Disclaimer: Hiding my face so the world will never find me.
Spoilers: Through Reunion.
Summary: Ducky employs his mad psychological skills to psychologize Ziva with psychology. Or maybe just chat because he's sweet like that.
Ziva sat slowly and removed her new boots. It was hard to tell if her feet were sore because the boots had yet to be broken in or because she had grown unused to wearing shoes in general. Or perhaps she was simply unused to walking; her cell hadn't been conducive to pacing even on the few occasions she would have felt inclined to try it and her captors had mostly dragged her when they wanted her to move.
She reached for her boots and pulled them back on. They weren't so tight, really, and it wasn't as if she was that concerned about dirtying the bedspread.
She turned on the TV that received four fuzzy stations, five if the weather was clear. Nothing was on, but the background noise was less disconcerting when she knew its source. Every voice heard through the walls or footsteps in the hall could be attributed to the artificial soundtrack. It was comforting, in its way. Footsteps on television never stopped in front of her door and threw it open in order to drag her out.
She turned up the volume slightly. The local news always provided reasons along with dramatic electronic strings when gunshots sounded.
She made a quick assessment of her reading materials: three out of date magazines, four novels from the Borders she'd walked to a week ago and had to take a cab back from, one Bible courtesy of the Gideons, whoever they were, a pile of take-out menus for local restaurants. She would probably be placing an order with one of them in the next hour because in the evening you had to have dinner, even if you only had a few bites before dropping the heavy Styrofoam container into the garbage.
She pushed the menus away and opened Brave New World, removing her placeholder. The pamphlet the psychiatrist had given her had proved an invaluable resource far beyond a page marker. It had been generated for the families of servicemen who were returning from overseas and provided a helpful list of all the signs and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, among other things. Did all doctors hand out literature that told their patients how to act if they wanted to trick people into thinking they were perfectly normal? Maybe you only needed help when you didn't care enough anymore to the point that you stopped pretending to be the opposite of all the bullet points, assuming any of the things in the pamphlet were affecting her.
She'd been careful not to use the word 'fine' too often, though she still felt she had probably overdone it.
After an initial jump, she decided that the knocking best attributed to the television. Her door held some strange attraction for the sailors staying up and down the hallway who apparently didn't have friends they could invite to bars and pizza places and coffee shops. The one knocking right now was certainly persistent; it was possible he would require a demonstration of the threats that had been sufficient to strip the others of interest. Instead, she opened the door.
"Hello, my dear."
"Ducky. I was not expecting you."
"Am I interrupting something?"
"Not at all. I just meant that I would have," she reached for the jacket she'd tossed onto the lone chair earlier, "cleaned up a bit if I had known you were coming."
He closed the door as he stepped inside. "Yes, well, I'm sure I can endure the fact that your bag is not precisely aligned at a ninety degree angle to the wall. Other than that, I believe the fault lies with the proprietors of the establishment." He frowned as he seemed to take in the entirety of the spare, dingy room. "My offer still stands if you've elected to drop the ridiculous premise that it would be an imposition."
"Ducky…" She sighed as he set a small bag on the table. "Please, have a seat."
"Just as soon as I pour the tea. I'm afraid I had to boil the water and steep it ahead of time. I brought it in a thermos, but I'm hopeful that won't lead to any ill effects." She sank onto the edge of the bed, watching him as he bustled around the table, making the tea. "I picked up a coffee bread as well at the new bakery downtown. I'm not sure that you've been, yet, but they have some delicious pastries and…milk or no?"
"Your tea, Ziva."
"Oh. Milk. Thank you." He handed her a china cup in a saucer. "You really did not have to do this."
"Of course not. If it were a requirement, you would not be trying so hard to be appreciative."
"I am not…"
"Don't misunderstand. I know it must take a lot for you to make the effort and I am grateful that you feel that I deserve that, but I would prefer for you to be honest. If you would rather be sullen and drink your tea in silence while you wait for me to depart, do that, by all means."
"Have some coffee bread. It has a slight almond flavor that I find goes very well with this tea."
She accepted the piece of bread on a napkin and wondered if a comment on the lack of plates would be appropriate. In the end, she remained silent, juggling her teacup as she tried not to spread crumbs everywhere. The room really didn't need the help.
"I recall my first flat looking a bit like this. You see, in my third year at…"
Ziva found it hard to treat the story as background noise, though she didn't give it her full attention, either. She nodded when the inflections in his voice seemed to call for a response, adding an occasional grunt. The tea had ceased steaming, leaving her an opaque pool of light brown water to contemplate. She had been given water this color in a small tin cup around noon every day without fail. It had tasted of dirt and she had been forced to gulp it down quickly so the cup could be ripped from her hands and dropped in the passageway outside her cell for her to watch until one of the men picked it up the following day and filled it from the clay pitcher. Sometimes it came with a small amount of food, but often it was just the water. She raised the cup to her lips, swallowing the lukewarm liquid with relish, knowing that it would be hours before she got more, unless they dragged her out for more questioning. Sometimes she was offered a sip of water in exchange for an answer. She hadn't yet accepted, but perhaps today would be the day that a few extra ounces would be irresistible and she would feel sick if she took it, but her mouth was so dry and an answer wasn't really so much to ask in exchange for…
She took a deep breath and focused on Ducky's voice. "…but Ripley and Newt are trapped in the infirmary with the xenomorph in the larval stage I believe is known as the facehugger, and…"
He looked at her over the rims of his glasses. "Now, I know you haven't been listening to me for quite some time, but you could at least do me the courtesy of calling me Ducky. The lack of attention I can forgive easily, but the lack of familiarity, well…what were you thinking about just now?"
"Nothing." She pulled the cup back into her body when he reached for it.
"I wouldn't try to compel you to talk about anything," he said, leaning back in his chair, "but I am here, should you feel like…you really should try the coffee bread. It's quite good."
She obediently raised a small piece to her mouth and chewed slowly. Even though it was good, she didn't take another bite. "Did you come just for afternoon tea?"
"A bit late for that, I think." He checked his watch. "Oh, my. It's getting to be suppertime. Really, this was more of an aperitif, albeit a non-alcoholic one, but… Could I interest you in dinner, perhaps? I would hate to think of all the leftovers from the pot roast I put in the slow cooker this morning if I should have to eat the entire thing on my own."
"Thank you for the offer, but I am fine." She winced inwardly at the word.
"Hm. I thought I had made my own selfish motivations in inviting you to dinner perfectly apparent, but perhaps I should make myself clearer. I am just as concerned about you now as I was when you disappeared, if for different reasons."
She met his eyes. "May I have another cup of tea?"
As he stirred milk into the tea, she said, "I am completing the mandatory counseling."
"And are you being as honest there as you are with everyone else?"
"I…" She trailed off as she accepted her second cup of tea. It was darker this time. As she watched the surface, something dropped into it, producing momentary ripples. She waited for whatever had caused the disturbance to float to the surface, but nothing did.
Ducky was suddenly sitting beside her. "You are not alone. Nor do you deserve to be. If you want to stay here, no one will send you away even if you stop pretending that everything is all right."
She set her untouched cup of tea on the table and walked into the bathroom without a word. The mirror provided a less discouraging image with the lights off. She had been confused by the first mirror she'd confronted after her rescue, wondering why it didn't show her actual reflection. 'Ziva, but dirtier' didn't meet her expectations. She touched the scar over her ear, the only one she'd been able to find. Turning on the light, she pushed her hair out of the way, but it was impossible to see the mark. One totally hidden scar for three months of…imprisonment. Not so bad, really. In fact, it was no excuse to be pretending things were fine. There was no reason for things not to be fine. Fine.
When she emerged from the bathroom, Ducky was holding not only his bag but hers as well. "I took the liberty of packing your books. You don't have to tell anyone you've changed your address to the Hotel Mallard."
She nodded slowly. "I have a meeting with a realtor this weekend."
"There's no rush. I'm sure the dogs will be thrilled to have company as long as you stay. Oh! We really should be going! I closed off the kitchen as best I could, but the smell of beef is likely driving them mad by now."
"I like your dogs." She was being honest about that.