Title: Leaving Absence

Author: Shannon

Rating: PG

Warning/Spoilers: Season 7, vague spoilers up to 7.15 Jack Knife.

Summary: Ziva, after Somalia. There is always something missing.

A/N: Thanks to Mari4212 and Rinne for beta-ing. Test questions taken from the list at About.

Leaving Absence

She thinks the light is different now. She knows the light is always different – that it is different in summer, in spring, to the grey of these winters, from Washington DC to Tel Aviv. And she knows that someone – McGee, Abby – would have an explanation involving words like particles and refraction and the hum of too many syllables in a language where so often less can be more…

But here, now, to then, before, she thinks the light is different and she doesn't mean the particles. Maybe there's just less of it.

There in that room where they make her tell them her tale (the ship sank, that was it, why can't you take that to be it), her back is to the mirror. This is the way it has always been in this room, the way she wishes it (her) to be: the heroes of Tony's movies – the good guys – on this side and the bad guys on the other, except she knows that this now here is wrong and Gibbs should be sitting where she is sitting because that part – the good part – of her is missing. (Maybe it never existed, no one says.)

She knows that he is opposite her now, but there's no presence at her back and no sea in his eyes (just ice and you cannot hear ice like you can hear sea) and she thinks that if the power were to fail, Gibbs would not be there at all.

But then there is a feather on her finger and she would swear that it wasn't there either, except the warmth settles and spreads and melts his eyes and there are words in her ear and lips brush through her hair and she catches her breath until she feels like she'll burst. She… feels and holds to that for as long as she can but she knows that it can't last. It never does.

She thinks, Something is missing.

She stretches her arms out and twists her back, feels the pull on her skin, the pain jut up her spine.

Never mind.

They do not talk about it, her and McGee. She studies the books, their history, their stories, the numbers and facts that make up this country and maybe will make her one of their own. He passes her questions on scrap pieces of paper,

What is an amendment?

Who is the father of our country?

What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen?

He writes in his book,

To Z, who came back to us. (She buys a copy and crosses it out. She writes, 'for whom you came'.)

Give me liberty, or give me death. She wished for one, but they gave her the other.

She tries to sleep in Paris. She does not think of Jenny with her hand poised on a glass of white wine, flirting over sole meunière, eyes focusing anywhere but on each other, taking in what they do not – did not – know, what they are here to learn. She does not think of laughter at midnight in city lights and shadows, hands on her thighs, the slap of blood and body as it hits the ground.

She tries to sleep in Paris, in the silence and darkness of their hotel room, but there is a lump of Tony next to her in the bed and his muffled breaths fill the air and she's sure it's not supposed to be this way but somehow, somehow it is.

Damon is next to her and then the world is bright and she thinks she can see, she thinks, maybe, maybe, maybe she feels…

(The world revolves the same way but through another point, and it can never be–)

And then they move and it is gone.

Abby sings in her work and with her hands, the science sings for her, her music plays, all the while her red lips laugh. She is so pale and dark and yet vibrant, her Abigail, and Ziva wonders if she could ever be the same. Then Abby spies her in the doorway, reaches out, and pulls her into a hug. Abby's laughter paints the air as she spins Ziva around; Ziva, who forgets to think – Ziva, who just dances.

Ducky gives her tea and a chair and an ear to listen, though she cannot bring herself to say anything. Instead, she sips at the drink (Earl Grey, or English Breakfast, or Ceylon, or Oolong, water freshly boiled and not in a microwave – for Ducky, as long as he has lived here and loved here and will die here, he is still inherently British) and she listens to him, as he potters around autopsy, weaving his tales and magic.

And later, when the light has nearly disappeared, she will lie on a table and fall asleep to that voice telling of Scotland and Paris and the time they fled in a boat. There will be no dreams, but there will be no nightmares.

(She will wake to Gibbs' jacket under her head, Bert in her arms, McGee's iPod playing softly, the blanket Tony normally has stashed in the bullpen instead spread out over her. She will wonder how she did not wake, but then… then she will realise.)

She thinks, ari, please, why? She thinks, you started this, eli started this, i wish i could hate you, i miss mother, oh tali, but…


Gibbs is solid and warm and she closes her eyes and he still has her back. Tony is not quite music but he's noise and sound and he's always there. Abby is colour in black and white, McGee is the writer of comfort and the tap tap of a keyboard, while Ducky tells her the stories and tastes of their world.

Ziva doesn't need to think.

Her life has long been marked by absence, but only now does she not hurt.