So what do you do when you've got an 8,000-word short story due in 12 hours, and you haven't got an idea in the world and you've been putting it off for three weeks? Why, you write fanfiction, that's what you do! Stall, stall, stall!
Sorry it took so long to update. I got busy with school and such nonsense, and I had some difficulty figuring out just how to approach this chapter. I ultimately decided to jump post-Truth and Consequences, and I know that may be something of a let-down, but I'm trying to remain canon with that episode.
I'm glad you liked the first chapter. Hopefully you'll like this one, too!
Oh, and as per usual, I shot a review off to the most recent story of each of the reviewers for chapter one. Spread the cheer, you know? The least I could do. (You see? Some authors find it pertinent to hold their chapters hostage and ask for reviews as ransom, but I figure bribery is just as effective, and far less violent.)
And thanks everybody, for your continued efforts to save the polar bears. Really, they love that. They told me to tell you that they're grateful.
The Lances Unlifted
The Trumpets Unblown
She lands in DC a ghost, confused and dazed and out of sorts with herself. Tony and Gibbs and the others can all see it in her step, in the way she carries herself; a limp on a limb that was never broken, glazed eyes and a distant, controlled voice; no wince or cringe when her wounds are brushed against, which strikes them all as odd. She was hurt badly in Somalia. But she does not seem to notice the physical pains.
Something broke in her, something came loose and fell away and she doesn't know how to find it and fix it again.
Tony is the only one who realizes, sitting opposite her on the airplane back, that she managed to survive those four, painful months without breaking, and whatever happened to warp her this way, it didn't happen until after he found her. Didn't happen until after she was dropped into the chair across from him, a world away, in the dusty cell that had been her Hell.
He peers into her dull, conflicted eyes as the plane shudders and makes them sway, and he doesn't understand what happened to change her or why his presence blew out the flame in her eyes. He could have sworn that back in that cell, in that room, she had seemed to him to be alive. Alright. But something's changed and now she's broken. It makes him angry to think it might be his fault. It makes him feel helpless.
But she suffers quietly, and he can't bring himself to force the truth from her. He can't even bring himself to ask.
As she stands from the ER bed and regards the room, she shrugs a jacket over her shoulders, ties her hair back into a messy ponytail and smiles gratefully at the nurse. Stray, curly wisps of hair stick to her forehead with the sweat and the blood that the nurse couldn't wipe off. She needs to shower. She feels filthy.
"Don't let the pain get too bad before you take one of the pills, now." It's the same speech the doctor gave her; they're not impressed by her high threshold for pain.
"If you let it get to an 8 or a 9, you waited too long and it's gonna to take more pills to get it back down to a 0."
The bones in her wrists and her fingers were broken. They healed wrong and had to be re-set – Ziva holds her tongue, doubting that the pain will ever be back to 0.
"So you want to take the pills before it gets that bad. Understand?"
"Yes." She understood it the first time.
The nurse hesitates as Ziva inches closer to the door.
"You're sure you want to leave? You could stay a while longer. I know it would make Dr. Dunham very happ-"
"-yes," she interrupts, bringing her hand up between herself and the nurse to halt her speech, "I am sure."
Gibbs appears in the doorway and lifts his chin. She gives the nurse one final parting smile; the gesture is despairingly strange to her these days. It pulls her cracked lips and makes them burn, tightens the muscles of her bruised face in an uncomfortable way; but she gets a tiny thrill from knowing that she has something to smile about, now, so she takes the opportunity eagerly.
She follows Gibbs back out the door.
They let her leave the hospital without a wheelchair, for which she is thankful. She doesn't need to be sitting down, has been seated for months, and even though walking is a painful chore for her, the feeling of standing on her own two feet, of choosing her own footsteps and controlling her own whereabouts is exhilarating.
But her legs are still a bit wobbly from her months spent sitting. She tries not to let this weakness show, but as she sets her jaw and clenches her fists, her steps come out stiffly; she walks straight-backed, a bit too jerky.
Halfway down the hallway, their shoes yelping against the slick, linoleum floor, Gibbs turns to her and asks,
She hesitates. She understands that he is asking about her injuries. More than likely, he wants to know if she is still useful – to Mossad or NCIS. She isn't sure whether he wants her back in Israel, or if perhaps, blessedly, he still considers her one of his own.
"Yes." Too many scars.
His lip twitches. A moment passes before he speaks again.
"I'll drop you off at a hotel." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small clip of money, passing it to her. "You can pay me back later."
For a moment, she finds this offer absurd and considers turning it down, but realizes that she has nowhere to stay and no money to pay for her clothes or rent or toiletries.
Nodding, she carefully takes the money and shoves it into her pocket.
One night she awakens from a nightmare, startled. She immediately forgets what the nightmare was even about, but as she breaks from the dream-world into reality, her mind takes a moment to adjust, and the sensations are still with her, the fear and the panic. Terror sinks its teeth into her throat and clings to her even as she awakens, frightened and short of breath, and in her panic she reaches beneath her pillow, fumbles for the gun and draws it, sitting up sharply.
There are shadows in the corners of her bedroom, shimmering like pools of oil. She gazes into them for a moment, heart pounding, some ghost sensation pulling goose-pimples along her forearms, and for the first time in her life, she accidentally pulls the trigger.
A single slug explodes from the barrel and pierces the air. It hits a mirror on the far wall.
The crash startles her and she drops the gun to shield her ears as pieces of glass fall to the floor, glimmering in the moonlight, before they settle like little pools of silver on the carpet. She heaves a breath, feels the particles of glass like dust in the air, scratching her throat and making her lungs itch.
Finally, she lets her hands fall back into her lap. The gun is lost someplace within the bedcovers. But her skin is still crawling, her wrists hurt, and her pulse is thundering in her ears. She regards the empty room, the shards of glass – there is no one in the shadows.
She feels like someone is watching her. It occurs to her that this feeling is irrational, has been with her for longer than she can remember. The sensations on her arms and her legs and her wrists are phantom touches, the ethereal remnants of her tormentors; shadows that followed her out of Somalia, demons that refuse to let her leave that cell.
Trembling, she reaches for the phone and punches in the number, knowing that she is too proud to admit that she is scared but feeling too vulnerable to go back to sleep.
He answers on the fifth ring.
"Gibbs," he says.
She doesn't know what to say. The fear has made her mind sharp but she cannot form the words, regrets this call immediately, and settles for the first thing that pops into her head.
"I should not have called. Sorry."
Before she can hang up – was she even intending to? – he says,
"Ziva." More of a statement than a question.
She lets the silence linger for another moment.
"I shot my mirror," she says suddenly, feeling that it is entirely pertinent to point this out.
"Why?" He doesn't sound surprised.
"I did not mean to," she says.
"Are you hurt?"
He senses something in her tone, and picks his words carefully as he adds,
"Did you hurt yourself firing the gun?"
"Old wounds?" Still careful.
"Yes." She pauses. "Old wounds."
"It'll be a while yet, before those can heal."
"I know." There is another pause, and then, regretting her words as they pass through her lips, shuddering at the very fact that she is admitting this, she says,
"I am afraid."
"Gibbs. I shot my mirror."
"Ziva," he says, "clean up the mess, and then go back to bed. Get some sleep."
Ducks cozy up along the shore, shrugging thick beads of water from their down. They crowd in amongst each other, bleary eyed and slow, regard the expanse of the lake with a dazed sort of boredom. They barely turn to acknowledge her as she drifts by.
The remnants of the morning's mist still roll along the fringes of the lake like flour powdering the edges on a ball of dough. It leaves condensation on the leaves in its wake, peppers the honey-colored foliage with little jewels of dew. The scent of damp feathers and soil hang thick in the air.
She beats the trail lightly, breathing hard. Her lungs ache with the weight of the cold in the air, but she can't stop. Won't stop. She had always been a runner, but the habit has become compulsive since she was rescued. The freedom in running thrills her.
But something more sinister follows her as she rounds the lake and carries back up to the sidewalk. Her feet sting, her knees are throbbing, but there's an energy pulsing in her veins that keeps her going; the sort of feeling that comes from anger, she recognizes; the sort of adrenaline that awakens her at night, fills her with the urge to pitch something across the room or hit the wall or – most appalling – scream or cry.
She sets her jaw and quickens her pace.
She is running from something. She knows that. It frightens her that she cannot understand what she needs to flee from or why it's tailing her.
The traffic of the city rushes by on her right. There are horns blaring and tires squealing on the slick, grey streets. Steam rises from the gutters and drifts along beneath the bumpers of cars, at the base of the lamp-post and the streetlight, flickering gold and red as the cars rush by. As she nears her street, the first raindrop hits the concrete and turns it black. By the time her hotel comes into view, the sky has been clotted with dark, imposing clouds, and the rain begins to fall heavily. She doesn't mind it. This is the first time that it's rained since she returned.
She slows to a stop, peering up at the sky. The rain begins to drench her, though her hair is temporarily shielded by her orange running cap – still, in the few short minutes that she spends standing beneath the downpour, the water manages to soak through the fabric. She can feel the dampness tingling her scalp.
Something flashes suddenly behind her eyes. A dark room. The chair. Static pulsing through the hollow air from some distant storm. This sound. This sound, of the rain, in that room of that cell in Somalia. He raped her that night. When the rain had stopped and darkness fell and the only flicker of light in the room came from the weak, twisting lamp strapped to the ceiling, but she hadn't been able to see him or his face and he raped her in that cell in Somalia.
She's lived with this memory for months. For weeks, since her return to DC. But this is the first time that it's rained and she can feel it on her face, here. But the sound is the same. It overtakes her, forces her mind to reel back. His touch crawls along her arms and makes her tremble, lingers on her skin like a ghost. Sorrow and grief grip her. But the anger only flares.
Anger and despair.
Saleem had hurt her.
She never got her revenge.
She closes her eyes and attempts to refocus on the present, but the air has become hazy and warm. She is aware of the fact that she should be cold, that she is drenched, but her heart is hammering and she can't quite tell whether the liquid on her brow is water or sweat; if her eyesight is wavering from the rain that shakes the air around her, or from the quiet, angry tears that she can feel behind her eyes.
Trying hard to shake this feeling, she notices the sharp, grey shape of her hotel, and realizes for the first time that she's less than fifty yards from its door. She should get out of the rain.
But as she moves forward, she notices him. He's huddled at the top of the steps, shielded from the downpour by the arch of the doorway. That sign, Windsor Inn, is declared in fancy white lettering just above him, where the keystone should be. His hands are jammed awkwardly in his pockets and he peers up past the lip of the arch to watch the rainfall. He hasn't noticed her yet. She wonders why he's waiting there, how he knew where to find her.
She realizes suddenly that she should probably start looking for a new, more permanent place.
But she takes a step forward and she's still trembling when she says, shouting above the noise of the storm and the traffic to her back,
"What are you doing here?"
He blinks and looks down at her. He smiles and it's awkward; everything about him here and now is awkward, and she doesn't know how or when he managed to lose his charm.
"Waiting for you," he says. He looks furtively back to the sky. "Come on, you're getting soaked."
She doesn't move.
"Why are you waiting for me, Tony?" The water that has clotted in her cap begins to spill down the center of her face. It collects at the tip of her nose and her chin.
His smile falters. He shrugs.
"I wanted to see how you were doing. You know, catch up." The left side of his face pinches up as he struggles to be heard above the roar of the rain. "Haven't seen much of you since we got back."
"I am fine."
He lifts his shoulders, lets them fall.
"Okay. Well – look, can we talk? Come out of the rain."
She doesn't. After a moment, he sighs and steps closer to the edge of the patio – though, Ziva notices, he's still safe from the rain, completely dry. A raindrop falls from her chin as he begins to speak again.
"I know you're not fine. Are you seeing anybody?" She blinks, surprised by his bluntness; he notices this and realizes what he said, shaking his head rapidly. He's quick to amend himself: "Ah, no, I mean…are you talking to somebody? You know, like…a therapist."
She bites her lip. Part of her is glad that he's here, that he's shooting his mouth off, because now she has a reason to be angry; now she has someone to direct her anger towards.
"Yes, Tony," she says curtly, "my psychological health has been taken care of. Thank you." She smiles tightly, dipping her head dramatically as she thanks him. He looks down at his feet and chews on the inside of his cheek.
"Ziva…," he says, looking up. His voice has gotten quieter and she struggles to hear him. "We're just worried. You haven't been…" he's conflicted, she thinks as she watches him, half-curious and half-resentful; like he doesn't want to be here and he doesn't want to be speaking with her, but something is forcing him. "You haven't been the same since you got back and we're just worried."
She considers this for a moment, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, each shoe filled with water now. She wants to take him seriously. But he's caught her at the wrong moment. The sound of the rain is threatening to pull her back again, and her heart is pounding. The anger that fueled her is boiling up and his awkward, half-hearted questions throw her over the edge; he thinks that she is broken. He may be right, but it stings to hear him say it.
He shakes his head and looks down again.
"You don't have to be alone here, Ziva. We were there for you then and we're here now. That's what partners do." He smiles fleetingly; she notices that he's still referring to the whole team – 'we're here,' – as if he's afraid of voicing concern solely on his behalf. "They cover each others' backs."
She blinks. He covered her back. This is true, she knows, thinking back to the cell in Somalia. But he did something more than that – he rescued her. He and McGee and Gibbs. They covered her back – and they killed Saleem.
Then, with this thought, some emotion suddenly washes over her, disgusting and strange. It hits her, then. This feeling.
It feels like she's been cheated out of some finality, like something precious was stolen from her, something she'd managed to hang on to and to nurture during her months in captivity, only to have it torn from her arms the moment she was rescued: she's angry and frustrated.
She was never able to get her revenge.
Tony took it for her. Gibbs took it for her.
They killed her demons for her, and it does not sit well with her.
"I want to kill someone," she says suddenly, loudly. Her voice shakes; there are hot, angry tears in her eyes, now. The rain is there but the tears are, too.
Strangely, he doesn't look startled. He simply looks at her and raises his brows.
"That's not a good idea. Don't do that," he says.
"What am I supposed to do now? How can I live with this?" The words are coming fast and she can't stop, the adrenaline hits her hard. "I wanted to kill them, Tony, I spent months living with the hope that I could kill them in return for all the suffering they caused me. You took that away from me. What am I supposed to do now?"
She hates herself for blaming the man who effectively rescued her, swept into Africa and saved her life, risked his own in the process. But that hatred only makes her anger and frustration stronger, and she can't stop it now.
He watches her for a moment as if entranced in this scene of her breaking down before him in the rain, cars rushing by in little puffs of steam, and then slowly he moves towards her, down a step. He takes his hands out of his pockets. The rain falls along his shoulders.
"You're mad at me because you didn't get to kill anyone?"
She nods emphatically, glancing quickly away and around, as if this is the most obvious thing in the world and there's something wrong with him for not noticing.
"This is my fault? You get kidnapped and tortured by a crazy terrorist after leaving NCIS, I travel across the world to rescue you and you're hurt and it's my fault?"
"Oh, well," he says. "As long as we're being logical."
"Tony." She peers up at him but quickly looks away. "You know what he did to me? He tortured me. He raped me." She hates saying this, hates admitting it, cringes as the words leave her lips and she watches him cringe, too. The muscles in his jaw tighten and he looks briefly down at his feet.
She continues, "But I could not fight back then. I had to do nothing, because I was weak and alone, and I was facing death. But when you showed up, I had a real chance. It was my first chance to fight back, and you gave that to me." For a moment she looks grateful, and he looks up again. "But then you took it away."
She closes her eyes, draws in a deep breath and opens them. She nods once. "So yes, I am angry with you. I need to be angry with you, for a while."
He slips his hands back into his pockets. He pauses, quietly observing her, and she thinks that probably he doesn't like the idea of being the target of her anger, and that probably he will resent her for it for a long time. But he is her partner, and she thinks that maybe he will understand this cosmic unfairness, and why this burden falls on them. Maybe he's willing to shoulder it with her.
At length, he nods.
"Okay. I get it."
She feels her pulse beginning to even out, and nods in return. Her fingers are numb from the cold, and there are raindrops in her eyelashes, now.
"But, really, Ziva." He gestures behind him, towards the entrance to the hotel and the fancy white letters declaring Windsor Inn. "Let's get out of the rain."
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
- From The Destruction of Sennacherib, by Lord Byron
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