Any hope she'd had of being strong had been given up long ago. She wanted to beg, wanted to cry, anything to stop the inevitability of what was about to happen. It must be a nightmare. She never would have allowed herself to be captured alive like this, to be tied to this table, naked, bleeding, humiliated, and overwhelmed with degradation. No, she would have found a way to die long before it came to this. With terror filled eyes, she watched Saleem, waiting to see what he would offer her, what means he would give her for stopping this. Would it be the same impossible demand he had given her for the last three days as she had endured his beatings, cigarette burns, and drug injections?
"You know, you are surprisingly beautiful, for a filthy little Mossad whore. It is unfortunate that we meet under these circumstances. Did I tell you that I studied at Yale? I found America very…pleasurable. Did you enjoy being with your American friends at NCIS? I see you have become like them in many ways. Maybe you joined in their indulgences too, went to a spa perhaps, to have such a beautiful body as this? Have I told you how fascinating I find the human body? I am amazed by what can be done by adding or subtracting to it. So tell me, my beautiful whore, when I force myself inside of you, will I be adding or subtracting?"
"No…no…no," was the whimpered reply.
"No? You do not wish for this? Dream of it? You do not find me desirable at all? That is disappointing. Oh, well, then, you know what you must do to stop it. Tell me about NCIS. How many operatives do they have in the area? Where are they located?"
She knew what her answer had to be and what would happen next. "I do not know anything about NCIS. Please, I do not know what you are talking about."
"You are lying to me, little whore, and now you will face the consequences."
Ziva awoke with a start. She had gone almost two weeks without any nightmares but over the past few days, they had returned with a vengeance. She attributed the hiatus to the fact that she had been granted permanent U.S. residency and had no fear of being forced to return to Mossad or her father. Although she was not yet classified as an NCIS special agent as she wished, she was a civilian employee in a supporting role with the accompanying title and pay grade. To be an NCIS agent required U.S. citizenship and she hadn't yet met the five year residency requirement needed to obtain it. Vance had assured her that he would work through channels to get her citizenship request classified as a "special circumstances" case by demonstrating that her knowledge and prior contributions had been vital to national security. He hoped to get the residency requirement waived that way but it was moving slowly. In the meantime, she was assigned to Gibbs's team in a supporting role primarily doing research, interviewing witnesses, and helping Abby when she could. Her down time was spent assisting the intelligence unit by lending her interpretation skills and perspective on Middle Eastern culture to their terrorist chatter analysis.
She found the limitations frustrating and had driven everyone crazy with her indirect way of pouting and whining about the situation. She had finally confronted Gibbs one night in his basement and he had bluntly explained that her status didn't really matter. He wouldn't have let her back into the field yet anyway. He had prevented her from having any direct contact with suspects or crime scenes since she first returned and instead left her doing what investigation she could from her desk. It had made sense to her in the beginning. He wasn't sure if he could trust her yet and she wasn't fully healed physically from her time in the desert. Now, however, she was determined to convince him that she was perfectly capable of field work.
"How can I be sure of that Ziva? You don't talk about what happened to you. Not anymore than you were forced to."
"I do not see why that is relevant. It is in the past. I passed my psych evaluation," Ziva countered.
"That shrink said she thought you could return to full duty again at some point not that you should be returned to full duty right now. There's a difference between the two, Ziva. And you haven't been back to talk to her again, have you?"
"Talking to her is pointless, Gibbs. She has spent her whole life sitting behind a desk. She knows nothing. I do not see how talking to her could possibly change anything," Ziva explained.
"Okay, so she didn't win any credibility points with you. That's fine. Find someone else you can talk to. Talk to a different psychiatrist. Talk to me. Talk to Ducky. Hell, talk to Dinozzo if you think the fact that he was there would help. I don't care who you talk to as long as you stop trying to pretend it never happened." Her response had been to turn and march away in anger, missing the look of heartbroken concern he gave her.
As she lay trembling under her comforter, she realized Gibbs was right. Pretending that everything was in the past and didn't matter anymore wasn't working. What if she froze or had a flashback in the field and something happened to one of her teammates because of it? She would never be able to live with that. She was going to have to face the past if she ever wanted to feel like she was back to normal and that thought terrified her. She couldn't even begin to imagine who she could go to. Surprisingly, it was Tony who solved that problem for her. It was a Wednesday evening and she had turned down his dinner invitation for the third day in a row. Instead of leaving without her like he had the previous two nights, he just stood there staring at her.
"What?" she finally demanded.
"Something is bothering you. Want to talk about it?"
"No, I do not," she responded harshly but when he turned to go, she added more softly, "That is the problem, actually. Gibbs thinks I need to talk about the past before I will be ready for field duty and I do not think I can do it."
"Why not? You just have to go to that psychiatrist and tell her what she wants to hear. You can do that, right?" he encouraged. He would never tell her this but he was just as anxious to have her back in the field. In his mind, it would mean things were finally back to normal.
"You are missing the point, Tony. The psychiatrist might be fooled but Gibbs will not be. Besides, he is right. I have not dealt with what happened to me. I want to put it in the past and leave it there but I cannot. I-I'm having nightmares again and they keep getting worse." She had told him once that she dreamed about Somalia and he admitted that he did too although his dreams often involved things like Saleem bringing in her dead body or killing Tim or Ziva before Gibbs could shoot him. She hadn't shared with him what hers were about and, if he noticed her omission, he didn't say anything. He merely told her that she could call him any time of the night if she ever needed to but she had never taken him up on the offer.
"So talk to the psychiatrist for real then," Tony suggested.
"No. She does not understand. It is ridiculous. She just sits behind a desk all day. She has never carried a gun or faced a suspect much less witnessed a suicide bombing or been tied to a table while---," she stopped, suddenly realizing she was about to tell him so much more than she wanted him to know.
He remained quiet for a moment and then softly asked her, "You trust me, right, Ziva? Trust me to have your back?"
"You know that I do, Tony."
"Let me help then. Let me find a way to get you through this." He must have seen the hesitation in her face because he quickly added, "I don't mean talk to me because I don't think I can go there. Just let me help you find someone you can talk to, okay?" She felt a momentary flash of anger. He couldn't go there? What about her? She had to live it every day. But then she realized he was just trying to be honest. This was more than he was equipped to handle and it was probably healthier if he didn't attempt to be the one she talked to. She'd had enough dysfunctional relationships in her life already.
"Okay," she said, willing to at least let him try.
The next afternoon, he handed her a business card with name and number of a women's shelter and counseling center in Baltimore and the name "Fatima" handwritten on the back. "The woman who runs this place, her name is Fatima Mason. I worked a couple of cases with the sex crimes unit when I was with Baltimore P.D., that's how I know her. She's amazing. She married an American business man and moved to Washington about twenty years ago but she is originally from Columbia. When she was seventeen, she was kidnapped by rebels and held in the jungle for a year before the army rescued her. I've never seen her sit behind a desk. I made an appointment after work just so you can meet her. Just give her a chance, see what you think, okay?" She agreed to go, mostly because he looked so hopeful that she couldn't bear to disappoint him.
He'd been right about Fatima. She had a gentle, almost motherly air about her and she instantly put Ziva at ease. She didn't sit behind her desk, instead choosing the soft chair across from the couch where Ziva sat and propping her feet casually on the table that sat between them. She started their meeting by telling Ziva, "Relax, mija. We're not going to talk about you tonight. We're talking about me." True to her word, she'd told Ziva her whole story from start to finish. She said it wasn't something she normally did with clients but after Tony explained her situation she thought she needed to hear it. She also reassured Ziva that she didn't expect her to tell her everything in return at her next appointment. "We'll take our time. Get through one thing at a time. Go as slow as you want to. You are in control here, mija."
And they did. The first few times they met were spent talking about Ari and Eli and Michael and what their betrayals had done to her ability to trust. It was four weeks later before Ziva had finally found the courage to talk about Saleem. Once she did, the floodgate opened and Ziva thought she might never be able stop talking about it. Fatima helped her see that she was still blaming herself for what happened. She'd been carrying a mantel of shame, truly believing the things Saleem had done to her were her fault. That they were some sort of punishment for being disloyal to her team at NCIS. It was made worse by the fact that she never felt worthy of love and forgiveness in the first place because all her attempts to earn Eli's approval and love had failed. Ziva was surprised by how much freer she felt just from finally being able to share her ordeal with someone.
Ziva sat on the frame of Gibbs' newest boat watching him saw a piece of wood, not really sure how to begin what she wanted to say. Finally, she decided to go with her normal direct approach.
"I have been talking with someone," she informed him.
"I believe I will be ready to be back in the field once my citizenship is resolved," she boldly told him.
"Probably so," he agreed.
Hearing him agree, Ziva breathed a sigh of relief. "It will be good to have things back to normal, yes?" she said, not really expecting him to answer.
"Ya think so, huh? What's normal, Ziva?"
"Normal is normal. I do not understand what you are asking, Gibbs."
"What's normal, Ziva? Is it a year ago? Two years ago? What's your measuring stick for normal?"
"You are trying to tell me that normal will not be the same as it was before. Because I am not the same, yes?" she said with discouragement in her voice.
"Doesn't mean it won't be good. Just means it won't be what it was before."
"I think I will be satisfied with a new normal," she said with a slight grin before turning more serious. "The woman I have been talking with, she is a very colorful person. I think colorful is the right word, yes? The first time we talked she told me things would suck for a long time and then one day I would wake up and realize that today sucked a little less than the day before. I think I will be glad when normal is just a day that doesn't suck anymore."
"Try not to have to have to high of expectations there, Ziver," Gibbs said with an amused smirk.
Tony sat with Ducky at a corner table waiting for the server to bring back the medical examiner's credit card. They were the last two left after the celebration dinner with the team that had followed Ziva's swearing in ceremony earlier that afternoon. She was officially a U.S. citizen and Gibbs had agreed she could return to full duty as soon as her status was changed to special agent. Tony been a little subdued throughout the whole proceedings and Ducky was curious about why.
"You must be looking forward to having Ziva back in the field, eh, my boy? It's been a long few months of extra work for you and Timothy, I imagine," the kind doctor said.
"The extra work wasn't so bad. I mean, we didn't mind, because it was for Ziva, ya know? It was just wrong without her, though. It will be great for things to be back to normal," Tony explained.
"I hope, Anthony, that you are not disappointed in your expectations. Ziva is strong and she has come through her ordeal well but she may never be 'back to normal' as you so eloquently put it. It is impossible for everything she has been through over the last few months to not have changed her. For that matter, it has changed the rest of us as well. I cannot imagine that you are untouched by what you went through in those hours you faced Saleem and that is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what our dear girl must have faced."
"So you think we'll never get over it? That's encouraging, Ducky, thanks for the pep talk," was Tony's sarcastic reply.
"Oh, you misunderstand me, my boy. I did not say that we would not heal, only that we would not be unchanged. Perhaps change is not always a bad thing. Do you really wish for things between you and Ziva to remain the same? You have grown closer through this ordeal, reached a new level of trust and understanding in you partnership. Perhaps that is one golden nugget that has resulted from these difficult circumstances. If you look hard enough, I imagine you will find other reasons to appreciate the present, dear boy, not the least of which might include finally finding the courage to tell your beautiful partner how you really feel about her."
Tony chose to ignore the reference to his feelings for Ziva. "A new normal, huh? I think I can live with that. Thanks for the talk, Ducky."
They caught a case the first morning Ziva was cleared for field duty that left the team with no chance of making an easy transition. A young female naval officer had been sexually assaulted in her apartment and they were still processing the evidence and taking witness statements two days later when a second victim surfaced. As it became apparent they were dealing with a serial rapist, Gibbs tried to pull Ziva off the case but she adamantly refused saying she was a big girl and didn't need to be "polly moddled."
"Uh, I think you mean molly coddled, Ziva," Tim corrected.
"Whatever. My point is that I am perfectly capable of handling this. Are you going to try to pull me off the case every time we are dealing with a kidnapping or beating or a terrorist, too? Either I am cleared for field duty or I am not, Gibbs. Which is it?"
Gibbs had given her a long stare and then they all resumed working the case. A few days later, they finally had a suspect and Tony and Ziva sat in a car watching for him to return to his apartment while Gibbs and McGee covered his workplace. After the first hour, they had exhausted all the superficial topics of conversation and were at the point where they might have turned to a deeper topic in the past. Instead, the silence had reached the point of being awkward. Finally, Tony broke it by asking, "Talked to Fatima lately?"
"I do not visit her regularly like I used to but I do still call sometimes. I will probably see her when this case is finished," Ziva admitted.
"Thought you said you could handle it?" Tony responded.
"I am handling it, Tony. Do you have concerns? Afraid I won't have your back if Sikes shows up?" she spat back at him.
"No, Ziva, I didn't mean it like that. I just…you told Gibbs you could handle it. I guess I thought that meant you were over it and the case wouldn't bother you."
"Over it? OVER IT? You just do not get it do you? I guess I should not be surprised by that." Although she was angry at him, Ziva felt a little guilty at the stricken look on Tony's face from the pain her words inflicted. While he could be completely insensitive and even immature at times, he more than made up for it by being the one person in her life that could always make her laugh at the drop of a hat. Besides that, he was one of the most honest men she had ever known next to Gibbs.
"Ziva, I'm sorry. I didn't…look, I'm just not good at this, okay? I don't know how to think of you as anything but my ninja warrior. I-If I do, then I end up thinking about how broken you looked when we found you and then I think about what must have happened to make you that way and…it just, well, it hurts, okay? Because it was my fault you were there to begin with." Tony took a deep breath not quite believing that he had voiced the secret truth he had been holding inside since they had first learned the fate of the Damocles.
"What are you talking about, Tony? I should have known you would make this about you. How is it that you think any of this is your fault?"
"If I hadn't killed Michael, you would have still trusted me. You wouldn't have ended up staying in Israel and taking his mission," was his anguished explanation.
"Tony, the real reason I stayed in Israel had nothing to do with you. I know that now. It was for Eli. After our argument, I confronted him about Michael. I wanted to hear the truth from him. Instead, he questioned my allegiance to Mossad. He demanded that I make Michael's mission my 'aliyah' to prove my loyalty to him. I was trying to earn his love just as I have been my whole life. Staying in Israel was my choice and my mistake, not yours. But, Tony, the things that happened to me in Somalia were Saleem's fault, a result of the evil in him. There is no mistake, no bad choice that I or anyone else made that deserved what he did to me. Fatima has helped me see that. You must see that too."
"Just 'see it', huh? It's that simple, then? Thanks, Ziva, that helps," he replied with a slight note of sarcasm.
"Okay, how about I make it a little more simple then. You risked your life to save me. You found me because you chose to risk everything to avenge my death. So, it is your fault I am here now, that I am alive, yes? And you are the one who found Fatima for me. I would not be sitting in this car, on this stakeout, able to a talk about the past with you were it not for that. So that is your fault as well, yes? Tony, you are a good partner and a very good man but you make everything about you when it is not. You blamed yourself for what happened with Jeanne when Jenny should have pulled you from the assignment long before it got that far. You blamed yourself for Jenny's death when she made a choice not to let us protect her. You are doing it again now, blaming yourself for what happened to me. You need to listen to your own advice and get over yourself."
After a few moments of thoughtful silence, Tony finally spoke, "So what's an 'aliyah' anyway? Is it like some super secret Mossad ninja quest to prove your manhood? You know like in that movie about…"
"Sikes is home," Ziva interrupted, jumping from car before Tony could even register what she had said. By the time he reached her, Ziva had their suspect lying on the ground, her gun pointed at his chest. "I know you did not just call me a bitch," she said as she placed her foot strategically between the man's legs.
Tony couldn't help it. He laughed. It was good to see that even with the new normal, some things were never going to change.