Disclaimer: Just imagine me muttering angrily in a corner about the lack of owning and all.
Summary: Ziva both suffers and enjoys hallucinations of her colleagues while imprisoned. Features dramatic!delirium rather than realistic medical delirium…or Cirque Delirium, either or both of which may be entertaining depending on what kind of person you are – although, as neither are featured, um, you could go listen to the soundtrack from LOVE? I don't know. Come back and see me when they take the Sam Adams blackberry beer off the shelves.
"Three days. I would be impressed if I had not bet twenty dinars that you would break in under two."
Ziva tried to smile, but was unable to produce an expression beyond a grimace. She slurred around her thick and swollen tongue, "Have I wounded your pride?"
The backhand she received was halfhearted, especially coming from the man who had been her sole meaningful human contact since the forcible separation from her Moussad colleagues a week previously. He gave her another lazy slap. "Perhaps I should have let those Somali pirates have their way with you. Imagine, delivering you unspoiled because they believed I had other intentions for you." His laugh was mirthless. "Of course, you would have enjoyed that, wouldn't you? Moussad whore."
So predictable – insults, pain, questions, pain, same questions, pain… She sighed as he continued to circle her, adjusting and readjusting his keffiyeh. She had not yet decided if he was trying to draw her attention to it to emphasize his affiliations or if he was unused to wearing it; it was possible it was just a nervous tic. Following him with her good eye, she focused on the scarf each time he passed through her field of vision. It had disappeared for the fifth time when she decided to brace herself.
The blow didn't land on her head, as she had expected, but on her left hand. She understood just how stupid it had been to ball her fists just in time to spread her right hand. The pain was still intense, but there was no crushing sensation.
The man dangled his club in front of her face. Why had she been staring at his damn scarf and not that? "So, Officer David, are you ready to begin describing NCIS's security protocols?" She gritted her teeth as he moved to her left. "N…C…I…S." Each pause was punctuated by a blow to her throbbing left hand.
She was unsure how much time had passed when he cut the ropes binding her to the chair and she crumpled to the floor. Using the toe of his boot, he turned her head so she could see him as he leaned down. "You know, I am wondering if it is this room that makes you so uncommunicative." He rapped on the door and had a quiet exchange with the man who opened it, returning with him. "We have some other accommodations that may be more to your liking. Get up."
When she was unable to push herself up with her hands, the second man roughly grabbed her upper arm, yanking her to her feet and dragging her after him. Her interrogator followed, smoking nonchalantly. "I suppose we should not have left you tied to that chair since you arrived. Your stink is becoming torture for me." He commanded his underling to halt in front of a door. "Hold her here a moment. If you have to shoot her, just make sure she doesn't bleed out."
She knew better than to move or to speak to the man who slammed her face first against the wall. Even if she managed to escape from the forearm pressing into the back of her neck, there was no way she could fight or handle a weapon in her present state. A quick self-assessment told her she had only minimal dexterity in her right hand and months of physical therapy to look forward to in her left. Her interrogator must have decided that this particular torment should coincide with moving her; this was the first time her hands had been touched. His voice suddenly commanded, "Move."
The man restraining her stepped away, but before she could turn she was doused with a bucket of what she could only hope was water. "Turn." A second bucketful soaked her from the chest down when she complied. "We will see if that helps your stench."
The two rats in the corner of her new five by seven cell didn't move when she was shoved through the door. Struggling into a sitting position against one of the walls, she tried to bring the rapidly-drying fabric of her shirt to her lips. The small amount of moisture she sucked from the fabric was almost worse than having nothing at all.
She inhaled sharply as the hug squeezed sore spots she hadn't been aware of. "Abby?"
"Oh, it's so good to see you!"
"What are you doing here?"
"I miss you." Abby settled onto the dirt floor beside her, pulling her skirt down and sipping a Caf-Pow. Ziva reached for the large cup in spite of the fact that she knew she would not be able to hold it, but Abby pulled it back. "Oh, no. The last thing you need right now is caffeine."
"Please, I just need something…"
"Ziva, what kind of friend would I be if I gave you Caf-Pow when you're already dehydrated?" She took another long sip. "Not a very good one. Speaking of people who aren't acting like very good friends – way to leave a forwarding address or phone number or email or…or whatever! How am I supposed to tell you about my new tat and Palmer's new glasses or Tony's…"
Abby pouted for a second before continuing, "Gibbs let me keep everything from your desk. I thought I was going to have to fight for stuff, but no one even tried to…well, I did get to the knives first, so they were probably just intimidated. Anyway, it's all in a box in my lab, so you can have it when you come back!"
"I am not coming," she glanced around and corrected, "going back."
"But you have to! You never even said goodbye, so that means you weren't planning to leave."
"You wouldn't even let me hug you before you left for Israel. You told me some other time." The Caf-Pow had disappeared and Abby's eyes shone with tears. "Those were your exact words – 'Some other time, Abby.' Was that a lie? Should I just toss the box from your desk in the dumpster?"
Ziva blinked, apparently giving Abby time to disappear. Her voice carried through the seam under the door. "Don't worry. I'm not really gonna throw out your stuff. I'm hugging you in my mind!"
Her clothes were now completely dry and rat blood turned out to be unpleasantly salty.
The noise was persistent and annoying, demanding her full concentration. She shouted to no one in particular, "Break another one of my fingers if you want to, but please turn that fucking alarm off!"
"There is no alarm."
"Then what is that noise?"
"Tinnitus, my dear." Ducky became impossible to ignore as he lifted her chin. "Hopefully, it's nothing more serious than a mild concussion, though I can't judge if your pupils are equal because of the swelling on your left side." As he gently palpated her face, he continued, "Some very notable individuals throughout history have been affected by tinnitus – the usual suspects are those exposed to loud noises, musicians, soldiers and the like, but, quite interestingly, Vincent van Gogh was a notable sufferer. There isn't much evidence, however, to indicate that inexplicable ringing lay at the root cause of his desire to perform his own otologic amputation. I suppose some things are best accepted at face-value." She winced as he unexpectedly exerted more pressure just in back of her temple. "Hm. Well, that's not good."
"Do it again."
"You can't be asking me to…"
He scrutinized her carefully before he complied, causing intense pain until he stopped pushing. "Better?"
"They turned the alarm off."
"In that case, perhaps we can have a brief chat." He looked around her cell. "I suppose a stool would be asking for a bit much. Well, at least they brought you a toilet with your last meal."
"They brought a metal bucket and plate of…" She glanced at the dish that had formerly contained unidentifiable food, which she had consumed to the last speck.
"I believe I would classify it as gruel, in the Dickensian sense – that is, not necessarily gruel itself, but any of a number of non-nutritive concoctions meant to make the stomach feel as if is doing something more than taking up space in your abdominal cavity." He finally sank to the floor with a weary groan. "As I've gotten older, I have truly come to appreciate ergonomically designed desk chairs…"
"What they really should have brought you was some water. I'm sweating dreadfully in this heat, but your skin is quite dry."
She rubbed the back of her right wrist against her forehead. "It is only dry…oh." She realized that she should have expected the only dampness to be blood. As long as Ducky was here, he could look have a look at her hands and tell her if…
He interrupted her thoughts, "It was unkind of you to put Jethro on the spot like you did."
"Gibbs knew what was happening. I told him what I could in front of…"
"Your father, yes. And he understood straight away, like the excellent investigator he is. And, what's more, he accepted it. He got on the plane without even a second glance."
"I know that tone. You are judging me, Ducky."
"Never. But surely, my dear, you understand that this is all happening in your mind. If this is about your unresolved issues, you could just as easily speak to Gibbs or Tony."
"I have already spoken to Gibbs, in Tel Aviv. There is nothing more to say."
"Ah, so that just leaves…"
"I do not want to see him."
"Would it really be so difficult to…?"
"Ah, well." Ducky was silent for a few moments, giving Ziva the opportunity to listen to a very quiet, continuous high-pitched whine. "You thought he would argue with you."
"I don't want to see him! Leave it alone!"
"No, no. Gibbs. You didn't expect him to give in so easily. When has Leroy Jethro Gibbs ever given up something so important so easily?"
She turned away. "When it wasn't really that important."
Ducky rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Perhaps you shouldn't have decided the outcome before you made the request."
"You say that as if I had a choice in the matter." She curled up in a ball, not watching to see if Ducky stayed. The whine made it difficult to fall asleep.
"My men tell me that you have been talking to yourself."
Ziva ignored her interrogator, who was again circling her as he fingered his keffiyeh, instead focusing on a man standing in the deep shadows of the far corner. This was the first time anyone else had been present while she was being questioned. That had to mean that something different was coming. It was still the same room, same chair, same restraints. Perhaps her interrogator's superiors had grown impatient with his lack of results and sent a professional to get the job done. The man hadn't come cheap, judging by his shoes and slacks, anyway.
"…but I suppose insanity is one of the many bad traits that runs in your people's filthy blood." There was the insult. She wondered where the first blow would land – and if the man in the corner would step in to demonstrate a more effective technique. "You spoke of Gibbs. An NCIS agent, I believe."
She bit her tongue; it was hard not to when it felt like it had doubled in size.
"You worked with Gibbs. You were on his team. You had access to high-level classified information." He cracked his knuckles. "Shall we talk about the NCIS computer system today?"
She endured a long session during which her interrogator seemed intent on doing the same unsuccessful things he had done over the past days. The observer never said a word, never even suggested that it might be beneficial for the interrogator to put out one of his frequent cigarettes on her skin instead of grinding them into the floor. Why was the other man even there? To make her uncomfortable? She had to admit that it was working, though not in such a way as to make her actually answer any questions. Was he watching to get a feel for her so he could take over next time? Why didn't he step in, say something? By the time her interrogator stepped back to let one of his guards into the room, she could no longer contain herself. "Why is he here?"
"To take you back to your cell."
"Not him." She turned her attention pointedly from the guard to the corner. "Him." The only answer she received was an odd look from her interrogator. When he loosened the ropes securing her to the chair, she swung her arm up, causing blinding pain in her hand, but surprising him enough that she was able to take a few steps toward the corner before anyone reacted. "Who are you?" She strained against the grasp of her captors. "Why are you here?"
"Get her out of here, back to her cell!" her interrogator shouted, hitting her repeatedly in the face as she was dragged away. No one paid any attention to the silent man in the corner as the door was slammed and locked.
"You are holding up well. Even better than I could think of asking you to."
Ziva doubted that she could open her eyes, even if she wanted to look at her father. She attempted to spit out a mouthful of ropy red saliva before replying, "They aren't trying very hard."
"This is true. They give you time to sleep, food. They never question you for more than two hours at any given time…"
"Yes. You may as well have sent me to a spa."
He ignored her sarcasm. "Either they do not know what they are doing, or they want something else. Why have they asked so many questions about NCIS?"
"You mean why do they care more about getting information about NCIS than about Moussad."
She could hear him pacing back and forth in her small cell. "They are softening you up, making you think they will not ask the harder questions or use more ruthless measures."
"Were you watching?"
"Someone was watching last time."
"I could never stand by and watch while someone did this to you." He paused and touched her face as he went past. "I would have stopped them."
"What if I told you not to interfere?"
"I would not listen."
"What if I told you enough times? Would you stand back and watch then?"
"Try to focus on what is important. Think. They send men to find you. They take you to the camp we have been searching for. They do not even attempt to break you during incompetent interrogations. Why?"
"Maybe they're punishing me."
"Don't be stupid, Ziva. These things are never personal." She could see his dismissive hand-wave inside her swollen eyelids. "There is something you are missing. You are not dead and you are not supplying them with anything useful."
"Am I bait?"
"Doubtful, unless these men are idiots."
"Because NCIS doesn't know I'm here and Moussad wouldn't extract me."
"You make it sound as if they would act on your behalf – even after being told not to…interfere, did you say?"
She discovered that it was pitch black in her cell even when she managed to open her eyes. "Why am I here?"
Her father did not even attempt to answer.
The silent observer was shadowed in the corner again the next time she was brought to the interrogation room, but she didn't acknowledge his presence. The questions were the same, the injuries were similar and in the end, no one got any answers. Still.
The only conspicuous change was the sudden presence of a furious, muscular American in a cell across from her. He had a bad habit of shouting every time a guard walked down the hall. "Oh, you fuckwads, you've really stepped in a massive heap of shit! We never leave a man behind! You bastards have no idea what the fuck you've done or you'd be shitting yourselves!"
Ziva didn't talk to him, even after he promised that his fellow SEALs would rescue her as well when they came to get him. She found it offensive that he felt compelled to apologize for his language, as he hadn't known there was a lady present until he'd seen her dragged out of her cell the morning after his arrival.
"Jen, am I going crazy?"
She was wearing the clothes she'd had on in the diner the last time Ziva had seen her, sans blood and bullet holes. "So when you're talking to people who aren't there, everything is fine? It's only when you start talking to dead people who aren't there that you start to think you're nuts?" She sat on the ground with her back against the door. "You look terrible."
"I can only imagine how I look after a year in the ground."
"A year and three months."
"Does it matter?"
"Probably not to you."
Jen tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear. "I was dying."
"And you preferred to take some of them with you."
"Better a bullet than a brain tumor."
"Yes. Ducky told me." Ziva wondered why a figment of her imagination was looking at her suspiciously when Jen couldn't have told her anything she didn't actually know herself. "Don't worry. It was not until…after. I believe he was trying to make me feel better."
"Did it work?"
"I was still angry enough at you at that point to have an inappropriate response. You should have told me what was going on."
"Told both of you, you mean. I left both you and Tony out of the loop."
"I don't want to talk about Tony."
Jen pointed to a spot on her abdomen where a bloody rosette was forming. "He took it harder than you did."
"Why is that a shock? He always blames himself for everything. It's pathological with him."
She tilted her head. "He didn't seem to blame himself for Michael's death."
"Jen…" Ziva didn't have the energy to get into a staring contest, though she had to admit it was nice to have a conversation with an old friend – it had been a long time since she'd thought about the years leading up to her joining NCIS. "We made good partners. We always got a lot done."
"You were a terrible boss, though." Ziva shrugged off Jen's open-mouthed reaction. "Mostly during and after the La Grenouille case, but…stop looking at me like that."
"It's hard to have friends when you're in charge." Another bloodstain was starting to discolor her shirt. "And I didn't want anyone too close at the end."
They sat in silence for awhile until Ziva asked, "How is Tali?"
"How should I know?"
"Hey, I'm not a ghost. You could talk to her if you liked."
She shook her head. "She would not want to see me like this."
"You could always talk to the SEAL."
"And say what?"
Ziva lay on the ground, listening.
"Tibbs drew his weapon as he crept toward the corner of the red brick building, pressing his body against the masonry as he stole ever closer to the voices of his targets. It was foolish of the two guilty lieutenants to be meeting in public, but Tibbs said a prayer of thanks every day for the stupidity of criminals. They all fouled up at some point. He just had to be there to catch them red-handed. And he usually did.
"Signaling to McGregor, who was crouching behind a parked car across the street, Tibbs stepped out onto the sidewalk. 'NCIS! Lt. Wood, Lt. Gaffney, you are under arrest for the murder of…'
"Wood took off running in the opposite direction from which McGregor was approaching, but Tibbs didn't hesitate to slap the cuffs on Gaffney. In the moment Wood chose to look back to see if he was being followed, Lisa dropped eight feet from the tree branch where she had been positioned and slammed the unfortunate lieutenant to the…"
Ziva interrupted, "Oh, McGee! You put me in a tree!"
He grinned without looking up from the open copy of Red Sky at Morning: The Continuing Adventures of LJ Tibbs, Volume III spread across his knees. "Well, you know me. Any similarity to real people is purely coincidental, unless you happen to know them personally."
"What happens next?"
"Oh, the usual. Bad guys go to jail, Tommy makes smartass remarks, Tibbs headslaps people…"
"This is only the first chapter. What does the arrest of the lieutenants lead to?"
His eyes remained fixed on the page. "Y'know, it's nice you think my writing is going so well that I'm on volume three when the second book hasn't even been published yet."
"Tim, look at me."
"I'm sorry, Ziva. I just…I'm gonna visit you every day in the hospital, though. I promise."
"I know you would." She closed her eyes again. "Will you keep reading for a while?"
The room was different this time. In lieu of tying her to a chair, her interrogator chained her arms above her head at a height where her pointed toes just reached the floor. He leaned a length of lead pipe against the wall. The pain in her wrists, the ringing in her ears and the difficulty breathing were not enough to distract her from the man in the corner. When her interrogator left, she turned to the observer. "Was this your idea? Is this what you have been planning?"
The unexpected answer was a whisper, "I didn't plan this. It's my punishment, too."
"Can you stop it?"
"Who are you talking to, Officer David?" Her interrogator set up a camcorder on a tripod just out of the range in which she could have kicked it down, had she had the strength to do so. "If you have chosen now to beg for mercy, I'm afraid you waited too long."
"What is going on?"
"The Moussad Director's daughter has proven to be a less valuable commodity than we had hoped, neither to your father nor Director Vance. Perhaps if we had actually made the effort to break you…but it is no matter. As there was no information we could obtain from you that we could not get by other means and no one is willing to make an acceptable trade for you, you have become expendable." He pressed a button on the camcorder and a red light came on beside the lens. "A decision has been made. For your crimes, you shall die."
"What are my…?" She was cut off by her own cry as her interrogator swung the pipe, making contact with her right flank. She wanted to scream, but was only able to produce pathetic whimpers as he struck her again and again, circling her and taking the time to adjust his keffiyeh between blows.
Suddenly, gunfire and cries that were not her own interrupted the proceedings. She coughed forcefully as the lead pipe clattered to the floor and her interrogator ran out, not locking the door behind him. If there were only some way she could…
Breathing became difficult for reasons not related to injury when the man in the corner abruptly stepped out of the shadows. She gasped, "I said…I did not want to see you."
"Don't you think it's a little late to grind an axe?"
"Go 'way, Tony."
"I never wanted this." His voice was soft, broken. "I just wanted to keep you safe."
"You never could have."
"If you had listened to me…"
"Not what I mean." She coughed again, spraying blood on his perfectly shined shoes. "My decisions, my life…"
"I stepped back, like you wanted me to. Now look what happened. You should have trusted me. You should have come home."
"So I could hate you…up close?"
He grinned. "You don't hate me."
"No. It is a lot harder…to hate you…where I am now."
"Even though I did this to you?" His fingertips lightly caressed her cheek. "I'm sorry."
"Do not apologize. This is…not your fault." She heard the gunfire getting closer. "You should forget, Tony. Go back to rescuing victims. You do it well. They need you."
"You need me more."
"It doesn't matter anymore," she whispered.
Petty Officer Second Class Shane Duncan sprang to his feet the moment he heard the sweet report of M16s echoing through the hallway. "Hey! Heeeeey! Give it to these fuckwads, boys!" Continuing to shout and bang his fist against the door of his small cell, he kept up a constant noise until two familiar forms appeared in his field of vision. "I knew I could count on you sons of bitches!"
As Johnson forced the door, Gabriel spoke into his radio, "We got Dunk. He seems okay. You okay, man?"
"Fine, man." Clapping his friends on the shoulders as he stepped into the hall, he glanced into the cell opposite to confirm that the girl wasn't there. "We securing the whole facility?"
"Oh, yeah. We'll get you a weapon if you're up for some fun."
"Whatever. First we gotta find the girl." He started up the hallway in the direction he'd seen her dragged the last time.
Johnson grabbed his arm, "We can find girls after we get back to base, but we're working now. There's no shame in sitting this one out. Let's just get you to a corpsman on the chopper."
"No, man, you don't understand. They've got another prisoner, a girl." Duncan picked up his pace as he passed dead terrorists on the floor.
Rounding a corner, he heard Lt. West shouting, "Get her down!"
Duncan ran into the bare room just as the Lieutenant and Sullivan were gently laying the girl on the floor. "Is she okay?" The question seemed ludicrous as he knelt beside her. "Hey, didn't I tell you the cavalry was coming? Hang in there."
He lowered his ear as she met his eyes and moved her lips. Lt. West pulled him aside as two men carried her out on a stretcher a few minutes later. "Who is she?"
"I don't know, sir. She was already messed up when I got here. Wouldn't talk to me, just talked to herself a lot, sounded like she was having conversations with people who weren't there."
"Did she say something to you just now?"
"I think so."
"Dunk, either she did or she didn't."
"I'm not sure, but it sounded like 'NCIS.'"
West switched off a tripod-mounted camcorder. "I guess we know who to send this to, then."