Title: "Three Years"
Category: Drama, Angst
Characters: Ziva David
Pairings: References to Michael/Ziva, Ziva/Tony
Spoilers: Post-6x25 "Aliyah"
Disclaimers: Neither NCIS nor any of its characters belongs to me.
Summary: A look at Ziva during her capture/torture and afterward.
Notes: This was written before Season 7 aired, so it does not take into account any of Season 7's canon.
Thanks to Rose Wilde Irish for a quick beta. Any remaining errors are my own.
She thought about them - not a lot, but occasionally. Rarely, really. Usually when she was alone, usually when she had been drinking. In those moments, when she allowed herself to remember, she wondered how they were doing. If she'd really wanted to, she could have found out; could have picked up the phone, written a letter, sent an email; and if the direct approach were impossible, she could have called on contacts, called in favors, used her personal international network. But she didn't. It was better not knowing, she told herself. If she knew, she would regret. There would be the 'what-ifs' and the 'but maybes,' and there was no room left in her life for remorse.
When she dreamt, it was of a dark, filthy cell, overbearing heat, the ever-present smell of waste and decay, the taste of dirt, blood, and bile in her mouth; and death with a knife, cutting away her lifelines, one-by-one, bleeding her dry, smiling all the while. She never screamed - not in her dreams, not when she woke. Had lost that ability, maybe. (Even sex, now, was quiet.)
Four weeks after her capture, she was rescued by the undercover Mossad operative stationed within the Al Qaeda training camp. By then, of course, she had already guessed the truth - that she had been sent to fulfill the role of a decoy, to serve as a distraction. How else had they discovered her team so quickly? How else had they known about her, about her relationship to NCIS? The leak was deliberate, the mission almost certainly suicide.
Michael had known (it explained his drinking, why he had hidden the intel, the fierce, mindless desperation in his eyes as they made love). Her father had known (words carefully chosen: are you or are you not a daughter of Israel? are you or are you not my daughter?). Only she had not, had blindly allowed herself to be manipulated, her emotions (pridegriefbetra yaldevastationa nger) played.
Four weeks that lasted forever.
Her captor, the leader of the camp, was not professionally trained in interrogation techniques, but he was more than experienced, and he made up for his lack of formal education in other ways. How hard was it, really, to cause physical suffering? Even children could do it, learning the ways of torture by tearing the wings off of insects. To damage without killing; that was simple enough. Human hands, for example, made effective weapons - a few hard slaps here, several well-placed punches there (and there and there); bruises and broken bones the result. Just a taste, he said as his fingers tightened around her throat, of what's coming next. He was not lying. (Her own words: There's only so much torment a human body can bear.)
He was strangely patient with her. Familiar with men like him, fanatic leaders, she assumed - correctly - that he was used to immediate, unquestioning obedience. That he did not kill her within the first few days of her capture was proof of how much he valued her knowledge. It was not mere sadism, though he was that (I do so love to hear you scream), but also arrogance; he was confident he could break her. She might be a Mossad officer, even a former member of Kidon, bred to withstand the worst, but she was only a woman; she was only human. And if frustration occasionally overtook him, he merely took it out on her, and upon his return, hours later or a day later (passing in and out of consciousness, sometimes tied up and blindfolded for hours on end, she could not tell the passage of time, and, in any case, there was no set schedule for his visits), the status quo would be restored. She would still be his prisoner; he would still hold her life in his hands.
She could tell that he enjoyed hearing himself speak; he did it often enough. But words were weapons, too. He understood, as she did, that even the briefest words could be a catalyst for a mind weakened by fatigue, pain, and starvation (for food or sleep or human contact). He threatened her in the beginning, mostly as a test. He was not surprised by her unresponsiveness; he merely intensified the physical assaults against her. At some point, he allowed his men more creative ways of making her suffer. His focus, then, moved onto NCIS. It was harder to affect indifference here, for when she was alone, they occupied her mind. Memories came to her of people she had known, those she had loved and cared for, those she had hated or killed, ones she had lost and ones she had never had. Past partners, past lovers, past missions; friends, acquaintances, colleagues. But mostly it was them. Sometimes, she imagined them speaking to her, blaming her or reassuring her, sympathy and accusation, but that was the result of delirium and exhaustion, physical weakness, perhaps some damage to her brain (and an invisible hole in her chest that bled longing).
She tried to give nothing away, though she must have. She settled on defiance, mostly. Anger and hatred did not need to be faked. She spat in his face, taunted and mocked him, hurled insults from bloodied lips. And when she had no saliva left, no voice, she would only look at him out of her uninjured eye with silent contempt. Other times, she remained emotionless, saying nothing, hardly looking at him, even when he forced her gaze to his.
Once in a while, he played the role of savior. After she had been suitably physically tortured for the time being, he would stroke her hair almost gently, offering release to her on a silver platter, murmuring sweet seductions in her ear: 'If you tell me, I will end all of this.' Temptations, like the promises of a lover. She had laughed the first time and suffered for it, but this did not prevent her from laughing at him again and again. But later, a tiny voice in the back of her mind whispered, 'Why not?' Why shouldn't she confess? Defying her captors, enduring so much pain, and for what? Mossad had betrayed her; NCIS had betrayed her. Her father, Michael, Ari, Vance, Tony, Gibbs. They had hurt her in ways that this man never could - invisible wounds that transcended the body, pierced the soul. She could not be Gibbs' surrogate daughter, nor the perfect weapon for Vance or her father; she had not been able to save her brother Ari. Michael had used her, pretending to love her, and Tony, who did not love her, could not let her go.
Her own personal psychological torture was, ironically, more powerful than her captor's. Yet she did not break. Mossad and NCIS did not deserve her loyalty, but they had it. Still, there was something else, something more. Even when she could not distinguish reality from dreams and hallucinations, from deep-rooted fears or heart-shattering desires, even when she screamed until she could no longer scream, she clung to this unnamed thing that was stronger than duty, stronger than loyalty.
The art of coercion lay in obtaining information. This, her torturer failed to do. In inflicting pain, however, the physical kind, he more than succeeded.
So passed four weeks. It might have been several days, it might have been two months.
She recalled only vaguely, in brief flashes, spurts of memory here and there, her rescue - waking to the sounds of commotion outside, gunfire, yelling, explosions, a door opening and urgent words spoken to her in her mother tongue; herself falling forward, hands steadying her, pulling her to her feet; a gun pressed into her left hand, her only good one; after that, a blur of adrenaline and desperation and instinctual self-preservation (or was it more - the desire to live?).
In the end, the mission was a success. The terrorists were taken down, her captor included, the camp demolished. Half-dead, she returned to Mossad a hero because she was not fully dead.
Her father visited her, briefly, on her second day in the hospital. He said, "I am glad you are alive" and kissed her on the forehead; his lips were warm against her cool skin, and she wondered, fleetingly, if he had ever loved her, but she did not say this aloud, and he did not apologize for sending her off to die. (After all, Director David did not have regrets, and he took care of his mistakes.) They exchanged stilted, meaningless words, and she felt suffocated by his presence; perhaps hers was for him as well, for he did not visit her again after that.
Upon her release, she threw herself into recovery and physical therapy. She had come to believe that only work could restore some semblance of normalcy to her life; that only work could fill this gaping hole in her, this emptiness. A perpetual state of nothing, as if she had lost something of herself somewhere, something vital and irreplaceable and only her; except, she was no longer certain what it was. Maybe it could never be recovered.
It took six months before she was cleared for active duty; perhaps several weeks earlier than was wise, but she insisted, and no one argued.
Other than her official report to Mossad and the various debriefings, she did not discuss that mission to Somalia. Certainly, she did not ever talk about her feelings. At no point did her father even suggest she might return to NCIS, and she did not ask. Instead, her second week back at Mossad, she was sent off to the United Kingdom for an undercover assignment; it lasted three months.
Her dreams were mocking reminders of her weakness. Reminders of how badly she'd wanted it to be them rescuing her; how much she'd wanted it to be him. She had not, until her rescue, known that it was not only pride or patriotism or loyalty or strength that had kept her breaking, but also hope. Hope they had taught her, hope they had unwittingly crushed.
The disappointment: indescribable; in some ways almost worse than the torture itself.
The realization: they didn't know; they never would.
The understanding: that part of my life is over; I will never see them again.
She accepted that this was her punishment for her unintentional duality. She had not only lost Michael (faithless, lying Michael) but also her father (now, only distant memories of his kindness in her youth), her friends (the people she would have, just a year earlier, called her family), and the man she loved (unrequited as it was; she had loved him even as he had shattered her illusions with two bullets to the chest). She had tried to skirt the borderline of two completely different worlds, had tried to make peace between two warring sets of ideals; she had tried (so desperately) to balance two identities, inherently incompatible (the person she was, the person she had been trained to be; and the person she was becoming, the person she wanted to be), and in the end, when they had forced her to choose (each whispering loyalty, honor, duty, family, love, trust), she could choose neither and so had lost both.
She did not replace the necklace that had been taken from her. Of its fate, she knew nothing; she hadn't thought to ask until she had reached for it and discovered its absence. It represented, anyway, a section of her life that was no longer relevant, carefully buried under layers upon layers of dead, unnecessary emotion. She did not feel much anymore.
Mossad became everything, just as her father had wished. She did as she was ordered - did it damn well, even better than before. And when she was not working, she ran eight kilometers everyday, frequented the shooting range, read countless books, went sailing, saw movies and plays, ate at cafes, went to the bars, had one night stands - pretended she was living when she knew that she was not. (Was this how Ari felt?)
Three years. That was when she received the phone call. A number she did not recognize, but that was not unusual.
"David," she answered automatically.
"Ziva?" An uncertain, familiar, distinctly American voice.
And she wondered, then, as she slowly started to breathe again, when she had first stopped.