. Just tell me, was it good or bad?"
"Well that depends," answered McGee vaguely, enjoying wielding Tony's current lack of knowledge over his head.
"Do you like murder?"
"Okay McGee. Stop being cryptic. You're scaring Ziva."
The person in question rolled her eyes, but chose not to comment.
"MPs found Walker dead on his kitchen floor this morning. Apparently the guns he hired were pissed about something. Maybe they found out he talked," McGee explained, letting his thoughts hang in uncertainty.
"Well yeah, either that or they realized they could have made more money working as male strippers and decided to take out their financial frustration on the guy who owed them," added Tony, taking a seat and ignoring the strange look he was receiving from his partner.
(Dr. Kohler would call that a deflection. He would tell her he wasn't that fussed with whether that asshole lived or died.)
"Yeah I'm sure that's it," returned the junior agent, looking amused and superior and bored all at once. "If Gibbs comes back just let him know for me, okay?"
"And where are you going?" asked Tony, just to be annoying. (Ah, Wednesdays.)
"I have to bring something to Ducky, I'll be back in a little bit."
He picked up whatever it was he was supposed to deliver off his desk, not bothering to wait for the juvenile comment that was sure to come out of DiNozzo's mouth.
And then the two of them were alone in the bullpen, each one focused heavily on various paperwork that needed to be done for several cases they had going on. Well, Tony was only pretending to concentrate on work – he assumed solitaire was implied in his schedule when stuck on light duty.
Ziva was actually the first to break the silence.
"Speaking of phone calls, who were you just talking to?"
"Me? Eh – no one. Just an old buddy from Baltimore. He wants to catch up."
"Oh yes? Is your buddy out of the country?"
"What?" he scoffed, confused at her over-inquisitiveness.
"You dialed internationally."
"Did you…count the number of buttons I dialed?"
Ziva smirked competitively, probably enjoying this more than she should.
"Okay fine. If you must know, I was on the phone with someone from an Israeli adoption agency."
She paused, studying him with suspicion, unable to tell if he was kidding or not.
"An adoption agency. In Israel," she repeated, monotone.
"I don't know. I can't pronounce it."
"Not my fault if your language is meant for crazy pe–"
"Why were you speaking to an adoption agency?"
He shrugged, erasing some of the smirk off his face.
"Just wanted to talk to the people in charge of Leila Bashandi's case. Make sure it was moving, with her father tied up and everything."
He was strangely serious, which puzzled her as much as his words, initially.
"I thought you hated him," she reminded her partner softly, not entirely sure what she was looking at when she met his gaze.
"Him. Not his daughter. She doesn't deserve to get fucked over, too."
Ziva found that she was mostly indifferent either way, having already stretched herself to the limit of her emotional threshold. But if Tony could be noble and selfless enough for the both of them, then there was very little loss.
"I see. I never thought I would see the day when you are being too kind."
"Ha. Very clever. You know, if you're jealous, I can put your name down for a donation with me," he offered offhandedly, indicating with a jab of the thumb the webpage he had up on his computer. "It probably won't go directly to Leila, but hey."
"Okay," replied Ziva after a moment, accepting his small gesture for what it was. "Sign me up."
"How does a hundred bucks each sound?"
"Placeholder," he responded seriously, and she almost smacked him.
It was a Friday night, the end of a long day and an even longer week. Criminals, or – criminals that happened to be tied to the Navy – never seemed to slow down, and the approaching signs of autumn leaving certainly didn't make things better.
Well, at least it wasn't a lonely night.
Three people sat together at a bar, relishing the isolation of their small, dimly-lit booth from the rest of the rather rowdy patrons. There were only a couple empties in the center of the table, no one really in the mood to rush whatever they were doing. Not particularly unusual, but there was something especially calm and warm – natural – about this night, too. As if some sort of unnamable glow had graced their table and their table alone.
A fourth person approached the table, precariously holding four drinks. Two in hand, two tucked under her arm. She looked as if she was going to drop them at any second, but she made it to the table without any real problems.
Tonight, they settled on beer.
(One person in particular had sworn off hard liquor for a very long time to come.)
She took her seat, sliding the bottles across the table to their soon-to-be owners, receiving a quick thanks from each as she did so. She smiled sincerely, openly, content just to be in their presence once again, despite their previous separation only lasting a few minutes.
There was a comfortable silence, each thinking their own thoughts. No one had taken a sip yet. They shared a glance - it was all too easy to know what they were all thinking.
They raised their bottles at the center of the table, glasses clinking together in unison.
"To Team Gibbs," opened Abby cheerfully, looking elated and like she might cry at the same time.
"Team Gibbs." McGee.
"Team fucking Gibbs." Tony.
"Gibbs." And finally, Ziva.
"Cheers!" Abby added, as if that sealed the deal, and because she couldn't help herself.
Tony swallowed down a large swig, longer than any of theirs, placing his bottle back on the table with a grin.
"Did you just finish half your beer in one sip?" asked McGee, incredulous.
"Yes in fact I did, what sharp eyes you have!"
"Don't be like that. It took me three years of college to perfect that. It is quite the skill. I can teach you, if you insist."
Abby actually looked impressed.
"Uh, no. Not sure that's a skill I want, thank you."
"Don't sell yourself short, Probie. Bet you could do it if you tried."
"Practice and patience?" offered Ziva slyly, earning an amused snort from her partner.
"I swear she has that tattooed somewhere."
"Lower back. Right side," she supplied with a wink, eyes alight with mischief.
"You naughty, naughty ninja, you," laughed Tony, shaking his head at her obvious provocation.
(McGee and Abby shared a glance, which they both ignored.)
Tony suddenly stood, slapping the table with both palms as he did so, turning back to his companions with a look of childish excitement.
"Everyone keep their pants on. I'm going to see about some nachos. And maybe a pitcher."
Ziva nodded approvingly, still smiling at their shared joke, thinking of the last time they had sat down at a bar together and just how much had changed. She let him go without comment.
He'd be back.
And so we reach the end of the road. Here is my final thank you for reading, reviewing, or even looking at this for more than two seconds. We all know that feedback means a lot, so thank you! My inbox is always open, even if all you want to talk about is food or something. Who knows? So, for the last time: Thanks for reading, drop me a line, then be on your way!