Author's Notes: Okay, this one is a doozy. But, I mean, the season finale was S'DANG INTENSE, what's a girl to do?
It's really difficult for me to write specifically "romantic" Tony/Ziva scenes, because I'm so used to them not saying what they're thinking in the show that when I try to get them to do it on paper sometimes it comes out sounding forced. Please be honest if you think that that's the case here! I'm always looking for ways to improve.
And so with no further ado, enjoy!
She can't see out of her left eye, and when she breathes there's a painful rattling in her chest that reminds of her the old rattle that Talia had as a baby, the one with the beans inside that always made its spin funny. She thinks that probably her ribs are broken, and she hasn't been able to move her right foot for three days. She hasn't slept, and her mind is a hazy fuzz of waking nightmares that she isn't even sure are real.
The men are real, she knows; the pain is real; the questions are real; the dripdripdrip of water onto the cement floor is real. But the spiders, the whispered voices, the soft soft cry of a baby somewhere . . . surely those are her imagination.
It occurs to her that she is probably going to die here. She's been a lot of places, faced a hundred thousand knives and dodged a hundred thousand bullets, and never once did she really believe that she was going to die.
But here, where the water goes dripdripdrip and when she closes her eyes she swears she can hear the soft sound of a baby crying for its mother, here she knows that there is no one coming for her.
There is no one coming for her.
He spends a week sleeping with his cell phone cocooned between his fingers and his palm before he finally makes the call.
Maybe she would call when she was ready, and God knows Tony isn't exactly looking forward to the sound of her telling him that you're the reason I left, damnit, leave me alone . . . except that he is, somehow, he is looking forward to hearing even those words as long as they're said in her voice.
As long as they're said.
So he dials and waits and she doesn't pick up, and her voicemail tells him calmly that she isn't taking calls right now but to leave a message and she'll get back as soon as she can.
"Ziva," he says, after the tone, into the silence. "Ziva, I . . . please call me."
His voice sounds pathetic to even his own ears, like a child being punished for breaking a window.
"Tell me everything you know about NCIS."
"The uniforms are unflattering."
The blow comes quickly, without fanfare or warning; simply his knuckles against her mouth and the small smatter of blood that splashed against the wooden table. She tries to remember to be brave, but mostly she just feels tired and sick and when she closes her eyes she can see Tony, kneeling before her and wiping the blood off of her mouth and saying can you imagine how I would feel if you … if you …?
"Tell me everything you know about NCIS."
He doesn't seem angry, not even impatient. He will wait until she breaks, and—Ziva knows better than most—they always break. She is strong, she is a fortress, she is her father's perfect weapon but, like everyone who has a heart, she will break. If she has learned nothing else from the team at NCIS, it is that she is only human. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when and if Ziva closes her eyes, God, she hears Tony, and he is saying can you imagine how I would feel if you … if you …
"The cars are not air-conditioned."
He sighs, almost sadly, as if she is his child and she has disappointed him. He does not hit her again; instead, he simply runs his finger through her hair and down her cheek and along her neck, to the collar of her shirt. He stops when he has reached the spot on her chest directly above her heart, and through his finger they can both hear her heart going boomboom. boomboom. boomboom.
"I will come back tomorrow," he murmurs, his voice close to her ear but she cannot see him through her swollen eye.
And he leaves her in dark, and in silence, and she hears Tony: can you imagine how I would feel?
She doesn't call, and then she doesn't call, and then she doesn't call, and at last he realizes that Ziva is many things but petty is not one of them. She would not break ties with Abby, not with McGee, not with Gibbs if they hadn't done her any harm; his punishment is deserved and will be doled out until she can forgive him, but not the others.
He breathes. Tries to tell the Director, but the Director (as usual) ignores him. Says she is no longer their problem, that he shouldn't be surprised that she is taking time to sort things out.
"You don't understand," Tony says, almost desperately, his voice cracking in a way that denotes not tears but panic. "This isn't like Ziva. This isn't like Ziva."
And Vance looks at him with that half-way shrug, that sympathetic smile, and puts his hand on his shoulder. "You'll work it out," he says distractedly and Tony's throat closes.
Gibbs listens to him and then nods. "What do you want me to do?" He asks, not sarcastically but not quite in earnest. "She may be on a mission, Tony. She may be undercover. She may be doing whatever it is that Ziva does. And she may be in trouble. So what do you want me to do?"
He flounders. Knows there is no answer. Says, "Just . . . I have to know she's all right, boss. I have to know that she's . . ."
He doesn't say the word alive.
Sometimes they feed her, and sometimes they don't. There is no pattern to it. When they give her food, she eats it; she's not too proud to take the leftover slop, flies hovering around it. Sometimes it makes her sick and she vomits, but still, she takes the food.
She doesn't know how long it has been. She is starting not to care. They ask her the same question, every day—tell me what you know about NCIS—and she always answers the same way: the coffee is terrible; the desks are too small; I can see the Washington monument if I stand on the roof. Then there is violence, sometimes so much that it is unbearable and sometimes just a slap or a kick or a blow across the mouth with the butt of a gun. Sometimes nothing at all, just that little sigh and a finger pressing against her heart.
But they leave her alone throughout the night, and that's their mistake, she decides. Sometimes she sleeps, her brain addled with dreams that become nightmares and nightmares that become dreams but when she is awake, she closes both eyes and breathes deeply and sinks into herself where there is nothing but silence.
She tries to hold on to anger, anger of any sort, anger to keep her going, but she can't. Here, in this wet little cell, she can't find it in her to be angry at anyone, for anything—not at Hamas for killing Talia, not at Michael for betraying her, not at her father for ordering him to; not at Tony, for killing Michael and for breaking her heart, not at Gibbs for letting her go, not at Abby and McGee for thinking that maybe she'd been betraying them all along.
In this wet little cell, she can only think: will they know that I forgive them?
The call comes in the early morning. It's a Thursday. Tony's phone rings and he answers half-heartedly: "DiNozzo."
And a woman, her voice breathy and panicked, gasps into the phone, "Oh God—Agent DiNozzo—it's Ziva—help!"
They all get into the car: Gibbs, Tony, McGee, Vance, even Abby, and when they show up at her Aunt Netanya's apartment the woman is heaving with tears. She explains that she bought an apartment in DC while Ziva was still living here, because she wanted to have a place to visit and when Ziva moved back to Tel Aviv she was going to put it up for sale but then she got a call and oh god oh god—
"Calm down," Gibbs orders, and instantly, she does. "Tell us what happened."
Netanya breathes deeply. "I was bringing in groceries," she begins, "when the phone rang. I answered and it—it was my Zivalah—but she didn't…" her voice catches. "She sounded different, like she had a sore throat, and when I asked if she was all right, a—a man took the phone and said she was…said she wouldn't talk to him and that I should tell her to talk if I ever wanted to hear my little Zivalah's voice again."
She breaks down again, collapsing onto her couch and burying her face in her hands. Abby sits down beside her, wrapping her in her arms and looking at Tony like this is somehow his fault.
And it is, he realizes. It is.
Aunt Nettie had sounded frightened, and it hurt of her to think of what she must now be going through. The apartment in D.C. had been a big step, had been a long-awaited acknowledgment that Ziva was here permanently, that she had a new life now.
And then of course…
But she had sounded well, anyway, her voice breathless and happy as she answered the phone. That was something.
A new, strange sense of peace has settled on her, and perhaps it is because she knows that she is going to die, perhaps it is because she has given up hope that she will escape. Her life finishes without its ends tied, but perhaps that is how it is meant to be. Perhaps she must die this way, so that the world can keep on, so that things will go on as they are supposed to.
He doesn't sleep. Not during the day, not at night, never, not when there are leads to chase and information to gather and suspects to interrogate.
Eli David won't speak to them about the mission and Tony doesn't care. He will walk to Israel if he has to and he will find her if it's the last thing that he does.
When he closes his eyes he sees dungeons and water dripping and Ziva, voice hoarse, whispering: it's not your job to protect me.
That's the problem, he thinks back. You never understood that that is the only job I want.
"Tell me everything you know about NCIS."
Her voice hurts when she uses it. "Once, my first year, I broke a computer by throwing it out of a window."
Her captor sighs. "Ziva, Ziva, Ziva. Still so defiant, even when you know that you will die here." He reaches out to stroke her hair. "Let me try something new. Tell me about your partner."
She stiffens. "I do not want to talk about Tony," she snaps shortly, and realizes her mistakes as her captor laughs.
"I meant Michael," he tells her, and then leans in close to kiss her cheek. "But how interesting, that your mind should jump there. Thank you, Ziva. You've been most helpful."
"No," she croaks, struggling against her binds as he stands. "No, wait, no no wait come back wait no—"
The tape comes in the mail, by carrier, with no return address. They play it on the big screen.
Ziva's face is battered, bruises covering almost every inch of skin. Her mouth is puffy, her eye swollen shut. Her head is bowed, arms cut and clothing tattered. Her legs are bound at the akles, her feet stiff and blue and dead. "Tony DiNozzo, hello," a man's voice says. "Don't you have anything to say to him, Ziva?"
She doesn't move, but he can see her trembling. Not from fear, he realizes as she raises her head. From anger. She hisses something in Hebrew.
"I don't think he can understand you," the man says. She refuses to speak, rolling her lips inward and glaring at the screen as if it will end transmission on its own. "Don't you want to say hello to your friends?"
Still she stays silent, furiously tugging against her binds and kicking out at the cameraman with strength that should not have been possible given her condition. There is laughter, some murmurs. Then a voice: "If you want to see her again, alive, you will give us Domino."
And then it goes black, just as Ziva opens her mouth and shouts: "No—"
After they bring her back to her cell, her captors tell her what they will do with the tape. It will go to Washington. It will be played for the whole team to see. And they will not send in Domino, because Domino is important and she is not.
She thinks again of Tony. Can you imagine how I would feel? And she closes her eyes. She pretends for a moment that she is a million miles away, in Old Town, and Tony is wearing a pirate eye patch. Abby is listening to horrible music. McGee is writing away on his computer, not letting her see the screen.
When she opens her eyes, the guard is smiling. He knows, as she knows, how close they are getting. "You love them," he muses thoughtfully. "People you love will let you down."
He wheels in another TV. It's the news. Her father. He is speaking about some operation in Turkey. He looks good, calm, well-dressed. Unruffled. Not like his last child is missing, is bleeding, is waiting to die.
She laughs bitterly. "I don't know why you think that will surprise me," she says quietly. "My father is nothing if not collected."
He looks at the camera and their eyes meet. She wonders what he is thinking, if it is about her, if he even cares that they will never meet again.
It's all his fault.
This is Tony's only thought as he drops out of the airplane's cargo shoot, Gibbs and McGee close behind. If he hadn't killed Michael. If he hadn't pushed her away. If he hadn't been so blinded by his stupid jealousy. If he hadn't . . .
They get into separate cars, Tony and McGee with some minion and Gibbs with the Director. No one speaks. When they get to the Mossad headquarters they're all tossed into the conference room and Eli David spits, "Where is the tape?"
He is cagey, on edge. His fingernails are whittled down to the skin, and there are bruises on his knuckles. Gibbs hands over the object in silence and Eli shoves it into the tape player. The image comes on screen and Tony closes his eyes.
"Tony DiNozzo, hello. Don't you have anything to say to him, Ziva?"
When it's over, they sit in a silence broken only by Eli David's harsh breathing, and the sound of Gibbs's watch. At last, Eli murmurs, "Why did they send it to you?" He raises his head and turns, glaring at each of them as if it is their fault that his child is missing. "Why not me?" He looks at Tony. "Why you?"
"I don't know," he whispers, meeting the Eli's gaze with the very last of his strength. There are matching circles beneath both of their eyes. "Maybe she let something slip about me. I don't know."
They stay like that for a minute, two men with an absent woman between them.
"All right," the guard says. "You do not want to talk about NCIS. You do not want to talk about Tony. You are five days away from starving to death, three from dehydration, and about a week from exhaustion. I am running out of time with you, Ziva David."
She tries to smile, but it takes too much energy and instead she grunts. He folds his arms over his chest. "Perhaps . . . perhaps we should just end this game now, no? Perhaps you are no good to me. Perhaps it is time for a bullet to your head."
Yes, she thinks dizzily, perhaps it is time.
"I will give you a day to think," the guard says. He pats her dislocated shoulder and she is too tired even to wince. "Perhaps you will be dead in the morning. We will see."
She can still hear the baby, somewhere, when she closes her eyes and wishes for it. Although now she understands that it is just her dreams, just that happy sound of Talia when she was first born. But when she concentrates, she can imagine herself away, she can imagine herself back at NCIS, at her desk, or in her bed, or wrapped up in the warm arms of—
Whoever. It changes. Sometimes it is her father, and she is safe; sometimes it is Michael, and she is desired; sometimes it is Tony, and she is loved.
They get the intel from a cousin or an in-law or someone working under cover with Hamas. Tony doesn't care where it comes from, if it leads to Ziva, doesn't care what sort of favors he's going to owe when this is all finished.
So they find the bunker, disguised with a heavy blanket and half-buried in the dirt, and they go in together. There's four men on the inside door and Tony kills them all, doesn't hesitate, doesn't think about what is right and what is wrong. One bullet for each.
They push through and have to separate when they come to a hallway with two possibilities, and Tony opens every door. When he finds a man he kills him. It's instant, it's quick, it's without emotion. Distantly he realizes that he has blood spatter on his face, that he smells of burnt gunpowder, that he looks a praying man in the eyes and still chose to shoot him and the rhythm of the body hitting the floor was zi-va.
And then at last—at last—he pushes open a heavy metal door, and there she is.
The door opens behind her, but she cannot see who it is. The guard starts yelling, asking what the hell is going on, but as he draws his weapon his chest blows apart and he smashes his head against the table as he falls.
Ziva sits perfectly still. Perhaps she is asleep. Perhaps this is real. Perhaps she doesn't care.
There's a hand on her, a voice speaking but she can barely hear it through the roaring in her ears. Everything is spinning. She thinks she might faint. There is a hand on her head, a warm, careful hand, but her heart is too fluttery and quiet to be heard, a mere whisper instead of the steady boom.
He carries her out.
She doesn't look at him or acknowledge his presence, doesn't seem to know who he is. She stares up at his face and doesn't once smile or speak or even blink, just looks at him as her thin heartbeat taps pathetically in her chest.
"Please," he whispers in the car on the way to the hospital. "Ziva. Please."
They hook her up to an IV and a feeding tube and men in white outfits shout words like stat at one another and she just . . . lies there, lets them jam things into her, prick her, poke her, jostle her around and doesn't speak a word against it. She's motionless, completely limp against the gurney as they wheel her into the hospital and all Tony can think about is that night last three summers ago, when she had a balloon animal on her head and kept laughing at him because he had lettuce in his teeth.
He feels Gibbs's hand on his shoulder, and for the first time, he wants to push it away.
He goes in every day. He does not understand the language of those around him, and the doctors take advantage of this and speak freely in Hebrew whenever he's around. He doesn't care. He sits by her bed and holds her hand and refuses to move even after visiting hours are over.
He buys movies that he doesn't understand and makes up his own dialogue as they watch them. He reads to her, sometimes from the old classics and sometimes cheap romance novels with titles like One Night with the Secret Billionaire and A Rebel's Tears. Things he knows she'd hate.
First they said give her a week, and then they say give her a month, and then they stop giving deadlines at all.
Gibbs flies back to D.C. with McGee two months after they find Ziva. Tony has almost thirty vacation days saved up and he tells Gibbs to use them the second Vance demands he come back to work.
They don't have room in the hospital to keep her there so Eli has her moved to a private hospital closer to the Mossad headquarters and further from Tony's hotel. NCIS stops footing the bill so Tony simply rents an apartment, a terrible little two-room shithole that he shares with a man who speaks no English.
He runs into Yael David on his way to see Ziva one morning and the director's wife looks him over with a furrowed brow.
"You look terrible," Yael says, shaking her head. "She would be angry at me for letting you get so skinny."
Tony manages a smile. "It's all right."
Yael crosses her arms over her chest, mouth tipping into a frown, and suddenly he sees Ziva in her, sees where she learned her patented shut-up-Tony look because her mother is using it right now. "You'll come to dinner tonight," she orders him. "No need to dress up. I will cook and my husband will behave. See you at seven."
Then she leaves him without looking back, and he shakes his head, dazed. Ziva doesn't stir when he goes in but he takes her hand anyway. "I always knew where you got your ninja skills," Tony tells her with a light chuckle, "but now I get where you got that bossy nature of yours."
The heart monitor beats a steady response.
Dinner is about as terrifying as he imagines it will be: Yael greets him at the door and everyone in the house stares at him like he's about to whip out a gun and open fire on them all. Eli David maintains a stony silence throughout the meal. Yael asks him pointed questions about his life in D.C., and none of them mention Ziva.
Afterwards, he's shown promptly to the door and presented with a container of leftovers that Yael demands he eat on pain of death.
He nods, and they let him go with the command that he return the next week, on the same day at the same time, and that he be nice and fat when he gets there.
He eats the leftovers on the ride home.
"Your family," Tony tells her, "Is crazy. I mean, I've seen crazy—my Dad, my Dad was crazy. My mom was a little crazy. Hell, Gibbs isn't exactly stable. But your family… it's a wonder you came out as well-adjusted as you are, and, well, let's be honest, that's not much."
Who is the one that moved to Israel to play guard dog over his comatose partner? Ziva's voice asks in his head, and he chuckles at her.
"Yeah, but I only did it for the ladies. Do you see the looks I get from these nurses every time I come over here, looking forlorn?"
You are using me to pick up chickens. I am offended.
That does not make sense. Why would you choose a baby chicken over a full-grown chicken?
"That's not . . . you're missing the point."
Then what is the point? What sort of chicken do you want? It is not a difficult question.
He squeezes her hand. "It's not a matter of what kind of chicken," he murmurs, giving in to the metaphor. "It's which one."
When he goes back to the David's house the next week, Eli informs him glumly that he's willing to offer him the position of liaison to NCIS. The irony is not lost on either one of them, and when their eyes meet over the table Tony's grip on his fork tightens.
"Thank you," he says. "My vacation days are running out."
Eli cracks a rare smile. Afterwards, he walks Tony to the door and hesitates a moment. "Do you blame me?" He asks as Tony walks towards his car.
He pauses. "Not entirely," he answers honestly, after a moment. "Sometimes. Do you blame me?"
Eli turns away. "Sometimes," he says. "Not entirely."
The other Mossad officers don't seem to know how to treat him, as a guest or as an agent, so they mostly just leave him alone. He doesn't mind. He still doesn't speak very good Hebrew, although he's picked up a few words and can string together enough to ask where the bathroom is and if he might have extra sugar.
The man sharing his apartment teaches him certain phrases, speaks only in Hebrew and repeats until he understands. He says he has a stupid American accent, which is true.
But the nurses at the hospital say he is getting better, and they all smile at him when he goes to visit Ziva. She hasn't woken yet. Gibbs has begun to hint in his weekly phone calls that perhaps she never will, but Tony won't—Tony can't—believe that.
"You know," he tells her one day, putting fresh flowers by her bed, "this would all be so much easier if you were Kate. Kate, I understood. Kate was easy. She was … my sister, you know? But like that hot step-sister that you met when you were seventeen and secretly fantasized about. Like Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. But you . . . I never knew with you. I never knew where I stood, or—or what you were to me. What you are to me."
He laughs dryly, running a tired hand through his hair. "And I still don't, you know? I still don't know what I would say if you opened your eyes right now. But I . . . I mean, I moved to Israel to be with you, Ziva, to come visit you even though all you do is lie there. And if you think it's because you've been particularly charming company, that's just the coma talking. And it's not guilt, either, because this may have been partially my fault but that's not what's keeping me here."
Tony sits, dropping his face into his palms. The fan squeaks when it turns. "God, Ziva, this so fucked up. I'm talking The Royal Tenenbaums kind of fucked up." He pauses. "And there's another good sister-brother-attraction example, except that Gwyneth Paltrow wore really dark eyeliner that was a mistake on all fronts."
In his mind Ziva laughs: you are such a girl, Tony, and he grumbles, "Yeah, well, one of us has to be."
He misses DC. Israel is beautiful, in ways he hadn't expected, in ways he'll never forget, but he misses DC. He misses the restaurants and the beltway and the women, and he misses his desk, and he misses his apartment.
There is only one thing keeping him in Tel Aviv, and she won't wake up and look at him.
He wants to leave, although he knows he can't leave. The thought that one day she will open her eyes and he will be an ocean away makes him feel vaguely ill, and so he stays.
"So when do you think it started?" Gibbs asks dryly, foregoing a greeting on the one-year mark.
"Definitely after Superman II. Oh, sorry—I thought we were talking about when Superhero movies stopped being good."
Gibbs ignores him. "DiNozzo."
He sighs. "I don't know, boss. I don't know when it started. One day I wasn't in love with her, and the next day I was, and I don't remember not loving her just like I don't remember actually falling. Maybe it was the first day we met, maybe it was last week. I don't know."
There's a beat. Then, almost surprised, "That was easier than I thought it would be."
"Yeah, well, Yael David says that if I lie God will reach down and smite me."
"You're hanging out with her parents now? God, Tony, don't ever get married or you'll be really fucked."
They laugh together, two men over the shared horror of in-laws, and suddenly Tony realizes that it is as simple as it was with Kate. He hangs up with Gibbs and drives calmly to the hospital and doesn't stop to buy flowers, like usual. He stands at the foot of her bed and takes a deep breath and says, "So, as it turns out, I'm in love with you."
She doesn't stir. He hates that he's stopped expecting her to.
"I've only said that once before, and got hammered with it. But I don't care anymore. I don't care what I have to do to be with you and make you stay with me. I'll follow you around for the rest of my life if you'll have me." He leans forward and drops a hand onto her ankle. "But to do that, you have to wake up, baby, you have to wake up."
I can't believe you just called me baby, Ziva-in-his-head says with a scowl, and Tony sighs.
He turns forty with little fanfare. Abby calls, and McGee calls, and suddenly they all seem so far away, like a life he had before and won't ever get back.
The thought is paralyzing, completely and utterly heart-stopping, and suddenly Tony realizes that he's coming up on having to make a choice. His desk in Washington can only be empty for so long.
It's been a year, a year of McGee and Gibbs and whichever newbies Vance wanted trained up for a couple of weeks, a year of Abby and Caff-Pow, a year of victims and mysteries and late-night Chinese runs. And he hasn't been there for any of it.
Good God, he doesn't even know what movies are particularly popular these days.
That night, he sits beside Ziva's bed for a long time, thinking. Even if she were to wake up tomorrow, he realizes, things wouldn't jump back to how they were. Probably she'll want to stay here, in Israel, with her family. Possibly she won't have forgiven him for Michael. Definitely she won't realize that she loves him and wants to be with him forever.
But the thought of leaving her like this makes him dizzy and nauseous so for a long time, all he does is sit.
Four days later, he gets the call.
He's at Mossad headquarters when it comes, directly from Eli himself; they leave together in a chauffeured car and don't speak on the way. They keep their eyes on the floor once they're in the hospital, and the sound of their shoes tapping against the linoleum is somehow louder than it should be.
She's sitting up when they get to her room, holding Yael's hand and looking dazed. She blinks at them for a long time without speaking, until she holds open her arms and says, "Aba."
Eli goes to them, wordlessly, dragging her close and pressing a kiss to her forehead, and they sit like that for a long time. Tony waits at the foot of the breath, strangely calm, strangely detached. There are a hundred things he wants to say, but they wait with uncharacteristic patience as he takes in the sight of her: eyes open, chest heaving on its own, smile working at the corner of her lips.
Eli pulls away and Yael murmurs to him something about coffee and they disappear, Yael's hand a whisper against his shoulder as she goes.
They simply look at each other for a long time before she speaks. "It was you who found me," she murmurs. "Thank you."
He worries a seam on her blanket. "No thanks necessary," he mumbles, wondering how this conversation could possibly be awkward. He has sat by this bed and prayed for this moment for a year plus and now that it's here and she's looking at him, he—
"I am sorry," she says quietly. "I am sorry about what I said, before. I am sorry that . . . what I mean is . . . about Michael. I am not—it is okay."
Oh, there are a million things he wants to say. I love you, and GodZivaI'msogladyou'reokay. "I'm sorry, too," he tells her, sincerely. "I wouldn't have—if it wasn't absolutely necessary—I know how you felt about him, and yes, I was jealous, but not enough to kill him."
She laughs. "So you admit it," she says, smiling, and for a second he's so stunned by the sight of that smile—not more beautiful than before, but new, somehow, unused. He tells himself that he doesn't want to overload her, so he doesn't grab the opportunity to tell her.
"Guilty. He was getting to drink all this free booze and I wasn't getting a drop."
She laughs again, and he ignores the voice in the back of his head that whispers: coward.
And a week later he is in Washington.
He isn't sure how it happened, isn't sure how he manages to not be at her bedside for more than a day at a time, but somehow he takes a call from Gibbs and agrees to come over—as a favor—and between telling them all every detail of how Ziva is doing he suddenly finds himself at his desk, in his apartment, home.
Every day he means to buy a plain ticket back; every day he means to tell Gibbs that he's going to stay a liaison, he's going to go back to Israel, but God, call him selfish but he just can't, not yet. He goes to Old Town and sits at the Marina listening to the troubadour play his guitar, takes a bus to the memorials and sits on the grass, watching tourists; metros to Capitol South and catches A Winter's Tale in the Folger Theater.
And then it is the place he belongs against the woman he loves, and God but forgive him, Tony doesn't know which one to choose.
"You are an idiot," Ziva tells him fondly, her voice crackling through the phone. "Of course you are going to stay in Washington. I am fine here. I can walk all on my own now."
"All by yourself? Aw. My little baby's getting all grown up."
"Ha, ha. Do not be an ass. The nurses say I am the best patient they have."
"They said 'best' to you? That's funny—they said 'scariest' to me."
Pause. Then, quieter, "Tony, I mean it. Do not come back to Israel."
He takes a sharp breath, the words like a blow, and holds the phone away from his face for a minute. "Oh," he manages, the word flimsy on his tongue. He struggles with himself, wanting to ask why, ask what he's done, ask if it's still Michael between them. "Oh, I . . . yeah. Okay. Well, all right then. Hey, listen. I should go. I've got to . . . tell Gibbs. And I mean, your father too. So I'll, uh, I'll talk to you later—"
"Tony . . ." she interrupts, a whisper of regret in her voice, "are you . . . all right?"
"Yes," he lies blindly, desperately, still holding the phone away from his face as if it will burn him. "Yes. Of course. I'm fine. I really should go. I'll call you tomorrow, though, okay? Same time."
He hangs up and drops the phone, his fingers stinging. Everything is spinning. Do not come back to Israel.
He doesn't understand. Why does she not want him there? He lived for a year in the desert, made friends with her family, sat by her side every day, praying that she would wake. And afterwards he'd cared for her, brought her tidbits from the outside world, watched terrible Arab movies with her that he roughly understood but pretended not to. He made friends with the nurses so that they would treat her with special care, took a job with Mossad so that he could afford his shitty apartment with Uri, his roommate. And now—
Now she doesn't want him.
He sits heavily in his armchair, resting his head in his hands. Between them, this whole time, there has been only one wall, only one unspoken secret: his. Those three little words that he was only brave enough to say when she was unable to hear them.
Tony drops his head into his hands. There is a long silence.
Then he picks up the phone and dials.
"Didja miss me?" Tony asks, stepping into the warm sunshine.
"No," Eli David says flatly, his dark sunglasses glinting against the sunlight. "No, I did not."
Tony laughs, opening the passenger door of the vehicle and climbing in. There's a Tupperware container on the backseat with his name on it and he grins. "You did miss me," he crows, reaching for it. Yael's handwriting is neat and unmistakable on the card. Tony, it says, you'll come to dinner tomorrow night. And eat this. I will know if you don't.
Eli spares him a glance. "She really will know," he says with a mysterious smile, affection lacing the edges of his words.
"Oh, I have no doubt. Ziva is not the only David endowed with ninja powers."
At this, Eli finally laughs, shaking his head. "Did you tell Gibbs that you were moving here permanently?"
"No," Tony says honestly, and peels back the top of the container. It's a dish he's never heard of, but there's a fork on top and he takes a bite. "Mmm. That's incredible. I told Gibbs and the Director that eventually I wanted to return to Washington, and that I hoped there would always be a spot for me on Gibbs's team, but that my move to Israel was . . . indefinite. Who knows, after all, how long Ziva will want to stay here, even after she's better."
The words are matter-of-fact, and he stares straight ahead as he says them. From his periphery, he sees Eli nod, once, and swallow.
He goes to his shitty apartment first and showers. Uri has left a note on the table, welcoming him back, and there's a sandwich waiting for him on a small plate in the fridge. Tony walks to the hospital, stopping to buy flowers and slipping his new, official Mossad badge into the card holder in place of the little plaque that reads Get Well Soon!
He's greeted by a chorus of happy nurses as he enters the hospital, and he spends several minutes talking to each of them in his much-improved Hebrew before going to her room. He stands outside, watching her through the window. She is reading, focused intently on the book in her hands, frowning. He takes a deep breath, and the exhale fogs the window.
And then he goes in.
Ziva looks up, startled, and the book falls onto her lap. "Tony?" she asks blankly. "What are you doing here?"
"I brought you flowers," he says, "but really just so I could give you this." He steels himself as he sets the bouquet by her bed and tosses her the badge. She catches it and her eyes go wide as its meaning registers, and she looks up at him.
"I told you not to come back," she stutters, her voice angry, and she struggles to sit up. "This is completely unnecessary, Tony; I told you that I'm fine."
"Well, yeah, if by 'fine' you mean still living at the hospital. And anyway, look, I'm not here to argue about your progress. You're improving. I get it. You don't need me."
She meets his eyes. "No," she says coolly. "I don't."
The words sting, but he shrugs them off, pulling up a chair. "Yeah, well, I don't care. I'm not here for you, I'm here for me, and you're going to have to deal with it."
Ziva's jaw drops and she gapes for a moment, a strangled noise in the back of her throat. "How dare—"
"How dare I? How dare I? Ziva, I have sat by this bed for a year! I have watched people feed you, exercise you, bathe you, change your catheter, for God's sake. I have killed eight men in pursuit of you, and carried you from that hellhole to the hospital. I left my job in DC because I didn't want you to wake up alone. I moved to a country whose culture, language, and customs were completely foreign to me. I learned Hebrew. For Christ's sake, I missed the premiere of the sixth Harry Potter movie! So you know what? It's too damn bad if, for whatever reason you have in that crazy head of yours, you don't want me here, because after a year of complete hell watching you waste away I deserve to watch you get better!"
He breaks off, his breathing ragged, and realizes that Ziva is no longer looking at him, but out the window, her whole body trembling. Somehow he has gotten out of his chair and reached the foot of her bed. He moves back to her side and turns her head with his hand, although she still will not look at him. "Ziva," he says, more gently this time, "Don't you get it yet?"
"Do not say it," she whispers, finally looking at him. "Tony, please, don't—"
"I love you."
Ziva whimpers, the sound an odd mixture of a sigh and a growl, and jerks her head away from him. "Tony . . ." She rolls her lips inward, and he sees a terrifying flash of her: bound, bloody, glaring at the camera as her captors videotape her.
And then he gets it, suddenly, as if it was written on a cue card above her head.
"I love you," he says again. "I have seen you at your weakest, Ziva. I have seen you when you were closer to death than anyone has a right to be. How could you possibly be embarrassed in front of me?"
A shudder ripples through her and she buries her face in her hands. She is not crying, but her voice is muffled and the sound of her breathing amplified. "Please go away."
"No." He sits on the edge of her bed and drags her against him, although she pushes him away weakly. "I'm not leaving, Ziva. I don't care what idiotically self-conscious thoughts are running through your head."
She tries to pull away from him and he catches her wrists, making her meet his eyes. "Stop running away!" he cries, frustrated, cupping one hand behind her head. "How can you think—after everything—that you are somehow less just because you aren't your usual self? Ziva, you held out . . . longer than should have been possible. And your recovery is—well, it's just stupid how fast it is. And you're ashamed just because you can't, what? Do a cartwheel? Ziva, I love that you can disarm a bomb, I love that you can kick my ass, I love that you can do a back flip. But I love sitting next to you watching those terrible movies that—you should know—I actually do understand, more or less. I love coming in here every morning and having the nurses tell me what new, amazing thing you've done. I love eating at seafood restaurants with you and making you wear balloon animal hats. I love—"
He is cut off by a pair of warm lips and Ziva's hands on his cheeks, her body pressing into him, in control of this one thing. He lets her be, wrapping his arms around her and simply following her lead.
When she pulls away, she's breathing heavily, still weak, and meets his eyes. "You should know," she says matter-of-factly, "that I will be staying in Israel for quite some time. I want . . . I need to be close to my family, for a while."
He shrugs. "Okay. I figured. Hence the badge."
Tony looks at her face, trying to read her emotions, but she gives nothing away. Then, with the barest hint of a smile, she nods. "In that case, there's something else."
He waits. She seems to be judging him, running her eyes over his face and reaching out for his hands. "I do not express my emotions very well, as a general . . . family habit," she murmurs with a small laugh. "But it is . . . difficult, for me, not to be in control. Not to be . . . myself. I do not like being dependant. And you . . . when I woke up, and you were there—and the nurses told me of everything that you did for me, while I was sleeping—and I realized that you—how you felt . . . I have gotten used to ignoring what is between us, Tony. You have had more time to deal with it than I have."
He kisses her once, quickly, cutting her off. "That stuff doesn't matter, okay? We'll figure it out. Can we just try and focus on you not exiling me to another country for now and move from there?"
She laughs, and nods, and kisses him again.
After that, things go fairly smoothly for a while. He learns to fit in, more or less, with the Mossad officers; they call him Cowboy and he makes Ninjas vs. Chuck Norris jokes that they don't understand until he unleashes the full box set of Texas Ranger on them. He visits Ziva every day, sometimes twice when Yael makes him go with her. Usually Ziva is nice to him, although she's occasionally short-tempered and frustrated and embarrassed about her current state, but he learns to pretty much just ignore her.
The key to a vulnerable Ziva is to either exaggerate the problem until it's funny or to ignore it entirely, and he bounces back and forth between these two tactics as he sees fit.
A month after he officially moves to Israel, Yael announces during a visit that Talia would have liked him, and then both she and Ziva get tears in their eyes that neither woman lets fall.
He says, "Well, my mother would have hated both of you, and that's the highest compliment that I know how to give."
And everyone laughs, but Yael reaches out to brush his shoulder, as if there's dust there, and Ziva takes his hand just long enough to give it a squeeze. And then, in typical David woman fashion, they change the subject to Ziva's recovery and Yael asks when her daughter will be able to make an appointment at the shooting range.
"God, this is the weirdest family," Tony grumbles.
On Tony's birthday, Gibbs, Abby, McGee, and their new probie, a guy named Sutton Sutton (which is the stupidest name ever, in Tony's opinion) fly in for a visit. Ziva is more or less completely mobile now, staying in the hospital only because it's policy given the length of her coma, so they have the party at her parents' house (since, in Abby's words, his apartment is a black hole of death).
Ziva isn't drinking, but Tony is, and McGee catches him around a corner while everyone else is socializing. "Tony . . . Eli David likes you," he notes, eyes wide, expression awed, and Tony feels a wave of affection so strong he takes a step back.
He laughs, and flings his arm around McGee's shoulders. "As I've told you time and time again, McGoogle, no one can resist the DiNizzo charm."
McGee snorts, shrugging his arm off, and puts Tony in a headlock. "You've been gone a long time, Tony, and I've spent a lot of that in the gym."
Tony kicks out, knocking McGee off balance and sending him to the floor. They look at each other for a minute before both men start to laugh and Tony reaches out a hand. "You'll always be a probie to me," Tony says, and McGee rolls his eyes.
During dinner, Agent Sutton Sutton (stupid) sits quietly, awkwardly, toying with the seam on his napkin. Tony mostly ignores him, partly because he doesn't have time to really get to know the guy anyway and partly because his very existence makes Tony jealous and tired and sad. He likes it here, has grown comfortable and used to the desert, but—DC will always be his home.
"I got you something."
Abby's voice is quiet, secretive; she's leaning her body over and not turning her head as she whispers to him. He feels her hand slip into his and transfer a little packet; when he looks down at his palm, a smile blossoms across his face and he barks a laugh. "Honeydust," he breathes, laughing again. "Abby, you dog."
"I mean, so, everyone pretty much knows that you're batty about Ziva, what with you moving here and all, but I figured that since you're not living together and you haven't macked on her even once since we've been here, you still need that little extra something to put you over the edge. Aaaaand knowing you and your usual methods of seduction, I figured, why not?"
Tony presses a quick, grateful kiss to her a cheek and slings his arm over her, tugging her into a side hug. "I miss you," he whines, and she leans her head against his shoulder.
"Yeah, I miss you too. This new guy's an idiot." Sutton Sutton looks up, confused, and Abby shrugs. "No offense."
"Um," he says.
"Don't let it get to you," Tony tells him. "She told me that I was an idiot my first year, too."
"Yeah, but I didn't mean it."
"Okay, so I meant it. But you were an idiot."
"He still is an idiot." Ziva's voice is low, amused, and the table quiets down like it always does when she speaks, because they are all somehow so grateful for her voice that they don't even want to reply, just want her to talk and talk forever.
Tony glares. "For the record," he tells Sutton Sutton, "I am not an idiot."
"Yes you are," Gibbs, Eli, and McGee say at the same time, and Yael reaches across the table to put a sympathetic hand on his arm.
She clears her throat. "Gentlemen, you will leave the boy alone," she commands, and—Tony wishes he had a camera—the Director of the Mossad, Gibbs, and McGee all clasp their hands in their laps and quietly bow their heads in obedience.
"Neat trick," Abby says.
It's not as difficult as he thought it would be to wave goodbye. He misses DC, and always will, but for the first time there is more for him here than there is there, so he makes a quip about McGee throwing up on the plane and gives Ziva's hand a squeeze.
They stand on the runway until the plane is in the air and he's turning towards the car when she says, "I love you."
He's spun back to face her so quickly that he pulls his neck. "What?"
"I love you," she repeats, calmly, smiling. "Don't let it get to your head. What do you want for dinner? I was thinking pasta."