A/N—I mulled over the idea of this story for a good month and a half before I decided to actually write it up. I eventually came to the conclusion that I liked it far too much to let it languish in fanfiction limbo. Even so, I spent quite some time working through this story, trying very hard to do this piece justice. I wanted to paint a very powerful moment without it being overly dramatic or completely angst-ridden. I wanted to create something that was as much beautiful as it was gut-wrenching. Though maybe unlikely within the context of the show, I wouldn't consider a scenario like this completely out of the realm of possibility. And even though this starts out focused on Ziva and Eli, the real core and heart of this story is the interaction between her and Tony in the second half. The first part is merely the means of reaching this pivotal point.

Lastly, all I can say in defense of Tony's possibly uncharacteristic actions in this piece is that Love, in all of its forms, is a powerful thing. And when something terrible happens to the one you love, you can't predict how you will react and how strong that reaction may be.

She caught his wrist mid-swing before his hand could complete its arc through the air and connect with her. Ziva could tell that her face was just as surprised as Eli's as she looked guardedly at her father. There was an involuntary stirring of movement out of the corner of her eye, and she shook her head infinitesimally as a warning for Tony and Gibbs not to act.

She slowly released Eli from her grasp, both of them stunned by how swiftly and strongly she had reacted to his attempted hit. He wrung his wrist as they stared wearily into each others eyes, the silence and dimness of Gibbs' basement making them feel as if the two men on the periphery were not even there.

Ziva broke the silence when she said quietly, "This is where everything started, Papa. Here, in this basement, I killed Ari under your orders. And here is where my doubts and mistrusts of you really began to appear." Eli finally reacted as he bristled, "You know better than anyone that his termination was necessary!"

"And that is why I cannot go back!" Ziva burst out in angry frustration, throwing her hands up. She breathed heavily for a moment before continuing with a sigh. "I am tired of living that life of deceit and secrets. I am tired of worrying and always looking over my shoulder. I am tired of being the 'perfect assassin' that you thought you had raised."

"Oh, I know I was wrong on that point," Eli said coldly. "You failed your last mission. Should I thank Agent Gibbs instead for doing what you could not?" he yelled, gesturing toward her boss' still figure. Ziva's face grew stony, her mouth forming a thin line, her fists clenched at her sides. Eli took a threatening step toward her. Pointing at her face, he said quietly with contempt, "You are weak and soft. I thought I had raised you better than that," he spat.

A heavy quiet echoed before Ziva spoke again. "I. Am NOT weak," she said in an angry whisper that carried throughout the dark basement. "I have faced and endured far more than you ever have."

Eli quickly brushed the comment off. "What, torture?" he scoffed. "You were prepared for such things in your training. Besides that, it does not seem to have affected you any. You are just as tenacious as you have always been."

"What about rape, Eli? Was that something you were prepared for me to face?" she attacked back. "Because I was not," she whispered dangerously. Suddenly, Ziva became aware of what had just escaped her lips. She hadn't realized it, she hadn't intended to say it, but it had slipped out anyway.

The basement was struck with a dead silence, and it wasn't lost on Ziva how a stark stillness had intruded on the surrounding space. She briefly looked at the two other men. Gibbs wore an expression she couldn't quite read. Tony, on the other hand, had his eyes closed and his jaw tensed, lines etched on his face. She felt as if a giant spotlight had begun to shine on her as she closed her own eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment, attempting to organize her thoughts.

When she finally looked back up, she was surprised by the look on her own father's face. In her experience, she had never seen him speechless, but he was then. However, like Gibbs, she could not read his face either. It was an odd mixture of shock and surprise, anger and maybe even sadness, but she wasn't quite sure. And, strangely enough, it was his continued silence that brought an unexpected rise out of her.

"Come on, Eli," she said exasperatedly. "What did you think would happen? You deal with tragedies like these everyday in your line of work. Certainly you would have known something like this would have happened." And still he did not speak, but his face finally chose a particular expression, one of a stiff jaw and piercing eyes. Ziva was undeterred under his gaze.

She brought herself up to her fullest height before saying, "And you are right: I am stubborn. It took that happening for me to FINALLY decide to quit Mossad and leave you behind. My entire life, I was made to believe I was either a weapon or worthless," Ziva said stiffly. "But I am a stronger person now. And I have chosen to move on. That is why I chose this," she said, gesturing around the basement. "That is why I decided to become an American citizen and join NCIS. Because I do not need Mossad to make me feel strong. I do not think it ever truly did." She fixed Eli with a determined stare and said simply, "I am leaving everything about that part of my life behind. And that is where it will stay. And this," she said, taking a step back, "is where I will stay."

Ziva leveled him with a fierce regard as they sized each other up. After a few moments, Eli opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but nothing came out. Instead, his features impassive, he turned on his heel and left the basement without a word or backwards glance. Gibbs followed his progress up the stairs and listened as his front door was opened and slammed back shut. He turned back to Ziva as she stared at the wall of his basement, the smallest of satisfied smiles on her face. He threw a sideways glance at Tony before walking over to Ziva. He hadn't said a thing the entire time as he just stared at her profile.

Gibbs stopped in front of Ziva and smiled sadly before he pulled her into a tight yet gentle hug. She returned the embrace gratefully, saying, "I can move on from this. I already am. It is like I said: I am a strong person."

"I know you are," he affirmed quietly. He squeezed her once more before kissing the top of her head. They broke apart, and Gibbs left her in the middle of his basement as he walked toward the stairs. Before he began his ascent, he firmly grasped Tony's shoulder. But the senior field agent did not appear to have noticed as he remained focused on Ziva, shock still on his face. And, once more, he did not say a word as he and her were left alone, staring at one-and-other.

They stood apart, unwilling to make a move for fear of what would come next. Ziva, her arms folded and her shoulders hunched in an almost defensive stance, stared worriedly at her partner who stood with his hands hanging limply at his sides.

Tony swallowed hard before he finally spoke. "I...uh..." But he just couldn't find the right words to say. So silence overtook him again, and he looked more lost than he had ever been. Ziva took a step toward him, and this action finally brought speech back to Tony's lips. "I'm sorry," his voice cracked weakly, unable to find any other suitable words. Ziva looked desperately at him, slowly taking another step forward. Tony's eyes began to dart around the darkened space as he attempted to find a firm footing. He finally settled on her eyes again as he repeated, "I'm sorry." And it was a declaration even more pained than the one that came before it.

In the light of the single dim lamp overhead, Ziva began to see tears creep into his eyes. And her heart broke as she took another step. "I'm sorry," he pleaded again, raising his hands in a helpless gesture. As Ziva reached him, Tony fell to his knees, unable to hold it in any longer. He balled his fists on his thighs as he cried without restraint, all the while repeating a mantra of "I'm so sorry." Ziva, arms at her sides, looked helplessly down upon him, at a loss for what she should say or do. Pain pierced both her and him with every sob that broke from his chest. He just couldn't stop them from coming. And he didn't care.

Ziva laid her hand on his shoulder and slowly knelt in front of him. But Tony didn't register her touch. "It's all my fault," he cried, holding his head in his hands. She flinched as his admittance of perceived guilt hit the very core of her. Ziva remained silent for a moment before she finally spoke. "Tony," she said quietly, unsure of whether or not her words were being drowned-out by his sobs. "Do not blame yourself for this."

But his cries continued unheeded. So she firmly, yet gently, placed her hands on the sides of his neck, willing him to look at her, and two breaking sets of eyes finally met. "This was NOT your fault," she pleaded with him. "It was something that happened. Something neither you nor I could have prevented." She willed him to understand as she looked into his now-red eyes. "Please," she begged, staring into the deepest depths of him. "Do not blame yourself," she repeated, her own eyes threatening to spill open as well.

"But I'm the one who sent you into that mess! I pissed you off so much, you stayed behind because of me!" he choked out as he screwed up his eyes. A moment passed as, once again, his cries were the only sound in the basement.

"But I am here now," Ziva responded quietly. Tony slowly opened his eyes to her own, tears sliding down his cheeks. She leaned toward him and said adamantly, "And it is thanks to you." She paused, allowing these words to sink in before continuing. "You could never know how much you have helped me since. You are one of the reasons I have been able to move on from this. Do not let this bury you. It did not me. I know that both I and you are stronger than that," she said looking deep into his eyes.

Ziva felt Tony's pulse finally slow beneath her hands on his neck as it found a steadier beat. They looked into each other for some time before he tiredly closed his eyes and allowed his chin to come to rest on his chest. And still, nothing more passed between them.

Everything finally fell silent. They still knelt, Tony with his head bowed, Ziva eying him apprehensively. Suddenly, Tony let his forehead fall against Ziva's shoulder as he took deep breaths, attempting to calm himself. "I thought DiNozzo men did not cry," she half-joked quietly. Tony was silent for a moment before saying, "They do. If there's a very good reason to," he sniffed, wiping tears from his face. She smiled softly before she hesitantly hugged his head to her as she sat on her heels. "I am sorry, Tony," she whispered as she laid her own head down.

The two hunched figures remained in the basement for some time, picking up each others pieces and slowly putting them together again. And it is true what they say: You can never fully know the pain of another until you have held it in your own hands and felt it for yourself.

A/N—Thank you very much for your time! Comments, criticisms, and reviews are always very much appreciated. A special thanks to Linkin Park's songs "Iridescent" and "The Messenger", Civil Twilight's "Human", and Barcelona's "Get Up" for providing very-appropriate background music throughout the writing process of this story. Until next time, happy reading!