RATING: T, for a bit of mild language and implication of the not-very-nice things that happened to Ziva while in Somalia. You've been warned.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Zaedah is a beta-reading superhero, not to mention an amazing writer herself! I sat at the knees of a Jedi Master and tried to learn as much as possible. Any mistakes, crap writing, or other such issues are mine and mine alone.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own the park; I just play in the sandbox. No copyright infringement is intended. I did shamelessly kidnap a couple of lines of dialogue directly from the show (7.02: Reunion, 7.09: Child's Play), but my ransom demands were never met so I'll just promise to have them home in time for supper.
Ziva's eyes were fascinating to Tony. He'd seen their dark depths warm and gentle, and he'd seen them flash bright with conviction and anger. They could change in an instant--exactly what had happened on that particular night. He, Tim, and Ziva had gone over to the gym for some PT. McGee was still on a treadmill somewhere ("It's all about the cardio," he'd said) and Tony was watching Ziva spar with Deleon from Linguistics. In addition to his self-taught fighting skills, Deleon had also studied Krav Maga while working in Israel and the Middle East as a field agent, so he'd insisted it would be a pretty fair fight. Ziva, however, was effectively kicking his ass.
Until it happened.
Deleon had managed to get her by the arms in a standard hold when he tripped on his own feet and went tumbling forward, Ziva's significantly smaller frame breaking his fall so that she landed beneath him on the mats. In the next second Ziva was screaming something Tony couldn't understand and wriggling frantically, trying to free herself. Deleon, thinking he'd injured her somehow, immediately let go of her arms and hopped up. However, as soon as Deleon released her Ziva scrambled away from him across the mats before standing up, gasping for air as her eyes shot around the gym. The blood seemed to have drained from her face and her eyes were too wide open. Even from a distance Tony could see her legs shaking, chest and shoulders shuddering irregularly as her breath hitched, the defensive posture of her arms pulled tightly across the front of her body. For a split second a look of recognition flashed across her face. Her brow furrowed slightly and she shook her head as though clearing her thoughts. Then, without a word, Ziva turned on her heels and headed straight for the door.
Deleon tried to call after her, ask if she was okay, but it was Tony who spat back a reply over his shoulder as he dashed across the gym to follow his partner.
"Well yeah, Deleon, she looks totally okay, doesn't she? Just what the hell did you do to her?"
Ziva was standing alone behind the main building when Tony finally found her. Gone was the look of confusion and fear, replaced by what Ducky might call 'flat affect' as she stared blankly into the distance. If she heard Tony approach (and he was sure she had) she didn't react. The wind picked up and she shivered in the chill of the autumn air.
"Ziva, are you okay? What happened back there?"
She didn't answer. When Tony stepped closer and touched her shoulder she tensed visibly.
"I do not wish to discuss it, Tony," she whispered. "I am fine. I was... momentarily disoriented."
"Happens to me all the time," he snorted. "I mean, whenever I get 'momentarily disoriented' from your driving, I know I always react with screaming and hyperventilation and…"
She cringed, and Tony immediately regretted the ill-timed attempt at humor.
"Okay, bad joke. Bad example. My point is, Ziva, you are clearly NOT fine. At least come sit down for a minute. C'mon, humor me."
After a moment's hesitation she nodded her assent and followed Tony over to sit against the brick wall of the building. She didn't even object when he tugged off his hoodie and draped it across her shoulders before sitting next to her.
They sat in silence for several long minutes, the sun sinking lower in the sky, the temperature slowly dropping. Tony's skin, minutes before still flushed from the exertion of his own workout, had cooled. The evening air might otherwise have affected him, but he wouldn't have noticed; he was entirely focused on reading the unspoken cues of the woman sitting next to him. When her posture relaxed a bit and her breathing returned to normal, he tried again.
"Ziva, what happened?" he whispered. She took one slow, deep breath and clasped her hands in her lap before answering.
"I believe the term is 'panic attack.' When Deleon took me down... I cannot describe it. My wrists were pinned, I could smell sweat and his breath on my face, his body weight full on top of me..." Her hands were clenched so hard that her knuckles had turned white and her face was schooled into a careful mask of composure. Her best attempts at control, however, couldn't disguise the quiver in her voice and the glassy tears threatening to spill from her eyes.
Tony's stomach lurched as the full realization of what happened hit him, with almost physical force.
Somalia. She had a flashback. When Deleon was on top of her...
"Oh God, Ziva..."
She chuckled humorlessly.
"What did you imagine happened to me during those months that I was held captive? The only woman, injured, weak and bound in a camp full of lonely, angry men?" This time it was Tony's body that tensed. "What, Tony?"
"If Saleem Ullman and his little henchmen weren't already dead, I'd fly back tonight and finish them myself." Her slender, cold fingers reached over to rest on his arm. Bracing himself for what he would see in her eyes, he turned to meet her gaze.
"I will be fine," she assured him. "Perhaps I am not right now, but I will be. I am... where I belong, I think. These setbacks, what happened in the gym? They are rare. It may take a few moments, but I always recover. I know now that I am with people who have my back."
Her choice of words was not lost on Tony. He knew it had cost her a lot, first to confront him in the bathroom during the Jurel case and now with this confession. He held her gaze as he once again tried to read her, to see if she was holding back or hiding any other hurt beneath her now-calm exterior, but the wind gusted once more and he felt Ziva shiver at his side.
"We should head back in. You're cold, and McGee's probably ready to send out a search team, or else he thinks we left without him. Again." Tony picked himself up off the ground before extending a hand to Ziva. She allowed him to tug her to her feet and the two walked back to the gym without another word, each one quietly drawing comfort from the presence of the other.
Sure enough, just as they walked through the double-doors back into the gym area, Ziva spotted Tim heading straight toward them.
"Hey, where've you guys been? I looked all over, thought maybe you'd left. Again."
"My apologies, McGee," Ziva replied. "I was not feeling well and went out to get some air. Tony noticed my absence and came to check on me."
McGee's eyebrow arched, a sure indication he was thinking something that he thought better of voicing aloud.
"Are you feeling any better now?"
"Yes. Actually, I am feeling much better now." Tony glanced down at her. This time the small, genuine smile actually reached her eyes. Something he hadn't realized he'd been holding tense inside relaxed just a bit at that. "Thank you, McGee."
"No problem..." the younger agent trailed off. His brow furrowed; he got the distinct impression he was missing some important subtext in the conversation. "Anyhow, I think I'm done for the night. See you guys bright and early?"
"Your turn to get the coffee, McStarbucks. And try to remember my Danish this time, will ya?"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he grumbled good-naturedly as he turned to go. "Good night, Ziva. Good night, Tony."
Tony turned to Ziva. She seemed content but tired, and though she was no longer smiling he could still see something like peace in her eyes. Tony felt a strange tug in his chest and realized he wanted to do something make her smile again. He opted instead to nudge her lightly with his elbow.
"You good now?"
"I think so, yes. I am quite exhausted though," she sighed. "Perhaps an early night and a few consecutive hours of sleep will serve me well."
"Sounds like a good plan. Think I might have to do the same thing."
They grabbed their things from the bench where they'd been previously abandoned and walked toward the elevator in silence. Neither spoke to the other; neither was sure what to say. Ziva broke the silence first as they arrived at their destination.
"Are you walking out to the parking garage?"
"Um, no, not just yet. Think I left my phone upstairs in my desk."
"All right then. I will see you tomorrow, Tony."
She gave him a quick nod and started toward the door to the garage exit, but only made it a couple of steps away before she felt his hand on her elbow, stopping her again.
"You know you can call me, right? If you ever need to talk or whatever?"
The same small, genuine smile slid back onto her face.
"Good night, Tony. I will see you tomorrow."
"I will be right here."
As he took the elevator upstairs to the Linguistics department he fought back a vague feeling of nausea as their conversation replayed in his mind. No wonder she had seemed so subdued for so long after her return; she'd been fighting this battle on her own for too long. Tony found his way to Deleon's desk, intending to just leave a sticky-note on the other agent's monitor, but was surprised to find him there working.
"DiNozzo, hey. You find David?"
"Yeah, she ah, wasn't feeling well. Didn't mean to leave you hanging like that." Deleon studied Tony carefully for a moment.
"Post Traumatic Stress?" Tony didn't answer, but his lack of eye contact told Deleon all he needed. "Sorry, man. I know what that's like. Look, tell David I'm sorry for earlier and that if she ever feels like a rematch, I'm down for it any time."
"Will do, Deleon."
"Keep an eye on her? She's gonna need someone to watch her back for a while."
"Yeah. Yeah, I will. I am," Tony replied. Deleon regarded him carefully for just a moment, then gave a single head-tilt of approval before turning back to his work.
Deleon's words echoed in Tony's mind for the rest of the night. Keep an eye on her, she's gonna need someone to watch her back. He remembered the look of confusion and terror on Ziva's face when she'd hit the ground, then the look of peace in her eyes when she finally smiled at him and McGee. Maybe that was the key.
He would watch her back, that was for sure. They all would. But Tony decided to watch her eyes, too.
AUTHOR'S NOTES, Continued:
1) You may have noticed a couple of similarities between aspects of this fic and the wonderful story "Slipped," by Kerrison. This was merely a matter of great minds thinking alike; I am a newbie to the site, and this fic had already been written, beta'd, and returned to me for publication before another friend brought Kerrison's story to my attention. I encourage you to go check out "Slipped"! It's a very moving piece, and it's always fun (for me, at least) to see how two writers can start with a similar idea or concept and take it in two very different yet valid directions.
2) This is my first fic in the NCIS fandom, and my first story on ! Reviews are welcome--hope you enjoyed it!