Finally came round to finishing this - more A/N at the bottom. For now, I don't own NCIS, and enjoy!
His eyebrows shoot up in surprise when he hears the knock on his door. It reminds him he still needs to fix his bell: it had broken down months ago and he just can't seem to get around to do it.
Frowning, he wipes his oily hands off a cloth and exits the basement. Who was visiting him this hour of day?
Opening the door, he finds out.
She is standing on the pavement in front of his house, hands in her pockets, her face carefully devoid of the fear she is probably feeling. He had not expected her to go to him: rather Tony or Ducky or perhaps even Abby. But not him. He knows too much, has too much history to be safe.
Then again, maybe that is why she chose him. She doesn't need to tell him everything; there are certain things he does not need to use his imagination for.
"Ziva." He steps aside to let her enter; in that second between opening the door and talking, he knows what she is here for.
"Gibbs." She acknowledges him. Then she takes a deep breath. "It is late; are you sure..."
He doesn't let her finish. He turns around to close the door while she talks, and when he turns back around, she is staring decidedly at the beige walls of his house.
"I have nowhere to be," he replies with a shrug. He's got all the time in the world.
She nods and he steps in front of her to lead her to his living room. He knows she has never been here before, but she only gives the room a cursory glance: enough to make sure there are no threats, but too little to take anything in.
"I'll make tea," he says. Normally, he'd go for coffee, but in this case he has a feeling coffee is too strong, too regular. Tea is the accepted alternative. They will need its comfort later.
He takes out the kettle from a dusty shelf. He searches for tea bags he has not seen in years; he is not even sure he still has them.
She must have heard him pulling open cabinets, because suddenly she is in his kitchen. "Can't find any tea bags?" she asks with a ghost of a smile on her face. She knows exactly what is going on. He nods while rummaging through a bottom drawer, and she stops him by pulling him up by his shoulder. She seems just as surprised as he is by that move; she quickly lets go of his arms and smiles apologetically.
"I can make tea without tea bags," she says. "That may be easier than spending our time searching for them."
She, of course, knows where the herbs are with the first drawer she opens. She takes out a few of them, frowning at the content of the drawer; he almost laughs, because this feels so normal. He hadn't known Ziva could make tea, but it does not surprise him.
"Here you go," she says when the water finally boils. She puts the selected herbs into two mugs and he pours the water over it. Then, they both seem to realize what she is here for and what they are doing, and they release the mugs at the same time.
They return to the living room, both holding a large mug in their hands. He knows tea shouldn't be drunk from mugs, but they are big and comfortable, and he has always enjoyed them.
"I do not know if I can do this," she breaks the silence. "And I do not know how to do this."
He shrugs. "There's no manual for it."
Seconds of silence stretch into minutes, but he keeps quiet. He wants to give her the time she evidently needs to collect her thoughts, to know where to begin on this shaky ground. He sips his tea and so does she, both of them waiting for the first words. She opens her mouth a few times, but then closes it again. He can see she is restless.
"You read my file."
He replies to the statement with a nod. Yes, he has read her file, the collection of facts and dates in them. Officially, he knows everything that has happened.
Unofficially, he knows there is so much more.
"I did not write down everything." When he nods again, she looks at him, surprise shining in her otherwise carefully constructed emotionless state. It's time for him to say something.
"I notice certain things in the way you move, the way you carry yourself." He is silent for a few short seconds. "I've been doing this work for over 30 years now, Ziva. Besides, I know a thing or two about women," he adds in an attempt to make the situation less tense for her. She smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes.
And then she starts to talk. She explains the events leading up to her capture in Somalia – nothing he already doesn't know, seeing as he read the file. But he knows she needs this for herself.
She doesn't stop with the beginning of her imprisonment – she tells of the room she was first placed in, a room with an actual bed and a toilet. She says that they started out gently with her – no pain, just questions. When she didn't answer, they became aggrevated and started taunting her – threatening her with torture, with death. She didn't budge. Gibbs hadn't expected her to.
"They transferred me to a different room then. That has been my cell for the rest of my ... stay."
She doesn't need to tell him of the conditions of her new living environment – he has no doubt it had no bed, no toilet, probably no window either, to keep her disoriented. He's more familiar with kidnapping and torture techniques than he wishes.
"The first time, I did not even know what was going on." She explains that she had not gotten any food for three days when she was first taken to be interrogated, only dirty water – which had no doubt made her hallucinate.
"They took me to another room – there was a girl in there, the daughter of one of my Mossad friends. Shena. She looked okay, they had not treated her like they did me. She was not drugged and she had plenty of food, but she was only seven – too young to be without her mother.
I had to sit opposite her and watch them beat her. They wanted to break me by using a child."
That is when her shield breaks for the first time, and he gets a glimpse of an upset Ziva.
"It is a technique used by Mossad, too. Not me personally – but now I know what it feels like. I started begging them eventually, I just couldn't be responsible for Shena – for her pain, I just couldn't... and they stopped when I started begging, they took me away again, back to my cell, and told me this is what they'd do more often. And then they left me alone."
She let out a breath.
"I do not know how long I was stuck without any food or water – but by the time they came for me again, I was exhausted, dehydrated and beyond famished. I was very weak, I could – I couldn't walk."
She lifts her head and looks at him. He tries to listen to her story without judging, without getting angry on her behalf – he tries to see it as a fictional work, but it doesn't work very well, and when she looks at him he gives her a kind of half-smile, trying to encourage her. It works, because she continues.
"Shena was not with me this time – just the men and me, and a chair. They asked about NCIS, and when I could not answer them, they injected me with something. I think it is what they gave Tony, too – a kind of truth serum. I could feel the urge to talk, to let go of my secrets, but somehow I had enough sanity to know that was not the right thing to do."
He remembers the first few hours after they had rescued Ziva; Tony had been talking incessantly about everything from his childhood summer camp to an actor whose name he'd forgotten – if he had known then it was truth serum that made him talk, he would have listened more carefully.
"I did not want them to be suspicious so I made up a story. They let me go that time, they gave me food and water and I actually felt better."
The silence that follows her words is ominous.
"But then, somehow, they found out I'd lied, and then – obviously they had checked what I had told and found it to be untrue, and they shoved me into a room and just-" she breaks off, a red tinge of embarrassment on her cheeks. He stays still, not knowing how to strengthen her. After a few moments, she opens her mouth again.
"I was not feeling very well because my menstruation was coming – I still got it – and the... situation made it even worse. They – they, uh, kicked me in my stomach, any body part they could reach. I think I lost consciousness at one point, because when I woke up, I was in my room again, and I was covered in blood and bruises."
"They let me recover for a few days – it is well known technique – and then continued their ... approach. It did not become worse at first, but it made me weaker."
He senses she is only coming to the hard part now; he can see it in the way she looks down at her lap, and how she absently, unconsciously perhaps, cradles her stomach.
"They did not use extensive devices on me, just their bodies. Their ..." and she breaks off again. She looks down at the carpet, and he knows she has to collect all her courage, her need for healing, to continue.
"I think you can imagine the things a man can do to a woman."
He nods, a single movement of his head that still catches her eye. He realizes the pain it must have caused her to suffer through this, and possibly even more pain to be able to speak about it. He wants to tell her to stop, that it's okay, he knows – but he also knows she needs this, even if she doesn't realize it.
"It was not Saleem, not at first, he – he used me as a kind of ... reward, towards his men, to show his appreciation, but – then he wanted to, uh, join."
More than ever he wants to cross the room to the chair opposite his and hold her, rock her and make her pain go away. It's the same instinct he had with Shannon and Kelly, one he often has with Abby and sometimes with Tony and Tim, too. He sees it as a positive part of their relationship, even if he doesn't encourage it.
This, however, is a different matter. Ziva is dear to him, and the things she has been through only serve to make his instinct sharper, because he knows she cannot take much more until she really snaps and does something she'll regret the rest of her life.
"How many times?" He knows quantity doesn't matter, not in this case, where even once can destroy someone's life. But he has a intense need to know the facts that are not in her file, to get to know more of this woman so he can somehow help.
She is quiet for a long time, and in her expressions he can see she is revisiting those days and those particular moments. That is when he stands up resolutely. In the back of his mind, there is a nagging voice telling him to back off, but he doesn't listen, and insteads crosses the room to the chair.
It's a bit of an awkward hug, with him bending over while she is sitting, but he doesn't care. Somehow they both end up on the floor and he rocks her back and forth, stroking her sleek hair with one hand while the other is supporting her back.
She stiffens at first – still not used to a comforting touch, especially in light of the recent conversation – but he persists, and slowly, oh so slowly, her muscles relax, the imminent threat of danger disappearing.
"Too often," she finally mumbles, and he barely realizes it's an answer to his question.
No further words are uttered by her as she starts to cry. He only knows when something wet touches his shirt – like much else, she cries in silence. There is no need for silly words of comfort – instead, he continues rocking her back and forth as he sits cross-legged on the floor.
And then, after a while, she starts to really cry, her body heaving with sobs and her face red and blotchy from the tears – still, he does not speak.
There is no need for words when actions speak so loud.
Silence is the most powerful scream.
Well, 'to know' has lost all meaning to me now, but anyway xD
I kept pushing this around, sometimes writing really small pieces, but I was determined to finish it so I finally did tonight.
I'm afraid the one to last sentence is unclear, but I didn't know how else to phrase what I wanted to say - what I mean by 'actions' was the fact that Ziva cries, admits pain and defeat and shows it. That's a pretty significant step for it.
Very anxious for any reviews! Personally I loved to write this little story and I think it's pretty good, too, but I'd love to know what other people think. Please review!