Disclaimer: Author may be in the mood for white wine.
Summary: Ziva returns to NCIS. Sort of.
"You ain't always had that scar, huh? On your face there?"
Ziva didn't look up from the form she was filling out. "Only for the past few months."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it's been at least that long since I seen you last. Figured you'd changed teams. What are you doin'?"
"Since when do you need one-a those?" Her pen made a slash of blue down the length of the page as the form was pulled back across the desk. "Just go on up!"
She reached for the form. "I do not work here anymore."
The older man working the security desk in the lobby passed her a laminated badge to clip to her coat rather than returning the form. "Don't worry 'bout it. I'll vouch for you. Not like they're gonna take away my pension. You have a nice day, Officer David."
"It is just Ziva, Phil."
He leaned back in his chair as she stepped into the elevator. "No reason you still can't have a nice day."
She made sure to smile as she turned before the doors closed. The elevator took her directly to the top floor of the building. It was warmer up here than it had been in the lobby. She hesitated before stepping onto the catwalk and, when she did, she walked as close as possible to the wall. Anyone looking up might just see her head, but would likely turn away before recognizing her. She exhaled as she stepped through the doors of the Director's office.
Cynthia was halfway out of her chair before Ziva had closed the door. "Officer David! I saw your name on the schedule, but I assumed it must be someone else! How…?"
"Hello, Cynthia. And it is just Ziva."
Cynthia continued to look at her, wide-eyed. "What did you do to your arms?"
"It is not how it looks." Long sleeves did little to conceal the bulky bandages wrapped around her forearms and she doubted Cynthia had the imagination to picture what healing skin grafts looked like. "May I go in?"
"I'll just let him know you're here." Cynthia had not lost her shocked expression after buzzing the Director. "Go right in, Off…Ziva."
Vance did not offer his hand or even say hello when she entered his office. "I was…let's just call it very surprised when I saw your application on my desk last week." He waved her toward the conference table, joining her there after a moment. "So, you want to be an NCIS agent, Officer David."
"I am no longer an officer of the Moussad."
"So I heard." He shifted his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. "Is that why you're asking this agency for a job?"
"Who else has the security clearance to actually call my references?" Although Vance smirked, she added seriously, "I can still be a good agent, Director."
"I have no doubt you could, Ms. David." She waited in silence as he perused the file spread in front of him. "Any other applicant with your qualifications, well, I'd be tempted to hand them a badge and a weapon right now. There are, however, a few complications in your case."
"I assume that is why I am here."
"First, since you're no longer a liaison, you'll have to go through the same process any new hire does."
She wondered how the background check would go. "Oh. My citizenship, of course, will…"
Vance waved his hand. "Not a concern. I understand that your mother was born in New York City?"
"Yes. My grandfather was working at the UN during the…"
"It's not an issue. Same with your history. As long as the proper documentation is available, we could make it work. I'm talking about FLETC, Ms. David. You would need to go through the official training. Shouldn't present any trouble for you." He paused, watching her carefully. "You don't have any objections to that?"
"Of course not."
If he was surprised by her easy acquiescence, he didn't show it, continuing, "It would be a little more problematic to get you back onto the major case team here. Agent Ramirez is a good fit and I don't think it would be entirely fair to transfer him."
"I would not ask you to, Director. In fact, I would much prefer to be assigned somewhere else."
He raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"I am sure I could be effective on a team stationed anywhere, including overseas, given my…"
"You don't have to justify your level of training to me. You skill set from Moussad and your prior experience in the field would qualify you for a number of positions in the agency."
"But you do not want me in any of them."
"Have I said any such thing?"
"Not in so many words." She looked down at her left hand, trying not to focus on the fact that her fourth and fifth digits refused to ball into the fist she was making. Her doctors had been pessimistic about the return of sensation or function based on where her ulnar nerve had been severed. Still, small price to pay; the rope had worn through before damaging anything more vital. Her little finger was discolored by bruises she couldn't feel, the result of a nervous habit she had developed during her last hospital stay. She squeezed it tightly between her right thumb and index finger now. "You are speaking in…conditionals? Is that the term?"
"I'd certainly have to change my opinion of your intelligence if you thought you'd be welcomed back with open arms. You weren't exactly the model of agency loyalty when you were last here." He paged through her file, affording her glimpses of performance reviews, photos, notes, even the mandatory psychological reviews following shootings – four years of her life summed up in an inch of paper between two thin pieces of cardboard. "I've already talked to Eli. He gave me the impression that you would eventually be fit to return to your duties at Moussad."
"I would prefer other duties – ones that do not involve being captured and beaten every few months."
Vance scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Your disability leave doesn't run out for another three months and you decided not to go back to Moussad before you were even discharged from the hospital. Even if you didn't want to go back into the field for them, you could be on vacation for another twelve weeks. Instead, you come here. Why?"
"To Washington? You requested that I meet with you."
"Don't play coy with me. You're telling me you want to come back, but not to Gibbs' team. Why?"
She stared down at the table, crushing her little finger in a closed fist now. Anything she told Vance would, she knew, get back to her father and she refused to let him know that he'd won, that she had no idea how to function outside the context of an agency, a mission. "I don't know."
"And why would I hire someone who doesn't know why they want to work for NCIS?"
"Director…" She caught herself. Not liking the available options didn't automatically negate them. She could change her mind and return to Moussad; she could disappear in New York and become the tragically efficient waitress who was overly grateful for her regulars' modest tips; she could contact old friends in Europe, living outside society on quasi-legal funds. Hell, she had her own emergency Swiss and Cayman accounts she was almost sure Moussad didn't know about. Almost. After a moment she stood. "I am sorry for wasting your time." Putting on her coat took more time than she would have liked, especially under Vance's silent gaze. She eventually paused with her hand on the doorknob. "I don't suppose you know of anyone who is hiring."
"I am." The chair she had been occupying jumped toward her as he kicked it from under the table. "It's a simple question. You answer and you walk out that door an NCIS employee."
She shrugged, defeated. "I do not know where else I would work."
"I have already told you…"
"I know. And it was a good answer."
Twenty minutes later, she left Vance's office no clearer on why he was hiring her. She suspected it was a favor to her father, who would likely request her return to Moussad at some point in the future, regardless of actual affiliations. She made polite small talk with Cynthia for a few moments, asking about the few details not related to Jen that she could remember. Cynthia was happy to talk about her husband and eight-month old twins.
The elevator did not come quickly enough after another wall-hugging walk, but the precaution proved to have been futile. Familiar voices prompted Ziva to jam the call button into the panel as the door to MTAC swung open behind her. She was able to ignore the case-related talk occurring on the catwalk until the one voice she didn't recognize said, just loudly enough, "Damn. Now that makes me wanna take the elevator."
She held her breath, praying that the doors would open before the reply came. No such luck. "You can't base your whole judgment on the ass, Ramirez, no matter how nice it…" She clenched her jaw as Tony trailed off, willing the elevator to come. The squeak of the doors nearly cancelled out his whisper. "Ziva…" She managed to push the button for the ground floor without turning around. "Ziva!" His pounding on the outer door faded as the whirr of her descent continued.
She dropped her 'Visitor' badge on the desk, nodding briefly to Phil, who was occupied with someone being asked to fill out the proper paperwork. The heavy door from the stairwell would be crashing against the bricks at any moment. She fumbled with the keys to her rental, walking fast across the parking lot. She made it to the back door of the nondescript sedan before she heard anyone shouting her name. If she sped away now, there would be a chase or a BOLO or a hit and run involving the bodies of several federal agents. She opened the door and dropped her bag on the seat before tucking her hands safely in her coat pockets.
Tony pinned her arms against her sides a moment later as he wrapped her in an unexpected hug, releasing her just as the pressure on her forearms started to become unbearable. He stepped back with a smile and she was careful to keep her head turned to the left. "I may not have known it was you if you'd been wearing a longer jacket. I mean that as a compliment."
"You do not have to pretend to be happy to see me."
"I'm not…" After a beat he countered, "Well, you could pretend to be happy to see me."
She stared straight ahead, wondering why she'd thought waiting was a better plan than an outright escape. She could be driving off the Navy Yard right now. Her hands had made their way from her pockets and her little finger was now tightly grasped in her right hand. She could see Gibbs loitering in front of the building, gently giving the arm of McGee's jacket a tug every so often to prevent him from rushing her as Tony had done. She wished she hadn't been given this semi-private interview.
Before she could come up with an excuse to leave them all standing in the parking lot, he continued, "I can't believe you were just gonna take off without saying goodbye. Again."
Although she knew she was being baited, she answered, "I was going to leave without saying hello. Goodbye would have been moot."
"Considering you never said goodbye the last time…of course, I suppose we were the ones taking off, literally. Not that you bothered to tell anyone but Gibbs you wouldn't be joining us."
"I did not come here to see you."
"Well, that explains why you won't look at me, I guess." He reached for her hand, but she had a firm grip on her little finger. His hand settled on both of hers. "Maybe I could get you to change your plans?"
She resolutely stared down, noting that she didn't remember the scar on his second knuckle. "Let me go, Tony."
"See, a request like that would only make sense if I was restraining you." His hand slipped off hers as he settled a firm grip on her shoulders. "Or if I did something like this. Now would be the time for you to order me to let you go. Say 'Let me go, Tony,' and I…what happened to your finger?"
"Nothing." He was pulling her into him now and she wasn't resisting like she wanted.
"It is not nothing. It's all bruised and you've got bandages and…" She closed her eyes when he gently turned her face. "Oh, Ziva…"
"What happened to you?"
"One mission that went exactly as expected and one that did not. The scar you should stop poking is from the first."
His hand dropped from the side of her face. "Sorry." They stood in silence for a long stretch, causing McGee to make another abortive effort to walk over to them. Tony eventually cleared his throat. "Guess you can't tell me what you were…"
"I was captured by Hamas. Twice. The first was intentional and we were able to eliminate a terrorist training camp as a result. The second was…not. I managed my own escape. I should not be telling you any of this."
"Who'm I gonna tell?" He grinned awkwardly. "I'm glad you're back, anyway. Ramirez is a nice enough guy, but he's got an oversize ego without the stealth ninja moves to back it up. Be nice to get back to normal."
"I will not be taking his place."
"Well, it's not like he took yours."
"I mean he is not leaving your team."
"So there's gonna be five of us? That's good. I could handle having less paperwork."
"I will not be rejoining your team."
"Vance isn't letting you come back?"
"Stop!" she shouted, frustrated by his refusal to understand. "This is my decision and I do not want to work here anymore. Director Vance agreed to assign me to a team in Europe once the formalities have been completed."
She eyed him carefully. "What makes you think any of this is subject to your input?"
"Why'd you come here if you didn't want to see me?"
"I did not want to see anyone."
"You didn't have to come to NCIS at all. Why aren't you back with Moussad, shooting anyone who looks at you cross-eyed?"
"I do not have to explain myself to you."
"No, but it would be nice. You could give me that much."
"I'm leaving." She spun away, yanking her car door open and drawing an alarmed look from McGee, who was still trying to get over to say hello.
Tony leaned into her space once she was seated, preventing her from slamming the door. "Y'know, I didn't know how I was gonna feel when I finally saw you again. Sometimes I thought I'd be mad, and I still kind of am, but mostly I just looked forward to seeing you. I missed you every day."
She fought to maintain her air of stoicism. "Am I supposed to feel bad?"
"You're not supposed to feel one way or another. I don't think it's asking too much for you to give me a little honesty, though. Why don't you want to be here? Is it me?"
"You're not getting away that easy." She heard a funny clicking sound as the keyring he tried to snatch caught on her ring finger. "You can't just leave. We're gonna have a conversation about why you haven't called or written. And I don't just mean me, I mean Abby and Ducky and the people you can't possibly have any misguided reason to be angry at."
"You have no idea…"
"Yeah, and is it any wonder? I'm not a friggin' psychic, Ziva. Sure, I'm smart enough to tell that you've had a rough couple of months, but that doesn't tell me why you don't want to work together anymore."
"This is not just about you."
"Right, because you've never been able to stand Palmer and this is just an elaborate excuse to flounce away while snubbing him."
She turned to face him in spite of her better instincts. "Flounce?"
"Or the Moussad equivalent."
"I am no longer Moussad."
She ignored the insult she was sure was hidden in the word. "Let me leave."
"What if I say no? Will you get out of the car and break my arm?"
Had she been uninjured, she would not have let that go. As it was, it had been a long day for it not even being noon and she lacked the energy or will to give him anything more vicious than a dirty look. "Tony…move."
A note of pleading crept into her voice. "Tony…"
Ziva opened her eyes, allowing the phone to continue ringing unheeded. The dream was fading fast, but she had the definite feeling that it had ended prematurely. Damn wake-up call. She reached across the plush white pillows and lifted the phone from its cradle before quickly dropping it. The silence was worse than the ringing it replaced.
She sighed as she sat up slowly. If she hurried, she could make it downstairs for the hotel's complementary breakfast. She took her time. Her first trip back to Washington in almost a year required DC Blend, not anonymous hotel brew.
The clothes she found in her closet gave her a sense of déjà vu, though she couldn't be sure if it was related to her dream or if she had dreamed about herself wearing these clothes because she'd hung them up the previous night before allowing her painkillers to induce sleep. She held the limp garments up on their hangers for a moment before dropping them on one of the chairs in the room, undoing whatever de-wrinkling she'd accomplished by removing them from her small suitcase in the first place.
A glance at the bedside clock after a reflexive look toward her absent watch told her that her meeting with Director Vance was still hours away. Swallowing more than the recommended dose of ibuprofen with a glass of water, she collapsed back into bed. A brief nap held the possibility of dreaming all the way through the encounter before she had to do it for real, though she wasn't sure why she was convinced this dream would be the one that finally let her see what was going to happen.