Disclaimer: I own nothing related to NCIS, just the thoughts in my head.
Summary: Sometimes you have to lose your way to find the way back. Tony and Ziva take tentative steps in the right direction.
Spoilers: a post-ep to Truth and Consequences
Author's Notes: Although it's a little late coming out, this is by far the fastest story I've ever written. It just came pouring out of me between the airing of the premier and 'Reunion'. I finally got around to posting it. It isn't beta'd, so I take full responsibility for any errors.
* As always, a big thanks to my editor and dear friend Joy for encouragement and for helping me keep my stories on track. Writing wouldn't be any fun without her.
A miniature sandstorm blew up from the floor as he dropped his gear in a heap. Sighing in disgust, Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo shrugged out of his jacket, giving it the same unceremonious treatment before shuffling deeper into his apartment. His movements were strained, his body still acutely feeling the effects of a violent capture and almost 24 hours bound to a chair. Still, he pushed past the pain in an effort to get to his bedroom. The adrenaline high of the last few days was reaching the edge of the precipice and Tony wanted to be within stumbling distance of his bed when the crash came.
He managed to slough off his shoes and toss his gun and badge on a convenient table by the time he reached the dark sanctuary of his room. Everything else would have to wait. Blowing out a breath of utter fatigue across his still-parched lips, Tony let himself pitch forward into the bed, welcoming the cool softness of his down comforter against his sunburned skin. Groaning in a mixture of pain and relief, he rolled over carefully and settled himself against the pillows.
Every fibre of his being screamed out in exhaustion, but he knew sleep would still be a long time in coming. His brain just wouldn't shut off, all his cognitive synapses firing on one heart-stopping subject: Ziva David was alive.
He was almost afraid to fall asleep, terrified that if he did, he'd wake up and discover it was all some cruel dream, that his ... partner was in fact dead, lying on the dark ocean floor somewhere off the Horn of Africa. It was a 'truth' that he'd forced himself to accept for so long that the reality that she was alive and just across town was a little more than his overworked mind could grasp. It had been over forty-eight hours since that damned hood had been ripped back, titling his whole world on its axis and he was still trying to find his footing.
Ziva was alive.
Tony couldn't help the hint of a smile that played at his lips or the tiny bubble of joy that lodged in his heart every time that thought entered his head. In fact, he found himself repeating the words over and over in his mind just for the effect. However, just as quickly as it had built, his wave of euphoria came crashing back to the cold hard ground of reality.
Ziva was alive, and she hated him.
It was a fact that she'd made abundantly clear. She had barely even looked at him since their escape. They hadn't spoken a word to each other and the silence was deafening. Then again, Ziva hadn't really spoken at all since they'd left that Saharan hell-hole. She'd placidly let the medics in Dubai check her over, sitting quietly while they fussed about her injuries, obvious malnutrition and dehydration. She'd then allowed herself to be hustled onto a plane back to D.C. without so much of a word.
She'd finally succumbed to her noticeable weariness during the flight, awkwardly listing onto Gibbs' shoulder. Tony'd watched from his seat next to McGee as their normally stoic boss had carefully wrapped an arm around her too-thin frame and pulled her in tightly.
There'd been no mention of Mossad or attempts to contact her father and Tony felt it was just as well. As far as he was concerned, Eli David didn't deserve to know his only daughter had been rescued, not after he'd essentially sent her to her death. He'd caught Gibbs' eye over Ziva's matted curls, then cut his eyes to McGee. In that moment, the three of them had come to a tacit agreement that Ziva only true home was with them.
Satisfied in their understanding, Tony had taken the opportunity of her slumber to catalogue Ziva's injuries, each bruise and cut adding another heavy load of pain to his already overburdened heart. She'd been missing for nearly five months. Had she been captive that whole time? What had they done to her? Her silence told him enough. It was bad ... very bad, the kind of bad that wasn't erased by a dumb joke and tousled hair. He'd been in this business long enough to know that you didn't walk away from months of captivity happy and well-adjusted. He'd just never though anything could break Ziva.
'I am ready to die.'
Her softly-spoken words had delivered a vicious blow to his heart. He'd struggled against his bonds, wanting nothing more than to reach across the gulf that separated them. He'd wanted to shake some sense into her, to drag the Ziva he knew from the cold resigned shell before him, but he'd feared that she was buried so deep inside that he would never be able to reach her.
Their arrival in D.C. hadn't helped. Vance had insisted they come directly from the airfield for a debriefing. Walking off the elevator into a bullpen full of applause had only served to drive Ziva even further into herself.
They'd finally coaxed her home with Abby and Tony had slipped out himself, leaving McGee to field the accolades and questions of their peers. He now understood why Gibbs never accepted any of his awards. A boat in a basement and some bourbon was looking better all the time.
Wincing, Tony blindly stretched out an arm in the general direction of his nightstand in search of the bottle of Advil he kept for emergencies and for after long nights at the bar. His fingers met instead with the bevelled edge of a picture frame. Heart clenching, he swung the photo into his lap. It had been taken almost two years ago, before everything had started to slip. Abby had caught him and Ziva in a quiet moment in the bullpen, sitting close together reading excerpts from McGee's book and tormenting the poor Probie. Ziva's eyes were dancing with laughter, a brilliant smile lighting up her face. The Tony in the image had eyes only his partner, an answering grin softening features that seemed so much younger than what met him in the mirror each morning.
She'd always had some sort of hold over him. He'd just had no idea how powerful it was until Gibbs had walked into Abby's lab that night and told him that she was lost forever. It had taken everything in him to keep his mouth shut in that cell. Sitting there across from her, some sort of truth serum burning through his veins, he could feel the all the words he'd wanted to say bubbling up from within against the lump in his throat.
Now, back on American soil and supposedly clear-headed, those words were still there and he had no idea what to do with them. Ziva certainly didn't want to hear any of it. The Ziva he knew was still lost and he needed to help her find her way back before he could even dream of going forward. Thing is, she didn't want to be found, not by him, so really there was nowhere to go.
'Of all the people in the world who could have found me, it had to be you.'
The shrill ring of his cell phone snapped him awake, swearing under his breath as his body protested vehemently against the sudden movement. He pressed talk before he'd managed to bring the phone to his ear. By the time he was able to make out the words of Abby's panicked rambling, he was already fumbling with his boots. He'd heard all he'd needed to know and was out the door and into the night.
"Thank God you're here."
Tony was pretty sure he'd broken the land speed record, not to mention a few traffic laws in his drive over to Abby's apartment, but the goth's broken words over the phone had kept his foot firmly planted on the accelerator.
'Something's wrong with Ziva.'
Abby met him at the door, but before she could gather herself enough to speak, a pain-filled scream tore through the apartment. The young woman's hands clamped over her ears and she shut her eyes tight against the sound. Tony quickly pulled her into a hug, shielding her from the terror in the other room and running a shaky hand over her loose wavy hair.
"Shh, Abby. It's gonna be okay," he murmured over the top of her head.
She shuddered as another cry filled the room before answering his unasked question. "I think she's having night terrors."
Tony sighed, as he slipped out of her arms. He'd been expecting something like this, figured it was inevitable. He just never thought it would be something she would let anyone witness. Then again, she hadn't really been given a choice. As much as Ziva's pain ripped him apart, Tony was glad he'd been Abby's call. Still, he couldn't hide his surprise.
"Why didn't you call Ducky, or Gibbs?"
Abby regarded him sagely, twin tear tracks shining in the dim light of the living room.
"She's been calling for you."
He was at the threshold to her bedroom within seconds, his thoughts a tangled mess of anticipation and helplessness. She looked tiny in the queen-sized bed Abby kept for guests, her normally tanned skin pale against the navy blue sheets. She was calm for the moment, but Tony had a feeling it would be only temporary.
As he edged himself closer to the bed, her incoherent mumbling grew in volume and intensity and the tossing and turning resumed with a vengeance. Settling carefully on the mattress beside her, he dodged a flailing arm and trapped her hand within his own. Tony knew the dangers of waking someone in the throes of a nightmare, but he just couldn't bring himself to watch her endure any more pain, real or imaginary.
"Ziva," he whispered insistently in her ear. "Ziva, wake up, it's me, Tony."
This was apparently the wrong thing to say. Her face crumpled in pain and she tried desperately to free her hand. "No, Tony. No, you must leave, you must save yourself. Leave me-"
He took a chance and placed a cool hand on her burning forehead, trying at once to soothe and restrain her lightly. All of this movement couldn't possibly be good for her injuries.
"No, Ziva, we're out, we're safe, I'm safe," he maintained. "You need to wake up."
Her thrashing became suddenly more violent and Tony did the only thing he could think of. Holding his breath, he slipped in behind her on the bed and wrapped his arms tightly around her thin frame. Ziva fought fiercely against his hold, but Tony rode it out, whispering soothing nothings in her ear and counting himself lucky that she wasn't at her physical best.
Finally the storm subsided, her body slumping atop his own as a defeated sob slipped from her throat. Tony released the air in his lungs as he settled her more comfortably against him, reaching up an uncertain hand to thread his fingers through her sweaty and matted curls. His other hand slipped down the bed to pull the discarded comforter over them both. The erratic rhythm of his heart eased somewhat, slowing to match the gentle cadence of her breath against his overheated skin.
Movement out of the corner of his vision drew his gaze up from Ziva's prone figure into Abby's concerned stare. Forcing a smile, Tony nodded slightly, relieved when she seemed to understand and withdrew from the doorway. They needed some time alone.
"The last person I want to see and still, you are here."
Her voice, rough from screaming, startled him out of his daze. He cut his eyes back to her and instinctively tightened his hold, unwilling to let her go just yet. However, she didn't move, not even to lift her head from his chest. Chuckling mirthlessly, he replied,
"What can I say? I'm a slow learner."
Off her continued silence, he ventured, "If you didn't want to see me, why did you call my name?"
Ziva stiffened in his arms, but still made no attempt to move away.
"I did not call for you."
"Ah, methinks the lady doth protest too much," Tony replied, falling back on his old MO. "Abby said you were moaning my name. Now, I know I'm good, but-"
"You were being tortured, Tony," she whispered brokenly, still studiously avoiding his gaze. "In my mind, Saleem had broken you."
That was not what he'd been expecting, but then, he wasn't really sure what to expect anymore. Tony was completely out of his depth with this Ziva he'd apparently never met before. He had no idea how to respond when all of her signals were completely garbled.
Fighting to keep his voice even, he finally spoke. "So, is this your way of getting back at me for ... You get some kind of satisfaction replaying my demise over and over in your head?"
He had been trying for humour, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He'd had months to think about it and Tony really only regretted killing Rivkin for what it had done to his relationship with Ziva. He didn't regret taking out a dangerous operative who was only using Ziva to further his own mission. Was he did regret and what had haunted him every day was that he'd allowed his anger to blind him, that he'd let her slip through his fingers and walk right into a trap. He blamed himself for her return to Mossad and ultimately the last five months of hell. Still, he couldn't help the irritation that rose up inside of him when faced with the idea that she got off on fantasies of his suffering.
However, his thoughts were quickly derailed. If her last words had been unexpected, her next response knocked the wind right out of him. Her reaction was almost visceral. "No," tumbled from her lips as she gripped his shirt convulsively before burying her face in his chest.
He instinctively hugged her tighter, stilling his hands in her hair and dropping a light kiss to the crown of her head.
"Hey, hey, hey, hey. Shhh. It's okay, Ziva."
She quickly pulled herself together, and he could almost feel the shame radiating off of her. He understood her erratic emotions, even if he didn't quite know how to handle them. There was no way she was walking away from the hell she'd endured unscathed, but he also knew that this display of weakness must have been killing her. So he offered her the only dignity he knew by not acknowledging her outburst. Slowly, she inched away from him, still hiding her face in her hair. He didn't let her get too far, relishing her warm breath through the cotton of his t-shirt. He was well aware that this was likely the last time she'd let him get this close and dammit, he just couldn't help being a little bit selfish.
Finally calm, she whispered into his shirt, "I would never wish that kind of treatment on anyone, Tony, even you."
Tony couldn't help the watery laugh that escaped his lips. "You sure? 'Cause I'm startin' to think I might deserve it."
Her head shot up then, her shining dark eyes locking with his. Both gazes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, but neither could look away. Tony struggled to identify the maelstrom of emotions swirling in her irises as she seemingly tried to find the right words. There was nothing for her to say. This was all on him. He stilled whatever she was about to come up with by a gentle finger to her still-chapped lips.
Ziva sighed resignedly before dropping her head back to Tony's chest.
"You have nothing to be sorry for."
Tony geared himself up for an argument. He wanted nothing more than to make her understand that he had more than enough to be sorry for, for Rivkin, for not fighting for her in Tel Aviv, for not being there when she'd needed him, for almost giving up on her, for not realizing sooner that ... that he needed her. He opened his mouth to make his case when he noticed her soft breaths across his neck had evened out again, a gentle snore coming from the back of her throat. At least some things never changed.
Slowly, he tried to extricate himself from the bed. In the bright light of morning, she wouldn't be nearly as amenable to lying with him like this. However, his progress was stilled by her warm firm grip on his hand.
Unable to stop himself, Tony reached out and brushed a stray curl from in front of her sleep-glazed eyes. "You need to rest."
"I am cold," she answered, her voice small, but carefully even.
"I'll get you another blanket."
She held his gaze, her expression unreadable, but her grip still firm.
"You are warmer."
He knew it was a bad idea, that she wasn't thinking straight; hell, he wasn't thinking straight. But just over 48 hours ago, he'd thought she was dead. So, if playing the role of an oversized teddy bear helped them both get more than two consecutive hours of sleep, he wasn't going to argue.
Giving in, he carefully slipped back into his original position beneath her and settled against the pillows, his arms finding their way around her waist. This didn't fix anthing; this was not some movie where they lived happily ever after. He knew that they were both more broken than either of them were willing to admit. He knew that there were pieces missing they might never be able to replace, but he couldn't help but hope that after wandering alone for so long, they'd found a way home.