Tony was pretty sure he knew where Ziva was headed. If you took the stairs down to the evidence room, you could exit headquarters through a set of fire doors without having to pass through the lobby, thus leaving the building nearly unnoticed. Technically, there was at least one agent stationed at a desk in evidence but they only cared about who went in and out of the evidence storage, not about a distraught woman trying to run and hide. Tony only hoped he caught her in time.
As he pushed open the stairwell door, he heard some indistinguishable noises coming from below. He hurried downward, taking the stairs two at a time and vaulting around the corners with a hand on the railing. As he neared the bottom, the noise resolved itself into quiet sobs, intermittent and muffled. When he cleared the final landing, he saw her on the floor, huddled in a corner with her back to the cold cinderblocks and her head between her knees.
Three quick strides and Tony was at her side. "Ziva," he said as he reached out a hand to caress her hair.
"Go away, Tony."
"I'm not going anywhere and neither are you. Let me help you ... please."
"You can't help. No one can."
"Try me," Tony said as he slid down the wall to sit beside her.
At first she didn't speak; she just sat there ignoring him as she wallowed in her misery. When it became apparent that he was neither leaving nor changing tactics, she finally spoke. "I always knew that my father didn't raise a hand to rescue me, but somehow, as long as I didn't have any contact with him, I could almost pretend that it wasn't deliberate. Pretend that he didn't know." Ziva took a deep shuddery breath and raised her head to look at him. "Do you know what they, what Saleem, did to me while I was captive?"
"I saw you there, remember, I saw what he'd done," Tony replied, knowing he was sidestepping her real question.
"There were other things he did, things that left scars you couldn't see."
Tony bit his lip and paused for a moment, almost afraid to say it. "Rape," he finally whispered. "He raped you."
"Yes. It was not as bad as you think. He was even easier on me ... after. Gave me more food, left me alone for a while." Then she closed her eyes, as if that could stop her from seeing the horrific images this conversation was bringing back. "I got through it by telling myself it was only one more physical torment. I even thought I was over it but now ..." she trailed off.
"Your father has brought it all back. But Ziva, maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it means that you didn't really deal with it before and now you can."
"No it's not that. I told you, I got through it by thinking about it as just another kind of torture. Another slap or punch or cut. But now, knowing what my father said ... that Saleem had a connection to me. That he probably knew about that connection, that even if he didn't, my father did. Now it is more than physical. Now it is personal."
"Ziva, I don't know what to tell you. I can't even imagine going through the things you have. All I can tell you is that I am here for you and if you want to talk ... I'll listen." Tony stroked her hair as he spoke, wanting to help her but knowing he was entirely out of his depth.
Ziva wanted to stay there in his embrace forever. As long as he held her, she didn't have to face the wreckage of her life. But she knew it couldn't last. Not after everything that had been revealed about her.
"It doesn't matter. Soon I won't even be here and you won't have to worry. There's no way I can stay at NCIS now," she choked out bitterly. "Did you have to tell everyone my secret?"
"Tell everyone? Ziva, I didn't tell Vance. Hell, I didn't even tell Gibbs." Ziva looked at him with disbelief in her eyes. "Yeah, for a moment there I thought Vance was gonna fire me, but I still couldn't tell him. It just felt ... wrong."
"You did that for me? I know how much this job means to you, and you risked it ... for me?"
"Ziva, when are you going to understand that not everyone values you as little as your father? You are more important than any job. Besides, I was pretty sure Gibbs would punch him if he did fire me ... right after he finished slapping me silly, that is," Tony finished with a lopsided grin.
And that was when Ziva knew, when she finally understood what it really meant for someone to have your back. She looked at Tony, at this man who had stood by her through thick and thin, who had risked everything for her, and she understood. She reached up a hand to caress Tony's cheek, her eyes locked on his and then, at a loss for words, she simply kissed him.
It took all of the willpower Tony had to break that kiss, but he did it. "No, Ziva, we're not gonna go there again."
Ziva's face fell. "It is okay, Tony, I understand. With everything that has happened you do not want to be more than friends." She looked away so that he would not see the depth of the hurt written on her face.
That look almost made Tony lose his resolve but he was determined to do this right. "I didn't say that ... Ziva look at me," he demanded. When she finally turned her tearfilled gaze back to him, he started to talk. "I think I've loved you almost since we first met, since that night in the rain when you brought me coffee and told me about your sister. So the past two nights, even though I knew you were hurting, they've been like a dream to me. Making love to you is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Ziva, the earth moved."
"And now you do not think it will be the same," Ziva said despondently.
"No, I think it will be exactly the same. That is the problem." Ziva looked at him, confusion in her eyes, and Tony took a deep breath and continued. "Have you ever seen 'For Whom the Bell Tolls?'"
"I think I might have read the book a long time ago but I do not remember it well. American literature was not a priority in my life."
"Mine either, but I've seen the movie a bunch of times. Anyway, part of the story is about these two lovers with this guerrilla group during the Spanish civil war, and although they are doomed, they know that their love is special because sometimes when they make love, the earth moves beneath them. When the girl, Maria, tells this to a Gypsy woman, the woman tells her that any one person only gets to feel that three times in their life. Maria and her lover, Robert, get those three times but then Robert is injured and dies."
"You are saying that you don't want to be with me because the earth might move and then you will die?" Ziva asked in confusion.
"No, no. I'm not doing this well, but I guess that's because I'm no Hemingway. It's the three times that's important, not the dying. These past two nights, Ziva ... the earth moved for me. That's two gone already and each time you ran away afterwards. If Hemingway is right, I only have one time left. I won't waste it with the chance that you'll just do the same thing again. It would break my heart."
"So you want to wait for someone else." She felt as if her heart would shatter.
"No, Ziva. Why is this so hard for you to understand? I want to do it right with you and I think that means we need to start over again, at the beginning. I want to really know you, know what your happiest childhood memory is, the first thing that made you cry. Ziva, do you realize that I didn't even know if your mother was dead or alive until last night? And, most importantly, when we do make love again, I want to know that you will still be there beside me in the morning."
"Tony, we have known each other five years. How would we start over?"
"The same way everyone else starts - with a date," Then he stood up and pulled her up along with him. He took her hand in his and asked,"Ms. David, would you be so kind as to join me for dinner tonight."
Even though there were still tears staining her face, Ziva had to laugh at Tony's approximation of courtliness. "I'd be happy to," she replied.