A/N This is my first try at something like this. I felt a very rare creative streak and while I started just typing the first chapter for fun it soon turned into a 30+ chapter saga. When I originally wrote and posted this I was trying just to get it done so I didn't catch a lot of mistakes so as I have time I'm reposting the chapters with a few changes and hopefully less overt errors. I can't help but insert a comma every time I inhale, but some things will never change.
It's written in present tense aside from flashbacks and unless noted otherwise it's Ziva's POV.
Normal caveats apply.
Baring My Scars
How often do we dodge the impending bullet, the ticking bomb or the sudden loss of those who share this life, a life as rife with danger and uncertainty as other jobs are saturated with numbing monotony? Each of us regularly tips the balance between caution and courage, not knowing what consequences a split second decision could bring about. However, the deepest pain for me developed gradually, and was of my own making. The courage that brought about my rescue had been carefully orchestrated and had been born from persistent will rather than an instant decision of valor.
Today the precarious dance had been with potential radiation, and thankfully there had been no casualties. Well, maybe a few "little DiNozzo makers" but I am guessing not enough to cause concern if the Italian reputation has any merit.
As my hair is drenched in the welcomed flow of the shower in the NCIS locker room, I am soberly aware that it could have ended differently. Potential risk defines a typical day at the office. I used to shake it off and turn the page without a lingering thought as to what could have been or uttering a quiet thanks with a meaningful brush of my necklace.
Today my mind lingers and I offer a prayer of thanks that we were spared. Today I study the mileage that this body has endured, evidence of the times when it has not ended as just another day. Thankfully, most scars do not show, those being the most harmful tend to be less obvious. If being whipped on the arms was more cliche, perhaps I would be destined to a life of long sleeves, but the back is easily covered and broken ribs and many scrapes and abrasions have healed well enough. The knife to my ribs when I was initially captured had left the most severe mark. I cannot help but smirk when I think that Tony will never have another contraband picture of me in a bikini. I find I am numbly resigned to wearing a one-piece (if I ever wear a bathing suit in public again) than my former vanity would have allowed. I no longer wish to draw attention to my body or consider my beauty as an asset, a tool in my unconventional arsenal. I take care of myself but have no desire to think of myself physically beyond health and simple make-up for my face and the scars that would otherwise be visible. I do not wish for others to look deeper than my casual attire and confident smile.
I have lingered too long in the shower given the circumstances, and have allowed myself too much self-assessment, which borders dangerously on self-pity. I do not want to risk missing anything important in the investigation. Yes, I need to turn my mind to the case, a safer place to mentally dwell. Tony and McGee have likely showered and scrubbed half their skin off in half the time I have taken. Gibbs no doubt skipped the shower all together.
I turn off the water, grab my towel and walk across the mercifully empty room. I try to avoid showering at work to prevent any well-intentioned knowing looks that I fear my skin would elicit. I dry off, wrap the towel around my hair and start dressing when the door flings open and Abby, still wearing the radiation suit minus the helmet, makes a grand crinkling entrance. She starts spouting that Gibbs is looking for me as she rounds the corner to where I am and before I can get my shirt on she sees . . .
I stand in my trousers and bra, and I know before I turn that she had seen them. The marks, the branding that claimed me as his possession despite the distance and even death that now separates Salim from me. When I turn in response I realize that I have now revealed the 4-inch knife wound as well. I am exposed. Abby cannot move, cannot talk and this makes me realize just how (frightened? disgusted? uncomfortable?) she is. I turn back towards my locker, calmly finish dressing and pat my damp hair dry in an attempt to diffuse the awkwardness.
"Abby, where does Gibbs want me? The bullpen, lab, MTAC?" This seems to pull her out of her stupor and she looks at me with dampening eyes and seems aware that I have said something but cannot process anything beyond what I know was a horrific sight. Silence from Abby is unnatural . . . unnerving. After an eternity of seconds she realizes what I have asked and tries to form an answer.
"Um, autopsy, but Ziva. . . "
"Abby," I raise my hand to cut her off. "We will talk later. I must not keep the team waiting any longer." As I leave, I weave my way around the benches so that I am not in danger of a compassionate embrace. I am not feeling as stoic as I appear and I do not think I could survive it with my wits in tact. I look back and plead, "Please do not share what you have seen. I am not yet ready to bare my scars." I leave her frozen and speechless aside from the silent tears that I know she is shedding for me.
I shake off the encounter knowing that it will no doubt lead to a long overdue talk. I have been able to avoid talking to the men. McGee would never broach a topic that may cause me pain. He is quite the gentlemen. With Gibbs words are thankfully superfluous, I suspect he knows, of course he does, but he would never press for confirmation, After all, he puts less stock in psychology than I do. Tony. Tony is worried and waiting. He has always respected me as his partner and enjoyed my friendship, but since Somalia his image of me as being unbreakable, tough as screws, a force to be reckoned with has shattered and a protective respect for my new fragility has emerged. He does not minimize my worth as an agent, and if anything I seem to be more valued by him, yet he is intentionally casual and careful. Even though our friendship has regained a comfortable level of bickering and confidently tips towards flirtation, he no longer takes my state of mind or physical safety for granted.
As I walk the hallway I reluctantly think back to the rescue.
It was a light blur at the end of an infernal nightmare. I saw tenacity in those familiar eyes, I had not felt any emotions in weeks, maybe months, and it seemed all so foreign. I could not process the image in front of me. He came though I deserved it not. Did he really say he could not live without me? McGee risked his life for mine, as well. He had been lying, beaten on the ground, so loyal and encouraging even in the face of defeat. And then there was Gibbs who had resorted to a skill long abandoned to take the life of one that had forever wounded my own. They risked this all for me - a traitor, liar, and worse, a disappointment. I was free, physically. I could move about without restraint, though not effectively after what seemed like a lifetime of bindings, gags, and beatings. I was thankful for the strong arms that held me, guided me, cared for me after being starved of any touch that lacked violence and contempt. I could rely on their muscles as mine advertised my weakened state. I was gently placed in the back of a truck with my three avengers. They looked at me as though I were ethereal. In truth, I had wondered if Salim had concocted a new serum that had me hallucinating, but no hallucination I could muster would be laced with such hope and kindness. No, this was different.
I reach autopsy, regroup with the guys, make my apologies and set my mind to the case at hand. I have been trained to block out all else save what is most important to the mission, yet I find that I can switch my attention on and off more easily these days. I am focused on the case but with each walk down a hall, coffee run, elevator ride, the nagging feeling that I could not avoid Abby for long would usher in more memories.
After a short drive, we arrived at a small military outpost. We stayed long enough for a medic to hop in the truck, take my vitals and put in an IV to counter months of dehydration. Tony and McGee were reluctantly assessed, but they refused any treatment that would delay getting me to a more 'established' medical facility. We then faced a longer drive to a safer and more equipped base. I had ridden laying on a makeshift gurney with my eyes closed, not being able to assess my situation, speculate how it came about, or reason why these men cared. Honestly, I could not think or feel anything aside from palpable weight of concerned stares, and strong, gentle hands that would lightly squeeze mine from time to time. I felt Gibbs' calloused fingers in one hand and occasionally he gently stroked the hair from my face. My other hand instinctively knew Tony's touch.
Once in the makeshift hospital I was taken into a corner and a curtain was drawn for what little privacy could be afforded. I was examined in every imaginable way, questioned by agents for both intelligence and general reporting purposes, all while being treated as evidence. I knew logically that reports would need to be filed, evidence collected and this would not go undocumented, but I was ill prepared for the feeling of utter exposure that accompanied the documentation of my torture. I still felt half outside myself, but the part that was present was thankful that this was done by strangers and that I was not facing MY NCIS agents with the humiliation and defeat of all my wounds and the explanations their horrific origins.
I pinch the bridge of my nose and once again shake the memories from the forefront of my mind.