Post-Aliyah. Again. It's just that, until the premiere airs (and the beautiful, wonderful Autumn Gray messages me with EXACTLY what happens) I'm kinda obsessed. Didn't do any homework today, but screw that. I'm really proud of this piece, partly because it's so long but also because...well, I think it's kinda good :) Hope you agree.
Disclaimer: Even if I DID own NCIS, I would never allow this to happen, so chill.
It was decided long, long ago. Tony was never going to live forever. But, he reasoned, as he stepped from the flight into the blinding sun of a foreign land, here was as good a place as any. He was happy for it to be here if it could be with her.
When he received the call, there was no sudden realisation, no sinking dread in the pit of his stomach. There was a quiet, resplendent resignation. A gentle reprimand. It was always going to happen like this. He knew it.
He did not want to leave without seeing them all once more, but there simply wasn't the time. It seemed surreal to him, a twenty-four hour window of opportunity, make it in time, you walk into death, leave it, you live. He had never been so desperate to willingly end. Not if it meant being with her.
He made several calls. First, to his father. Answer phone, as he hoped. And into this electronic void, he poured everything he had ever wanted to say to him. It wasn't much. The press of a button and his father was gone from him, forever. It did not hurt as he always thought it would.
Next, a lover from long, long ago. No answer phone here, but perhaps this was better. He could spill his words into her ear and be sure that whatever she said, it would not be please don't do it, please, oh God, Tony. There would be silence as she reflected on what he said, and then a cold and sincere acceptance. She did not care. She might think of him, but it was rarely. As she was about to hang up, he blurted, like a love-struck young boy, an apology, and a message of goodwill. Jeanne, I'm so sorry. You deserve so much better, and you'll get it. And she laughs, once, short, and tells him she's married and expecting.
He hangs up the phone and does not pack a bag.
Next. Abby. Her voicemail makes him smile and remember, and he pours forth everything he never said, and some things he did. Words like sister and friend and the best darn forensic scientist in the west. He knows that when she gets the message, she will scream and collapse and cry with waxy cheeks and dead eyes for a very long time. She will never delete it.
McGee. He starts with a smirked Yo, Probie baby but the weight of his decisions cracks through his tone and suddenly he can't keep up the pretence anymore. I really loved you, kiddo, and I don't mean in a homoerotic way. He chuckles, and the reflexive humour begins. Hell, what am I talking about? I think we both know I've always found you incredibly sexually attractive. He is shocked when a tear drips onto his hand. Brings it to his mouth and tastes it, a childish habit that never fails to remind him of his mother's funeral. But I did, McGee. I did love you. Still do. I'm not dead yet, after all. But, Tim, after all this shit blows over, you gotta go back to NCIS. You can't quit, OK? Because Probie, no kidding, but you're turning into the best agent I've ever met. Maybe it was a lie, but it was something the kid could hold onto when it felt like he was drowning. Maybe it was a lie, but sometimes lies are necessary. He knew that better than anyone. There was one last thing. It had to be said quickly, and the phone had to be put down afterwards. McGee, I know you love her, but it won't ever work if you don't tell her. Just try it, for me. And if she laughs you out the door, she doesn't know a good thing when it's staring her in the face.
One more call, and one he never wanted to have to make. He wasn't even sure if Gibbs knew how to check his answer phone, or whether or not he simply wiped all messages without listening. But he had to try. He opened his wardrobe whilst dialling, and crawled in. Amongst the familiar scent of his clothes, the dark, fragrant wood, and a scarf Ziva had once worn in her hair – the perfume of her skin long gone, and never coming back – he spoke. A rough, young, broken thing. A hopeless thing. Gibbs? It's me. It's...Tony. Don't delete this, not yet. Just hear me out.
Tony did not often covet his privacy. But this was a conversation that was solely for the grey haired, blue eyed man with the old heart and the heavy soul. There were tears, and accusations, anger, joy, fear. A profound sense of love and loss. Pressing the button to end that call took courage, and time. The metallic beep fractured the dark, splintered him to destruction.
He was ready.
One more call. Abby answered, to his surprise, but perhaps it was best. She would show him love which Gibbs would disregard.
"Aww, Tony! You're ill? That sucks! Gibbs'll be mad, and he might not bring me Caff-Pow!"
"Sorry Abbs. I'll be in tomorrow. But you can have the honour of the daily McGee humiliation, free of charge. How's that?"
"I like McGee far too much to be so cruel. The only people who ever found it funny were you and Kate. And Gibbs, a little bit. And-"
Silence is awkward when there are things to say and no one who can possibly say them. But Tony is ending this, and so he chuckles and speaks.
'Yeah, Abby, and Ziva. And Jenny, even. And Ducky, maybe. Palmer, just a little bit. So, basically, everyone but yourself."
She blows a raspberry and tells him to get well soon.
"Yeah, will do. Give everyone my love, even your precious McRomeo."
"You know it's true."
What a way to end the world.
Stepping from his apartment, everything seemed so very important. The last time I'll see that room, my home. This building. The street. My car. My country. There was no sense of patriotism then, no love for the Star - Spangled Banner. There was only him, and her, and forever.
When the wheels left the tarmac, he said a little prayer to a God he did not believe in. The Hebrew words sounded clunky on his tongue, but he'd been practising and would pass muster. A girl with intensely serious eyes and a head of dark curls, sat next to him, smiled and asked if he was Jewish. Why not? He thought, so nodded and grinned. Her face seemed to light up. He wondered idly whether, in that little metal bird, those hours spent in conversation, she imagined kissing him, marrying him, making love to him. She told him she was returning to DC in a week. He feigned astonishment. Snap. Which plane? Snap! It was almost cruel, how he played a game so familiar to him he felt his old life in his bones. As they parted ways, out on the tarmac of Somalia, he turned to her and smiled like a father. "You're incredibly beautiful, Maia, you know that? Have a good week." As she glowed and turned from him, he whispered have a good life under his breath, and walked away.
The car is not hard to find. They almost run him over, laugh and offer him a cigarette. He refuses.
"Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, where is your luggage?"
"I didn't bring any." Silence, and then a faked remorse.
"Oh. You understand, I see? Pity she didn't. Then, if I may ask, why did you come?"
He has no answer but the one locked inside his every cell, and they do not deserve it. So he stares out the window at dust and grey and the spinning world.
He walks into a bunker, and says goodbye to the sun and the sky and the air that swims around him. Clinging, imploring. The stale grease that he now breathes rolls a wave of nausea up his stomach and into his throat. He can smell men, sweat, food, coffee, cigarettes, piss, shit. Blood. Some of it rusty and old, some coppery hot.
He can smell her, even now. Even when there can be no inch of skin left free of bruise and grime and utter resignation. Smell the fruity tang of her hair – pomegranate, always – and the scent of her skin, spicy and so fragrant it use to make the muscles of his stomach contract till they ached. Flora Nerolia. He saw it on her dresser, once, sprayed a little onto a tissue and took it home with him. All trace of her had long since disappeared. Isn't that always the way?
Walk along the hall, boy, until you reach the door, boy, and inside you will find, boy, the only one you want, boy.
She sees him, and he is home.
Reunion, as bittersweet as her tears and his relief. They are locked in together, and fall towards each other, and he screams somewhere within him as he feels the broken ribs, swollen lips, cigarette burns, snapped fingers, bruises, slices, punches, kicks. Some sick hand had carved so many stars of David across her body. Cheek, neck, collarbone. The top of her breast, the curve of her waist, the inside of her ankle. She flinches as he lifts the filthy cotton from the skin of her back and find it littered with symbols. He feels the bile in his mouth as he recognises one in particular. He can only find one, towards the bottom of her spine, to the left. The hard right-angles and infamous reputation. The marching. The saluting. All the death.
The Star of David and the swastika sit side by side, and she does not know. And he will not tell her.
There is one window, high up and barred. There is one door, solid and angry. There is a floor, littered with cigarette butts, boot prints and dark smears. There is a ceiling with cobwebs in the corners. There is an overwhelming scent of piss.
After the initial elation, she is shy and embarrassed as he observes what she is now, and remembers what she once was. It is not so difficult to see oneself ruined; but to view the change in the eyes of others is intolerable, particularly for the proud and lonely. He treats her like she is made of china. All she wants is to cling to him, and be clung to in return.
They know what will happen. She realises it, slowly, when he tells her he brought no belongings, and Gibbs is not on the way. By the time the team notice something amiss – tomorrow morning, or this evening, perhaps, if one of them calls his home – they will be far too gone for saving. She takes what peace she can from this.
He explains to her, carefully, why she should not scream and yell with rage and frustration and a deep sense of guilt. This was his own choice. He knew what he was walking into. He even chides her – gently, with a sad smile – about believing him to be so gullible.
She tells him they come every day around sunrise.
He looks through the bars and sees the golden disk descend across the endless horizon.
The last hours begin.
At first, emotions run high. There are tears, unspoken angers and – still – that deep sense of betrayal. He gazes across her body and wishes he were blind. Anything but this. Anything but seeing what they did to her. What he drove her to. She is in the middle of a rant – about escape, about flying pigs – when he blurts out the question.
"Did they touch you?"
And she knows what he means, as thought the bruises and broken bones count for nothing. She will not meet his eyes as she nods, just the once. Tears drop to the dust on the floor and are swallowed up by the greedy earth. He does not want to move towards her anymore, aware that skin on skin will simply remind her. But – with the awkward grace of a child – she plucks at his sleeve, and terrified dark eyes meet green ones filled with rage. A whimper escapes her lips, and sobbing now, and she clings to him like a little girl. All he can do is wrap his body around her as much as he can, a breathing cocoon, protect her skin and bones by forsaking his own, rock her, murmur sounds, shhh until the weeping stops and she is empty and silent.
The moon appears, and lulls them.
There are no words to dismiss anything that happened, so she explains it all, and does not stop, does not miss a single beat, even when Tony hisses and cries and, finally, roars in pure, impotent rage. He slams a fist into the wall. The wall wins, and blood drips.
Both of them are drained, and both of them are – in an odd sense of the word – peaceful. She kisses his hand better, each knuckle until he chuckles and the pain is forgotten. And then comes the enormous task of kissing her.
He starts at her feet, even when she makes a derogatory sound and tries to push him away. He continues, the inside of her ankle, the numerous bruises, the vivid gash across the back of her left calf. The warm, soft skin of the back of her knee still carries her scent. Overwhelming. The jasmine, and then, underneath-
"Why does the back of your knee smell like coffee, Ziva?"
"Let's just say I have very...unique sexual fantasies, Tony." And the dirty, throaty chuckle is back, and he continues.
When he reaches a purple bruise on the inside of her thigh, she pushes his face away and shakes her head slightly. The intimacy he has reached shocks him. Their eyes meet, lock and do not waver. So much is said in that silent, aching room.
The kisses are back, more wary and gentle than before. The jut of a hip, skin stretched too taut for comfort. The bleeding softness of her waist. Each rib, and the bruises. He moves away from the star above her breast, but her voice, higher than usual, tells him he missed a spot, and so hot lips press quickly against skin he dreamed of so very often. Coffee, again.
Collarbone. Throat. Jaw. Cheek. Each eyelid, with its flicking pulse. Forehead. The little crease between her eyebrows. The end of her nose. Her bottom lip, full and red.
She kisses him back, and they kiss for a while, and then they stop.
They lie there, in the little patch of moonlight, and wait for the end. It is sleepy and peaceful and lazy. Happy, almost. If they close their eyes they can pretend to be lying with each other in a bed, on a morning, with coffee and orange juice and sunshine like cream spilling over a windowsill. They do not have to be lying in dust and blood.
His arm is around her shoulders, and she curls, without realising, towards his chest. He strokes her filthy curls, sometimes, and sometimes she nudges his waist where she knows it tickles. And they speak of home.
He tells her about Gibbs, how angry and silent he is these days, and how Abby is mournful and withdrawn, and McGee has developed a nervous tick and no longer responds to teasing. How Ducky does not see the good in everything anymore, and how even Palmer seems less jumpy. Dulled and deadened. She does not cry for them, but he feels the guilt in her bones and so draws her closer.
She tells him about her father, about the argument, about how he refused to speak to her for a week after they flew back, how there was no parting kiss, simply a note left on her pillow, with a gun. How she knew, somewhere, that she was not going to return.
"Why did you agree to it, then?"
"Because it made sense. I was not wanted there, and I could not go back to NCIS. I was good at killing. I would not be missed. I could do my job and whatever happens, would...happen." The measured, neutral tone of her voice made Tony ache with fury. A father brings a daughter up to see the logic in her own murder.
"Ziva, did you want to die?"
"Of course I did not want to die, Tony. But it was an order. And you obey them. That's why they're called-"
But he will not let her finish the sentence. It was finished, once, long ago, and once is quite enough.
The tears turn to laughter as they remember. Practical jokes, driving skills, notches in the bedpost. Undercover, stakeouts, attacking and being attacked. Locked in a box.
"I tell you, Tony, when we were in there together I was certain that I was going to kill you."
"Oh really? From where I was standing it looked like you were hoping to sleep with me."
"And where exactly were you standing, Tony? On your head?"
"Well, actually, no. I was lying, underneath you, as you 'protected' me from a ricocheting bullet you should have known better than to fire."
"Hey! You saying you would have preferred to be standing?"
"No, I'm saying I would have preferred you to be naked."
She smirks, and he can feel it in the darkness. Turns his face to hers and watches her gaze up at him, her skin blue, her eyes black. The cuts are much starker in the moonlight. They litter her face and leave her beautiful. Animal, savage, incredibly dangerous.
"You know something, Ziva?"
"What, Tony?" She yawned, shifts closer to him on the cold concrete floor. He looks at the square of light as he speaks.
"I'm certain I'm in love with you."
There is a long silence, and then two simple words.
They are complete.
Daylight comes, and so do men. Men with knives and cigarette and heavy boots. Men with whips and guns and men with cold eyes and hard tongues.
The two bodies curled up against the wall are moving and breathing, but their eyes are absent. Elsewhere. Together.
And the pain the knives and cigarettes and heavy boots and whips and guns and eyes and tongues inflict does nothing. Blood pours, bones crack, skin bruises over and over.
They are far from here, and they feel not a thing.
When it ends, and the bodies crumple, perhaps they meet again, someplace, the same as they are or very different. When Gibbs calls his senior agent and there is no reply all evening, perhaps one stumbles across the other having phone sex, or they splinter in a bed, together, breathing and loving. When the bodies are recovered, empty, broken husks, perhaps they watch down with solemn eyes and the sadness is broken with a witty comment or a gentle embrace. When a girl with black lips cries black tears down a white face and cannot be moved from a corner of the floor for three days, perhaps they sit with her and stroke her hair and soothe until all that is left is a newborn mess. When their world recovers, and moves on without them, perhaps they spare a thought to that spinning globe.
Perhaps, instead, they walk away with their arms around each other and their hearts fresh and beating on their sleeves.
OK. What do you think? Alternative Tiva ending. Longest thing I've EVER posted in one sitting. Very proud of myself. Dinner's almost ready, so this will be quick. Just...um, read, and, if you have time, review. I guess a lot of people will be very, very unhappy at the ending, but I felt it had to be done. Sorry...