Title: Achiot (1/1)
Author: Aerial312
Rating: T
Category: Hurt/Comfort
Spoilers/Timeline: Set immediately following the Season 6 episode "Dagger".
Word Count:
Disclaimer: I own nothing…I just borrow.
Feedback: Greatly appreciated.

Ziva tore away from the bullpen. She could not be in that room anymore. The scene unfolding with Gibbs and the little girl was heartbreaking, but Tony's eyes on her, studying her, that was overwhelming. She did not need his pitying looks.

Her eyes stung with unshed tears as she made her way quickly down the hall. She certainly would have cried if she had remained, and if at all possible she tried not to cry when other people could see her. She took a deep breath, blinking hard. Ten more steps. Her resolve cracked in the relative privacy of the ladies' room.

Ziva leaned back against the door as a sob shook her slender frame. She had seen much worse. This case should not be getting to her so easily. As the tears spilt down her cheeks, she slid down the orange painted wall to sit on the floor. It was not really about Agent Lee and her sister. Images from her own past, both distant and painful, swam through her mind.

"Is it time?" Tali asked, slipping a bookmark into the textbook that lay open on her lap. She placed the book on the sofa and stood to face her sister.

Ziva nodded in answer to the question.

"I wish you did not have to go—"

"Tali, I—"

"But , I know you must. You want to."

"I want to serve our country well," Ziva explained.

"I know," Tali sighed. She took in the fatigues that Ziva had on. "You look good in that uniform," she smirked.

Ziva snorted. "I do not think it is possible to look good in this drab olive."

"Maybe it is the gun," Tali grinned. "You are always happy when you get to shoot something. I imagine you will be doing a lot of that."

Ziva smiled broadly, wrapping her arms around her sister's shoulders. Tali was nearly as tall as she was now.

The younger girl continued with a sigh of fake exasperation, "And you will become an even better shot."

"You are not a bad shot yourself."

"The sooner I hit all of the targets, the sooner he lets me go home and read."

Ziva hugged her sister closer. Guns and war had never been of much interest to Tali. She was destined for something more creative.

After a few minutes, Ziva broke away. "I must go now," she said, blinking back the dull ache behind her eyes.

Tears were streaming freely down Tali's face. "Write when you can."

"I will, Tali, I will." Ziva choked, as a lone tear dripped down her cheek.

"Go kick some ass."

Ziva sniffed a laugh as she remembered Tali's exhuberance. Tali had always been able to see the good in anything. Some of it was naivete, sure, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to see anything but the bad in things.

The door opened tentatively. Tony. She had thought he might follow her. The idea did not bother her enough to lock him out. She kept her gaze blankly ahead, but heard him step into the ladies' room and close the door. A moment later the latch clicked into place.

He had not said a word, but she knew his eyes were watching her closely. Those pitying eyes. Ziva sniffed angrily, and wiped at her damp cheeks. A streak of black appeared on her palm. Damn mascara! She sighed and started to bury her head in her arms.

"Don't," Tony called out. "You'll make a mess of your sweater."

Ziva paused, looking up at him finally. To his credit he did not laugh at her makeup streaked face. There would be a crack about it at some point. She let her head drop, but did not put it down on her arms.

Tony crossed to the sink, and returned with a wet paper towel, sitting beside her. "Look up."

"So you can mock me?" she snapped, looking up to glare at him.

"Does it sound like I'm going to mock you?" he asked softly. His eyes told her that he was completely serious.

"I look like a…a…" she growled as the word failed to come to her.

"I think the word you're looking for is raccoon." A slight smile lit up his face, but it was the smile he forced when he did not know what else to do, and she let it go without comment.

Her body shook with another sob despite her effort to hold it back. Why could she not get herself under control? His hand settled between her shoulder blades and he rubbed gently. It felt good, and she could not summon the energy to be annoyed by his pity.

"Look up," he instructed. "Close your eyes."

She complied. Without removing the soothing hand from her back, he lifted the wet paper towel to her cheek and wiped away the black mascara streaks. After a moment of work he pulled the dirty rag away and kissed her forehead lightly.

"There. A little blotchy, but at least you won't ruin your top."

He moved to get up, and she caught his hand between hers, holding on. Tony scooted against the wall to sit beside her, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, tugging her close. Ziva's cheek fell against his chest.

"You just got back from IDF and now you are going away again?" Tali demanded, arms crossed, facing her sister.

"Orders," Ziva answered simply.

Tali scowled. "Where are you-?"

"I cannot tell you."

"And I assume I will not be able to reach you?"

"Correct," Ziva answered.

"How long this time, Zi?"

"Till the job is done."

"Of course." Tali kicked at the ground.

"It is another short term undercover assignment. Under six months," Ziva told her. "Like the ones I used to do."

"And then you will be back in Tel Aviv?" Tali asked.

"I cannot guarantee that, Tali, and you know that. I will go wherever Mossad needs me."

"Orders," Tali scoffed.

"You will understand in two years when you have to serve in the IDF."

"I understand now. But it does not mean that I like it. I will miss you." Tali flung her arms around Ziva's neck.

"I know, Tali, I will miss you too," Ziva sniffed back the tears as Tali cried in her arms.

"Be careful. This is going to be more dangerous than the undercover missions you used to do."

"Undercover ops are always dangerous."

"But now you are an adult. Father will not pull you out if things get too rough."

"You think he would have before?" Ziva laughed.

"I do think so," Tali challenged.

"You give him too much credit. And besides I do not want him to pull me out of a mission."

Ziva lost her composure again thinking about that conversation. She would rue those words a few short months later. It had been the last time she had seen her sister. The heel of Tony's hand ran up and down her heaving back as she sobbed. The steady thumping of his heartbeat beneath her ear gave her something to focus on, and finally she calmed down.

Ziva took a deep breath. "Before the sting at the bar, I told Agent Lee that I understood why she did what she did."

She paused, but Tony remained silent, waiting for her to continue when she was ready.

"And I do. Understand. She did it for her little sister. It doesn't make it right, but…" Ziva's voice broke.

"You avenged your sister." She knew that he knew this already. Something had made her tell him that the day she met him.

"Fiercely."

Tony did not speak, but kissed the top of her head.

After a moment, Ziva continued very quietly. "Of course, this was after… Not before."

"Yeah."

"I was so angry. So, so angry. When I finally heard—" Ziva choked on the last sentence. Even six years later it was still difficult to think about.

Tony's hand stilled in her hair. "When you heard?" Of course he picked up on that, now that she was not sure that she wanted to talk about it. "What do you mean, when you heard?"

"I was working undercover in Russia when Tali was killed."

"How…how long was it before you found out?" Tony asked, trying to keep his voice even. She could feel him tensing beneath her, and soothingly she ran her hand along his chest beside where her head lay. He captured her hand in his, entwining their fingers and squeezing hard. She squeezed back.

"Ari managed to get the message to me about a month after. It took him that long to find out where I was. I still had a month to go. My father would not—"

"That bastard."

"It was an important mission. I was four months in."

"You still try to rationalize it? You think that what he did was acceptable?" Tony asked incredulously. He no longer had a grip on his anger.

Ziva shook her head against his chest. "No. No, I do not think it was acceptable. In retrospect, I do not think he thought it was acceptable either. He ordered me back to Tel Aviv when the Russia assignment was completed successfully, and looked the other way when—I made full use of my metsada skills. I do not think he expected me to be so good at it."

Ziva knelt on the grass beside the tombstone. The ground still showed signs of how recent the burial had been. Three short months. She had never been given the opportunity to mourn properly. Receiving the awful news a month after the fact, and while she was pretending to be someone else, had prevented her from mourning in the traditional manner.

"Forgive me, Tali. I was not there for you. To honor you." Ziva took a small stone from the pocket of her jeans, and placed it on the gravestone. "I have done other things to honor you. Things you would not approve of."

"Tali…these men have done horrible things. They deserved to die. It was quick. I do not miss."

Ziva laughed bitterly to herself. She was rationalizing this all as if Tali would begin to argue with her about her dubious morals. She would give anything for Tali to be able to argue with her again about her dubious morals.

"I bought a Yahrzeit candle. I will light it on your anniversary. I will try to." Ziva bowed her head. "I should know better than to make promises to you that I cannot keep."

Ziva stood. "I am leaving Tel Aviv again. Egypt. I have started to get in the way of Ari's mission with Hamas, with my…revenge."

She ran her hand along the smooth stone. " El malei rachamim…"

Ziva still said that prayer for Tali every time she lit the Yahrzeit candle.

"Tali would not have approved of my revenge," she told Tony, after a few minutes of silence. He had let her get lost in her thoughts without interrupting.

"How many were there?" he asked. His tone was curious, but not judging.

Ziva did not answer right away. Even though she knew that he knew the number was high, she was not sure how he would react to hearing it.

"You can tell me," he whispered into her hair, resting his chin on the top of her head.

"At least twenty-five," she admitted finally. "Then Father put an end to it by assigning me to Cairo. Where I met Jenny for the first time."

If Tony was shocked by the number, he did not show it. Ziva lifted her head off his chest, and looked up at him. He was watching her. But the look on his face was not pity. It had not been pity earlier either, she realized. It was…she could not quite place it. Concern maybe.

"We should get back." Ziva slid out of his arms and stood up. She offered her hand to Tony, who took it to stand beside her.

"Are you okay now?" he asked, still watching her closely.

Ziva nodded. She took another paper towel and cleaned off the last little bits of her smeared mascara. There was a little on Tony's shirt, and a big wet spot, but his jacket mostly covered it.

"I just needed to…process...some things." She crossed to the door, turning back to him before she opened it. "It was good to talk about it." Part of her was surprised that that was true.

His hand reached out and touched her shoulder as she turned back to the door. "You know, you can talk about things more often."

Ziva spun to face him, holding his gaze for a moment before nodding. She was not sure she was ready for more openness, but appreciated the gesture.