Title: The Afternoon's for Second-Guessing

Warnings: More clich├ęs. Too-convenient housing.

Summary: Healing, hopefully.

Disclaimer: The words are mine, but most of the stuff behind them belongs to others. New episodes (so, tomorrow) are my personal post-by deadlines, otherwise I'd still be tinkering with this!

The Afternoon's for Second-Guessing

Ziva's new apartment is exorbitantly priced, but it comes mostly furnished, with necessities like a shower curtain and a double bed. Not too far from the metro, which is good, because the rental car doesn't accelerate nearly as fast as she likes, and driving to Navy Yard would just frustrate her every morning. Coming back on duty frustrated probably isn't the way to go.

Ziva puts her bag down on the little Ikea table in the kitchen and drops her key and a spare on the counter. It'll do, she thinks, no time to revel in claimed space. She has time for a quick but glorious shower and a change of clothes from her meager supply before she's out her new front door to meet the shrink.

The rattle and sway of the metro is pronounced in the emptied mid-afternoon, without a rush hour crush of people. Ziva watches her multi-hued reflection in the glass and ignores the stares of tourists who are wondering to themselves why she doesn't just leave a man who treats her like that. She touches her bruised cheek absently as the doors ding open and thinks about how the man who did this to her bled out from a hole through his head on a dusty floor in Somalia. Gibbs did that. Gibbs and Tony and McGee came to rescue her, so she owes it to them to give this a shot.

It is harder than she thought it would be.

Ziva is polite. Ziva is impatient. Ziva does not talk about her feelings.

Except with Tony or Gibbs, or Abby, or Ducky, a small internal voice says, so Ziva revises that to, does not talk about feelings to strangers.

Ziva does confess to having nightmares and tries to be neither disappointed nor relieved when the shrink says if they persist they can talk about sleep aids, but for now she should give it time.

Ziva's had a lot of time on her hands of late. She's more than a little sick of it.

She stops and sees Abby before she leaves. The team's out pursuing a lead, and the lab hums with tests just finishing up. She survives the obligatory celebratory assault to the senses, but she turns down Abby's invitation to dinner and girl-talk and coddling.

In the late afternoon she goes shopping, makes soup, freezes the leftovers, make up the double bed with new bland linens. The normalcy of it knocks her sideways once or twice, but she gets her footing back easily enough. She goes for a slow run around the neighborhood, checking out the places someone can put surveillance on her new apartment, and where she can get takeout when she doesn't feel like cooking.

Evening falls in slow motion, sunlight sliding down her new walls and lingering on the floor as if the day is equally reluctant to go to bed. Ziva sympathizes. She wants it to be morning, to skip these intervening hours. Her body is worn out from doing little, and she'll have to build her stamina up a lot more if she's coming back on duty, but her mind flips ceaselessly back and forth through things said at the breakfast table and things said in the psych office. Still, the hour's grown late, and she out of chores, so she showers, slowly and with great relish, applies Ducky's creams to her skin and scars, and changes into an old buckeye t-shirt with a coffee stain on one side.

Lying in bed, nightmares don't find her but sleep doesn't either. She ticks off more mundane activities she has to do (set up bank account, buy new knives) so she doesn't have to think about the real work ahead (prove oneself, confront father). If she were honest with herself she might admit that some things on her to do list are nightmares in themselves, but she's too preoccupied with trying to lose to the ceiling in a staring contest.

Three hundred blinks and still in the game, there's a knock at the door.

She rolls silently out of bed, checks through the bedroom blinds to make sure the vacant apartment across the street is still empty. In the hallway she puts an eye to the peephole in the dark so she doesn't have to worry about shadows giving her away. The precautions feel like an exercise in formality though, since she knows who's there long before she opens the door for him.

Tony balances a fragrant THANKYOUTHANKYOU bag in one hand, rental DVDs in the other.

"You weren't going to bed already, were you?" he asks, and then without waiting for an answer, "I brought food. You've got some great takeout places near here." She doesn't say anything but she smiles and pushes the door open wider so he can come in.

He sets down his burdens on her tiny Ikea table, not so subtly looking around to see what kind of place she's found.

"Did Gibbs tell you where to find me?" Ziva asks, poking cautiously at the bag.

"Abby," he corrects her. "She said you bailed on bonding time. I can't really blame you for that, I saw the confetti aftermath, and you know she hasn't got it all out of her system yet. But I was sure you'd be up for a quiet evening in."

He doesn't quite say it like a question but he still looks to her for confirmation.

Ziva pretends to consider it. "If I get to have your fortune cookies," she declares, and Tony breaks out in grins.

"You drive a hard bargain, David," he says, "But your continued education is worth the price."

"My education?" Ziva echoes, punctuating the query with the snap of a cookie yielding up its lotto numbers.

"Are you aware," the senior field agent asks her seriously, "of how many great summer releases you missed out on?"

She isn't. He's brought his laptop to watch them on, even though he laments the fact that the small screen won't do justice to J.J. Abram's vision.

It is easy and real. He shares his fried noodles and some of his chicken, and yes, she will definitely go there when she doesn't want to cook. She promises not to threaten the shrink with bodily injury. She doesn't give him her extra key, but saves it, for Gibbs or Abby. She does agree to consider blu-ray when she goes out to replace her TV though.

Mostly she doesn't ask him to stay and tell her that it's safe to sleep, and she doesn't take him up on it when he offers.

Before he leaves, he tugs her into a quick embrace, and she relents. They both allow themselves this chance to confirm the other's presence. He lightly touches her bruised cheek, and she thinks of how the man who did that tied him to a chair and beat him for having the audacity to come and rescue her. She thinks of how much she owes to him and Gibbs, to McGee and Abby, to too many people.

She owes it to all of them to give this a shot. This second chance to do good in the world, to fight evil, to love people.

Maybe she owes herself something as well. Not now, not yet. She's no longer homeless, and she doesn't drink the milk from her cereal bowl, but she knows there will be times when nightmares find her in the bland pre-furnished bed.

Not never, just not yet.

So they stand together in her new doorway, and each thinks of afternoons to come.

"Welcome home, Ziva," Tony whispers in her ear as he lets her go.

Ziva blinks against the brightness in her eyes, buoyant tears, like the kind that form from staring into bright sunshine, and thinks to herself how very glad she is to be back here.

((I went so back and forth on how schmoopy to make the ending, so hopefully it's not too fluffy. I'm really trying for the more restrained version of resolution that we'll probably get in the show, at least for now. Thanks so much for reading, and reviewing, and alerting, and everything!))