Rating: M for torture
Spoilers: Season six's story arc, and season seven's first episode, Truth or Consequences.
Warnings: Torture, a passing, non-specific reference to rape, suicidal mindset.
Summary: Captured, beaten, tortured, and now ready to die. Ziva David keeps her silence and accepts her fate…
Author's Note: I'd been meaning to write this since season six finished, but other things kept coming up first. But since seeing Truth or Consequences... Cote's performance really blew me away, and I figured out where I was going with it all... It's a lot darker than anything else I've written, with things I'd usually consider squicks, but since it's an episode tag it seemed to fit somehow.
Everything, by now, is blurry – each second, each hour, each day hazes into the next. Clarity only descends when her captors visit; when her body is aflame with pain and her ears ring with the demands that she betray every detail of her secondment with NCIS.
Time moves too slowly, then: she reads Salim's lips as he asks question after question of her, sees his face twist into rage each time she defies him. His fist, aimed at her cheekbone, moves toward her in slow motion, and she sees the tiny scars on his knuckles before the blow hits. Pain sears through her skin, radiating from the impact point outward, while the bone jars against the rest of her skull, disorienting her and snapping her head back.
She can attest to the sharpness of his hunting knife – each cut opens gradually in her slow motion world, a sting followed by a throbbing burn; a tiny mouth in her vulnerable skin, salivating blood.
His boots have steel toe-caps, and when they drive into her chest, her stomach, her groin, thighs, back and buttocks, they leave bruises that blossom within minutes. Her body is mottled with blue, purple, green and yellow; abstract artwork painted on a canvas of tenderised flesh.
Oddly, he does not threaten her with rape. She had almost resigned herself to it, and yet the moment never comes. Maybe he is homosexual, or perhaps he just considers such techniques beneath him. She is not curious or stupid enough to ask why he would neglect a path that might make her talk, and thanks God for it every time she prays. They take away her Star of David necklace. She prays nonetheless.
When she tries to sleep, the guards wake her, dragging her upright by the roots of her hair or aiming kicks at her abdomen that startle her conscious at a disoriented, retching crawl. Without sleep, time slows even further in her perception, and daylight distorts itself as it slants through the bars of her squalid cell, becoming brighter, yet fuzzy around the edges.
The only way she has to measure out time is to count the drips from a leaking faucet somewhere nearby. When she is unable to move or breathe without pain, she lies still for hours, listening and counting along until she can bring herself to sit upright and take stock of her latest injuries. At times it is a comfort. At others, she curls with her hands over her ears, screaming for the repetitive noise to cease.
Mostly, though, she curls around herself in the corner of the cell, staring sightlessly into space, trying to recall happier times – however bitter they might make her.
Every few days they deny her water, then stand smirking in the doorway with flasks of liquid and take long swallows to taunt her. She shuts them out of her mind as much as she is able, running her tongue across her parched, dusty lips and hoping that nightfall will bring cooler air to lessen the water she loses through sweating.
The bread they feed her is stale and covered in a fine coating of mould, but she knows that to refuse it would be suicide. She chokes it down and wills away nausea as her stomach rebels, and learns to ignore the gnawing emptiness of hunger.
She hallucinates at times. Lying atop the thin pad they have provided for her to sleep on, she feels someone sit beside her, and a hand moves gently over her matted hair. "You know, when I told you to take care of yourself I didn't mean it as a euphemism."
She gives a humourless smile that cracks open her bottom lip, not bothering to open her swollen eyes. "I am not ready to die, Gibbs."
He sighs, lets his touch trail off into nothing. "You will be, soon."
When she opens her eyes, there is no one there. Her sobs are tearless; her body cannot afford to shed the moisture.
Gibbs is right. Gibbs is always right, she reminds herself, stumbling down the passageway to the interrogation room, dragged by a guard she cannot see through the hood placed over her head. Even when he is imaginary.
She is manhandled into the uncomfortable, hard-backed wooden chair for the hundredth time, and she doesn't bother to test her bonds. There is no escape. She has tried a million times, and now she has let all hope of survival slip from her, leaving her with stark reality.
Salim removes the hood that blinds her, then crouches in her line of sight, looking into her face. No doubt recognising the blank despair of a captive who has lost all fear of pain and death, he sighs. "We have broken you."
Broken. Yes. That is what I have become. Her Mossad training had included ways to withstand interrogation, and she has put them all to use over the past few weeks. Or perhaps it has only been days; it is impossible for her to determine.
She has used the skills her father and his organisation taught her, and for the first few days they served her well. But not even the toughest officer could withstand this treatment for so long, and her spirit has eroded to a sliver. She has kept her silence up until now, and she intends to do so until Salim grows frustrated enough to kill her.
"Physical discomfort will give you no motivation to speak," he continues, turning to the table beside him and rummaging within the small khaki bag resting upon it. He withdraws a container, and opens it to reveal a syringe and a vial of liquid.
Sodium pentothal. Her mind speaks the chemical name before Salim utters it, and she closes her eyes, doubt colliding with the numbness in her mind. She does not want to share her knowledge of NCIS, but her mouth might betray her nevertheless. The drug is less reliable than common perception believes it to be, and logically she knows that, but if her instinctive fear overcomes what her mind knows to be true, she will be compelled to speak honestly.
"Kill me," she whispers hoarsely, and he turns his attention from the syringe to her face with a surprised stare. "Just kill me."
Salim heaves a theatrical sigh and shakes his head, approaching to stand at her side with the hypodermic needle poised ready to pierce her skin. "You surprise me, Ziva."
The injection is given without medical finesse, and she grits her teeth as the needle slides into her arm. The pain is nothing compared to what she has endured, but she fears it will spell the undoing of all her efforts to protect NCIS.
Salim steps back, discards the empty syringe and pulls up his chair, taking a swig of the oddly familiar-smelling liquid within his flask. She cannot place it, but it is not important. She is already lightheaded from a lack of sleep, water and nutrition, but her consciousness seems to become lighter still, her perception slightly confused.
For a few minutes, he only watches her, seeming fascinated by her response. When he finally speaks, it is casually. "Do you really want to die?"
She knows she should keep silent, but the answer is too easy. "Yes, I do."
"Because I know there is no way out. And because I do not wish to betray the information you seek."
Salim nods. "You will give that information to me now, whether you wish it or not."
She doesn't reply, and he laughs softly. "Why do you remain so determined to protect this American agency? What is there, that inspires such loyalty?"
The answer flashes through her mind without hesitation, and her lips are moving before she can stop them. "A man."
"Ahh." Salim leans forward, his eyes intent on her face. "Tell me his name."
"Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs." His face is prominent in her memory; his voice and body language imprinted there forever.
"What is he to you? A superior? A lover?"
More. "My immediate superior. He is one of the few people I trust without reservation, and who trusts me in return." She has never voiced the words before, and her eyes burn with tears she can hardly afford to shed.
"All this to protect your boss?" Salim seems sceptical.
"To protect my team. Gibbs. McGee. Abby. Ducky. Palmer." Her voice falters over the final name, and she switches to his surname to try to block out memories of his recent actions. "DiNozzo."
"You form strong working relationships." Still, he seems doubtful that the drug is working. He does not seem to comprehend the way she feels.
"They are family," she whispers, and hates herself for laying her soul open like this.
"Tell me about this superior of yours, this Gibbs. Why do you trust him so?"
Her fingernails dig into her palms, but she cannot stop herself. "He is a truly decent man. If you walk within his circle, he will lay down his life to defend you, whatever the danger or the charges against you. I was fortunate enough to be admitted into that circle."
"And yet you do not expect rescue from him now," Salim prods.
"Our parting was under strained circumstances. I had the choice to stay with NCIS, and work with a man I do not trust, or to remain in Israel and return to my Mossad duties. He does not know I am here, and because that is so, I cannot expect him to save me."
Voicing the words wounds her, increases the hopelessness that has crept up on her despite her best efforts. She stares at the dusty cement beneath her feet and prays to be thrown back into her cell, fighting dizziness.
"This man you do not trust. Who is he?"
"Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo." His cocky grin flashes into her mind as though she last saw him only an hour ago, but where once she felt warmth, anger surfaces. "My partner. A one-time friend, closer than most."
"What did he do to you?"
She bites her lip until it bleeds, resisting the drug. Salim asks again. She tells him in a monotone, substituting her rage with a protective numbness. Then she passes out.
Over the days that follow, she is given better treatment; food that is bland but more palatable than the stale bread, water colder and clearer than she has had in weeks, a few hours of sleep without interruption. It is meant as an incentive for her to talk some more, for her to regain her reason to live, but she is not naïve enough to think her future has changed. When they have the information they want, she will be killed and tossed out into the desert sands, denied a proper burial.
Salim plies her with sodium pentothal each day, and she figures out a way to tell the truth only from a subjective perspective. He demands that she tell him of NCIS's leaders; she informs him that the director is Jennifer Shepard. He asks her about day to day procedure, and she quotes Gibbs' rules from memory, giving him none of the specific information he requires.
He loses his temper frequently, hits her once or twice, but she takes the blows with no reaction, and he knows that violence will do nothing but put her out of commission for a few days. Her body begins to heal, even if her spirit does not.
And then, on a day she is sure he will declare her a useless source of information and have her throat slit, something distracts him. She does not see him for two days, and when the black hood is pulled over her head again, and she is marched down to the interrogation room, she knows something is different.
The hood is taken away, and she stares, disoriented, into the face of Anthony DiNozzo. He, too, has come here to die, then. And behind her, McGee, who appears too injured to move.
She does not expect to feel so sad that they will share in her fate. She had forgotten how to feel anything beyond numbness, and her reaction now is more intense than she expects.
Despite everything that has happened, she wants to save Tony's life. Maybe that stems from her anxiety for McGee, who is separate from the way she feels about DiNozzo. Perhaps it is because she knows what losing either of them would do to Gibbs. Either way, the presence of her two former partners has given her a temporary reason for existing: her death will serve some purpose, at least.
They argue. She is amused by their optimism and stunned to realise that they had believed her already dead. They did not come here for me. They came here to avenge me. She cannot understand why they would do such a thing, after everything that has happened.
Tony tells her to get over herself. She smiles wearily, thinking of the last few weeks and her broken-down psyche. "I have."
They have a plan. It is ridiculous. She does not allow herself to believe – that way she does not indulge in false hopes.
Salim returns, holds a knife to her throat, and she almost feels triumphant as she advises him to kill her and leave the other two alive as bargaining chips. She has not given him the information he wants, and now she is to die a martyr to her own cause – not Mossad's or her father's, but her own. Loyalty to NCIS - to Gibbs – over her own life. Let justice prevail.
McGee lashes out in an attempt to save her – poor, patient, kind-hearted McGee, sentenced to die just as she is – and Tony baits Salim with knowledge, prolonging their existence for a few extra seconds. She, by contrast, is almost impatient for the end. She is ready, and yet the moment eludes her.
And then the shot rings out, and Salim falls dead.
Her mind goes blank, her resignation to her fate pulled up short by this new development. What happens now? McGee frees Tony, and they support her, one warm body on each side of her suddenly chilled frame, as they limp toward freedom.
A guard blocks their path, then falls, another gunshot cracking through the arid air. They turn the corner, and there he is.
For a moment, it almost feels to her weary brain that they are in the squad room – Tony and McGee to either side of her, Gibbs in front – and she is unaware of the small smile that creeps over her face as she stares at him.
"Let's go home," he says, and she wonders whether this is another hallucination, her mind playing tricks on her now that her blind certainty that she would die has dissolved. But McGee and Tony are grinning like idiots, and now Gibbs comes forward to lay a solid, reassuring hand on her shoulder… As he goes ahead to cover their escape, she closes her eyes and lets herself drift, content to allow her teammates to guide her along.
It seems as though her life will be returning to the way it was before Tony learned of Michael's existence. She does not know what that will mean, or whether she will be able to bring herself to work with Tony again, but the one thing she has always been sure of is where her loyalties lie.
And now she finds that NCIS's loyalties lie with her, as well.