A/N: Well, originally I had another little oneshot type piece that conveyed a similiar plot to it, in which Ziva is the one sent in to comfort another victim -a oneshot which was nearly complete before Patriot Down was ever aired and PO Kaylen Burrows ever introduced. I went back to check out what I had written in the document I had titled It Does Get Better and decided that, with a little work, I could reconfigure the piece to fit within this storyline using Burrows and the case from Patriot Down. And here is the fruits of my efforts. Hope you like, Kit.
P.S. I am aware that I marked this story complete, though there MAY still be an additional part addressing McGee's comment in PD (you know the one).
DISCLAIMER: Yeah, there still not mine.
She glances up as he strides into the bullpen, ubiquitous Styrofoam cup in one hand, steam and coffee smell following obediently in his wake. She quirks an eyebrow in curiosity, replying smoothly, "Gibbs."
"Kaylen Burrows. Conference room one."
Tony goes rigid in his seat, green eyes snapping up to steal a glance at Ziva, gauging her reaction, before flickering to Gibbs. His voice is that of benign indifference as he asks, "Didn't we close that case, Boss?"
He frowns, unwilling to betray his need to pry, rephrasing with delicate bluntness, "Why?"
And Ziva has already risen out of her seat, making her way up the stairs toward the mezzanine.
"Petty Officer Burrows," she acknowledges, closing the door behind her. The younger woman looks up from where she sits at the long oak table, shoulders hunched, fingers curled around a courtesy cup of stale coffee. Dark shadows have taken refuge beneath her eyes and her gaze is tempered with exhaustion and circumspection. Her lips are pressed in a line as light eyes stare defiantly up at Ziva with an intensity that is admirable.
"Agent David," Burrows responds coolly, inclining her head. Ziva draws up a chair and sits down, steepling her fingers on top of the table and regarding the petty officer with calculative dark eyes. Burrows watches the other woman's appraisal passively before asking, "With all due respect, ma'am, why am I here?"
She lets the question settle to the floor before saying slowly, voice measured, "We got them, Kaylen. We got Tyler and Randall Hammond. They are going to jail," and the sequence of emotions that flicker across Burrows' face do not go unnoticed. Fear and relief are mixed with anger and liberation. And shame.
Burrows bites her lower lip, nods her head mechanically. "Why are you telling me this?"
"So you may rest easy."
Burrows laughs mirthlessly, a short, bitter bark that erupts from her throat. "Rest easy? Agent David, I haven't rested easy since. I can't even close my eyes. And I'm on a naval ship as far away possible, as safe as possible . . . ." her voice is sharp, clipped, assertive. Delicate scabs have cracked open at a feather touch and she is struggling to recover her wounds. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Burrows lowers her voice, softens it, saying, "I don't think I'll ever rest easy, ma'am."
And now Ziva finds herself at a crossroad: Able to agree, that no, she may never rest easily again, and walk away, back to the squadroom where Kaylen Burrows and her ghosts will never bother her ever again . . . . or she can open herself up to a hideous truth and allow Burrows company in their commonality. And no matter how much her rationality begs her to take the former option, Ziva knows she cannot. Because Rule #11 clearly states when the job is done, walk away, but the job is not done and therefore she is not going anywhere.
"It takes a while," Ziva admits and her hand has been offered.
Burrows shakes her head, blinking, "I apologize if this is out of line, but how do you know? I'm so tired of people telling me 'It'll get better' and 'I know it's tough.' How can anyone possibly know what it's like unless they've been here? Not one of the psychiatrists has shared in this pain and yet they're going to try and tell me that everything will be okay?" A brave tear manages to escape down Burrows' cheek and she swipes it away roughly.
"Because I have been there, Kaylen," and all semblance of professionalism has vacated the premises. Burrows seems at lost for words, staring at Ziva in disbelief as she continues, explaining quietly, "I was held captive last summer for forty-three days in the company of fifteen men. Believe me, I know."
Her voice is barely audible as Burrows confesses softly, "I feel like I need to scrub myself raw, but I can't get clean."
"That too will go away, that feeling."
"When?" And it is a question asked out of desperation.
Ziva reaches across the table, wrapping her fingers around Burrows wrist, giving her a slight squeeze. "Personally, it took me the better half of two months before I was comfortable in my own skin again. It isn't that the dirtiness is on the outside, though, but the inside."
"And the nightmares?"
"Become less frequent."
Burrows falls silent once more, contemplating the other woman's words. Then, "May I ask you one more thing?"
Ziva nods through her hesitation, offering an encouraging smile, "Of course."
"My tour is over next month and I get to go home. I'm supposed to get married next December . . . . The thought of someone touching me makes me want to crawl out of my skin," and now the tears are slipping silently down her face, as she continues in a hushed whisper, "How am I going to get married? How am I going to be able to let Eric touch me, hug me, kiss me? What kind of wife, what kind of fiancé, am I going to be? I don't talk about it, I don't trust. I can't," Petty officer Burrows is now reduced to hiccupping sobs, a shaking hand covering her mouth as tears roll down her face, falling onto the tabletop.
Ziva blinks back the moisture that has gathered behind her own eyes, gathering Burrows' hand in both of hers. "Listen to me, Kaylen," and her voice is firm yet gentle as she commands the younger woman's attention. "Listen to me: It does get better. I do not know how long it will take you, but it will get better. If Eric loves you, he will not mind waiting, he will not mind relearning how to be around you. If he loves you, he will be patient and everything will come. When you are ready he will listen and you will talk and he will not understand, but he will hold your hand and you will not be so alone . . . . I am lucky. I have someone who has helped me become myself again and, no, he will probably never truly understand, but he is there and that is enough. If he loves you, just being there will be enough."
Ziva bestows another smile, squeezing Kaylen's hand before standing up. "This," she says, sliding a card across the table face down, "is my home number. I'm available any time, regardless."
Petty Officer Burrows just nods, covering the business card with her hand as Ziva leaves the room, closing the door behind her.
From the director's office down the hall, three pairs of eyes watch as Kaylen Burrows stands up and gathers her things, tucking the slip of paper into her pocket. And McGee just sits there, brow furrowed, wholly unsure of what just went on in this soundless film he stumbled across. And Gibbs' suspicions are merely confirmed as he crosses the room to the door, having read the entire truth on Ziva's lips. He's not surprised either at McGee's naivety nor the fact that DiNozzo appears to have heard this story before.
It doesn't take a federal investigator to surmise as to whom has been holding her hand.