Disclaimer: NCIS characters and situations borrowed. No profits made.
A/N: The final chapter, finally! Once again, thanks to all of you who have commented or PM'd to say you liked this story, and thanks too for all the alerts and favoriting you've done. So many new readers, too! You all made my days this week; my e-mail alert was pinging madly with all the action!
Once again – thanks so much for reading and for letting me know what you thought. All comments are very much appreciated...
"OKAY, TRIED - COULDN'T. LISTEN..."
It had been only three days since he'd bent Catherine's ear about things. He had wanted to take more time and think it all through, but in the days since, Tony was more and more certain something had to give soon. Even aside from what Ziva said anymore or how she reacted to him, she wasn't herself; swinging from Stepford-Ziva, with a vaccuous little smile as she seemed to tune out things around her, to that quick irritation with things that never bugged her before. If there had been signs of improvement it might be less disconcerting, but Catherine said to trust his gut on this, and his gut was screaming that Ziva was at best stalled in some emotional limbo, and at worst – getting worse.
Tony wondered again how Gibbs had let them go on this long. He didn't think he was such a good actor that Gibbs didn't sense he was off his game; he didn't think Gibbs had become suddenly so oblivious to his team that he missed just how off kilter both he and Ziva – and therefore, even McGee – had been since she was back in the field. What Tony didn't get was why he'd let it go on even this long. He'd given serious thought to confronting his boss about it; after all, it was not only chain of command but it was what he'd normally do, seek Gibbs' advice and defer to the man's better judgment. But this time – this time it didn't seem like the best way. Had Gibbs known what to do, he would have done something by now. Maybe he still thought that waiting for Ziva to heal on her own was best, but at this point Tony didn't think so, and in this he might even have more experience than Gibbs, the sheer number of kidnaping or sexual assault victims handled by city cops greater than those in NCIS's jurisdiction. Besides, this might not have been his fault, exactly, but he was inextricably bound up in it – with his part in Rivkin's death and his own obsessive reaction to losing her, and now with her focusing her pent up rage at him, it fell to him to fix.
All he knew was that they couldn't go on like this, he couldn't go on like this, not and work together, spend long days together as a team. And Ziva couldn't keep going on like this without hurting more and more. Tony had no clue if his actions now were a bad or good idea, or whether he was overstepping his bounds to take on something that should be the team leader's job. All he knew was that he needed to stop stalling and address the issue with her, and now, at least obliquely. The best he knew to do in the face of the vicious, tragic circumstances Ziva had lived though was to rely on his gut, along with his training and experience, as ancient as some of it seemed now. Unconsciously shifting the items he clutched to hold them tighter, he drew a breath, the moment feeling almost as surreal as things had after learning the Damocles was lost – and rapped on Ziva's door.
Moments went by. He didn't knock again, didn't leave, just ... waited. He knew both were enough.
Standing there, he noticed without noticing the fresh scent of recently cut wood, the apartment building nearly as new as Ziva's return to the District, its lighting subtle, minimalist and elegant – fitting for Ziva, he mused. He remembered then tried to ignore the fact that most of the others – or all of them? – had been here to her new place already, all but him; McGee for her computer and Abby, probably, just because Abby would have brought a plant or some food or both and even Palmer, if she had another piano to be tuned. Hell, Gibbs probably showed up with a bookcase or table or maybe even a boat ... but he'd had nothing to offer, so no excuse to come by. He'd thought about just stopping by one night after work, but was always stopped by wondering, even with her several eruptions at him at work, if she could still be honest enough to just kick him out if she didn't want him there.
But now he found himself at her door, in her hall, nearly midnight, unannounced, and if ever he might have been welcome he'd really made that unlikely now. He didn't think about how long he should wait. She'd know someone was there, would know it was him; his gut had brought him here and if he backed out now...
The door opened, slowly. He'd think later he might have waited even four or five minutes. Behind the door, Ziva stood, unmoving, looking uncertain, annoyed, troubled ... fragile. Not at all like work. Not at all like Ziva...
"Hey," he said softly. He waited, quietly, for her to make the first move.
"Tony..." she began slowly, eyebrows drawing down as she wondered at his unexpected appearance. "What do you want?"
"A few minutes," he shrugged.
"It is late..." she protested.
"I know. I'm sorry," He really was, but his gut hadn't been quite so insistent earlier or he could have gotten an earlier start. Still ... he continued softly, "just a few minutes, Ziva. Just ... to clear the air about a couple things. There's really no place or time at work."
She stood rooted to the spot she'd been since opening the door, her hand on the doorknob, feet bare, her eyes large and dark and looking at him, into him, as if trying to read his intention behind his words. Uncharacteristically, Tony remained as still as she did, returning her look with a soft gaze of his own, unthreatening and trustworthy, as he had learned to do with other broken souls. After many moments, Ziva seemed to come to herself again and stepped aside, opening the door wider. "Alright," she said in toneless acceptance.
He nodded and smiled, murmuring "thanks" before even starting to move. He took a few steps into her still-new apartment and closed the door behind him, trying not to look around as if he was assessing the place, but kept his eyes on her or in the area between them. He waited to see if she would speak first, wanting to avoid doing anything that might make her feel pressured or threatened or forced. He knew it didn't matter that they were partners, that they'd known each other for a few years now and had had each other's six on a daily basis nearly all that time. She'd been a captive and a victim, and that would mess with the strongest mind. He would not take anything at all for granted, not for this.
"What is it you want, Tony?" she asked again. She'd remained standing where she'd moved to open the door, and though she willed her voice to remain unemotional, made more difficult by her apparent exhaustion, he could see it: she'd tensed slightly, her arms around her as if she were chilly. Her eyes were no longer quite able to meet his. Nothing like she's been at work at all...
Tony tried to plunge ahead with the little speech he'd had to give before, to other victims, but Ziva's brave and broken stance before him, the effects of her captivity so clear, hit him nearly as hard as her unexpected resurrection in Somalia had. Suddenly words never exactly easy to begin with, but that had come for those other victims, seemed too glib and too easy. "Ziva..." he breathed, and when she barely moved, as if just waiting for him to say whatever he'd come to say, he felt as if he were adding to the abuse she'd suffered. "What you went through..." he began, "... no matter the training you've had or how strong you are – what happened to you was just about guaranteed to have some lasting effect..."
"How could you know what happened to me?" she interrupted, as for the first time that night her voice sharpened and her arms drew a little tighter around herself.
"I don't – not the details." With her response, Tony found his footing again and urged, evenly, "but when we showed up you were being held captive by a gang of terrorists. You had signs of physical injury, probably inflicted by them; you'd lost weight and were physically restrained. Even with only that much, what I said still goes. But," he paused a last moment to reconsider his next words, then went on, "the last time we'd seen you before seeing you again in that cell, you had just lost a ... lost Rivkin, and had gotten a whole new set of facts about Rivkin and your father and what was happening behind your back at Mossad. You were still Mossad." He watched her carefully but saw that she remained tensely stoic. "Now you're back with us, and you are doing an amazing job of holding it together and working to build a future here. I hope it's with NCIS for a long, long time. But Ziva," he whispered, "what you went through ... you don't have to carry it all inside, alone, and if you haven't seen someone to help you through it..."
"Why do you think I have not?" Her words were again soft and flat as she stared at the floor. "The Director ordered it; why do you think I disobeyed?" She would not meet his gaze, and it represented more to him than any physical scars could.
"Ziva..." he whispered again. He watched as she stood rigid, giving away nothing more than her taut stance and downcast eyes would tell. "Because ... I know you. I knew you before all this ... and I know how insistent you were about not appearing weak or in need of some help.' He watched as she just took all in, wanting desperately to find a way to help her past this. "Some things are harder to just walk off than others."
She stood rooted, unmoving, for long moments, until, raising her chin and straightening, forcing her arms to her sides, she finally asked, stiffly, "is there something specific that I did or did not do since my return? Because as a probationary agent I..."
"Ziva," he repeated, watching her sadly.
Finally, with his continued silence, she focused on him to see the concern and care for her reflected in his eyes, and her control stuttered slightly. Frowning as she swallowed and took a deep breath, seeking focus, she straightened a little more, then inexplicably, seemed to deflate slightly as she repeated yet again, defeat in her voice, "What is it that you want, Tony?"
He wanted to say that he wanted to rewind the last year, so none of it would happen as it had; he wanted to say that he wanted the old Ziva back, but knew how wrong that would be if she were gone forever. He wanted to say that every day since Rivkin had appeared in a photo at her desk he'd wished he'd done things differently with her, and had been honest about how he felt before all of this happened – if only he knew exactly what it was he'd been feeling, then or now. But his answer was simpler and just as honest. "I want you to be happy again," he began. "I want you to feel that you can be yourself, no matter what that means at the moment. I want you to feel comfortable letting down these new walls – and if you need them, even putting the old ones back. I want you to..." he dared, "to feel your emotions honestly – if you're mad at me, be mad at me; if you're mad at Saleem, be mad at him. But try to remember which of us just wants you to be happy ... and which of us was a terrorist bastard."
As he watched her for some sign of reaction, he suddenly wondered if might be opening wounds that meant that no matter her response, he shouldn't leave her alone, even if she asked him to. He mentally head-slapped himself for showing up in the middle of the night, when memories and nightmares could be the most insistent. The old Ziva would have been fine or if not, would ask him to stay, if she ever needed or wanted someone there. This Ziva – one worlds different not only from the woman he knew before but even from the brittle, quick to anger Ziva he worked with now – who knew what his words might have done to make things worse for her, here in the middle of the night, alone.
He glanced away for a moment, then took a small step to the side to lay the small stack of materials he still held on the entryway table, by her mail. "Some information ... from a psychologist friend," he shrugged, still looking away. "From a clinic, and a couple survivor groups ... and some information you could read, on your own..."
He glanced up to see that she had again wrapped her arms around herself, but the tension had dissipated, and he had no idea how to read that. She still looked away, but he thought he saw the trace of a tear shimmering on her cheek. He frowned, no idea what to do or say next, when she spoke again. Her voice was so low he could barely hear her.
" ... you do not have a 'psychologist friend.'"
He hesitated; her tone barely gave anything away but he could have sworn she was trying to make a joke. He looked closer and she raised her eyes back to him, another tear escaping that she brushed away roughly, but she said again, "you do not have a psychologist friend."
"I do," he replied cautiously, eyebrows lifting in hope that the Ziva he knew from before was somehow reaching out to him. "And she's pretty smart, and still puts up with me. Are you impressed?" he baited gently as he showed her his trademark grin, hoping wildly that he was right in what he thought he saw.
"Ah, a 'she.' So she is a beautiful blonde, with sexy legs, yes?" Her tears began to flow more readily but it was as if Ziva was determined to ignore both her tears and the unsteady breathing that went with them, other than to swab first at one eye, then the other, as she fought the emotional torrent forcing its way though her, even striking a smirking attitude with her words for him.
Tony managed to maintain his grin, despite the alarming combination of Ziva's tears with her efforts to connect with him again, determined to follow her lead in this. Even with her tears, her teasing was still more familiar than she'd been since the Somalian cell where they'd sat knee to knee and wondered if they'd get out alive – more like it had been between them before Rivkin showed up, more than six months ago. "Yeah, she is, and she's brilliant too, but right now she's about ten and a half months pregnant and is the size of a barn, so telling her she's beautiful, she'd be likely to knock your head off." He added with a nod, "you'd like her."
In another sudden, unexpected turn, Ziva's expression fell slightly, to Tony's surprise, but he had only a moment to wonder about it. "And ... the father ... it is not your 'barn,' this pregnancy?"
"No," he answered immediately, in surprise – feeling oddly buoyed that the thought caused her momentary disappointment. "Oh, no; hell, no – no way; it would be like having a baby with my sister – if I had one."
Ziva's face warmed again with the news, still glittering with moisture, and she nodded, admitting, "then yes, I would like her." In the next moment, though, she sobered again, and she glanced over at the stack of materials Tony had brought with him. Biting her lip, her look now determined, Ziva tried to make her voice light as she stepped over to the table where they lay. "I ... know of this place," she tapped the top pamphlet with her finger, then looked up at him. "I recognize their design." Tony looked to see the logo of a rape crisis center in Montgomery County, then back to Ziva. Their eyes met for long moments, hers still wet as new tears slipped away, but she drew a shaky breath to say, "it is alright, Tony. It ... is what it is." Another tear slipped out, ignored, and she added, "it was good of you to bring these."
Tony felt as if he was holding his breath, surprised yet again with her response. Maybe his showing up here, alone, not so public and no audience to see, allowed her to open up – or maybe she was simply performing for him as she must have for the psychologist who cleared her for duty. "I've been worried about you, Ziva..." he admitted simply.
"I am fine," she said immediately, as she had with Gibbs and the others, too quickly and glibly, but this time as she did, another tear spilled to slip down her cheek. "Now ..." she spread the stack of pamphlets a little with her fingertips. "What else did your psychologist friend send?"
The movement caused the materials to slide, and a small, rounded package slipped from the stack and hit the floor with a light rattle. Quicker than Tony, Ziva knelt down to retrieve it, holding up, in the flat of her palm for them both to inspect, a purple and white plastic whistle, attached to a long purple and white stretchy cord, clearly made to be hung around someone's neck. Tony's thoughts flashed back twelve years or so, to the first time he'd seen one like it, and mentally kicked himself.
"A whistle?" Ziva asked softly, her brows drawing in question.
"Oh – yeah – sorry," he took it from her and stuffed it in his pocket, wishing he'd checked the materials first. It wasn't something he'd have brought her, but now, probably with his quick reaction to seeing it, he'd simply made her curious. Way to go, DiNozzo, he growled to himself.
"It was not supposed to be there?" Her eyes, suddenly too large, added to the effect of the emotional mix he'd seen from her so far, and dented his usually dependable ability to spin a deflecting story.
"It, ah ... well, it was, with the materials, but not something you'd need..." he tried. Seeing her wait for more, he heard himself start to babble, cornered with it now, "it's a ... a safety whistle. Usually suggested for women, but not a bad idea for anyone, really. The idea is that if someone's alone, like at night, in parking garage or some isolated place, if they're attacked, and need help, they can blast away on it and get someone's attention." He watched her closely, praying she would never believe that she was any less capable than she had been before – or believe that he would ever question her abilities. "But I know you're not so much the whistle type, seeing how you could take out a whole parking garage full of attackers yourself. You'd probably rather do that than toot on some little whistle."
She stood unmoving for a moment, then looked down to blink away the wetness in her eyes, again drawing the back of her hand across her cheek. With a deep breath, she then looked back to him and raised her other hand, palm outstretched. "May I have it? she asked softly.
"The whistle? Yeah; sure..." He dug back into his pocket and pulled it out, dropping it in her hand. "I didn't really think it was your sort of thing," he apologized awkwardly. "It's not like you'd even need help; heck, if I were in a deserted parking garage I'd call you for help."
She nodded. "It is not why I want it."
He shrugged, not getting it. "Then...?"
"Because it comes from the man who came to my rescue when I did need it." She paused another moment, looking at the small plastic whistle, before looping its colorful cord around her neck. "It is a good reminder."
"If you whistled, I'd come," he said softly, as sincere as she'd ever heard him.
"I know you would, Tony," she looked back in his eyes, her own dark and troubled again. The connection between them was electric, as if they were seeing each other again, really seeing the other, for the first time. The moment built until they both suddenly spoke, in a rush, their words first identical.
"I'm sorry for..."
"... what I did – " Tony began.
"...what I put you through..." Ziva said over his words, but in hearing them, her eyes looked nearly as hurt and filled with impossibility as they'd been when he first saw her in that cell. "What you did?" Ziva repeated softly, incredulous. "Tony ... why would you be sorry?"
He blinked, wondering that she could really ask him that. "For Michael ..." he shrugged, looking at her in question now. "The way it all turned out..."
She never dropped her long, searching look, still looking into his eyes and expression as if she had not seen him in a very long time. Maybe she hadn't, he started to think, not while she was so busy hiding herself...
But she seemed to find something there because there was the slightest shift in her expression, as if a question had been answered, when she began to speak. "I never knew ... I didn't understand what Michael was doing, or why, or ... or how much of it my father knew. You were far ahead of everyone on that, Tony. You at least knew something was..." She paused, and for the slightest of moments her expression softened into a sad smile. "Hinky?" As his mouth quirked in recognition of the word they'd all borrowed from Abby, she went on, "You came on what could have been a suicide mission of your own to avenge my death..."
"To ... to end the killing," he interrupted, trying, not too convincingly, to make it seem less personal – and less obsessive – on his part.
"That was what you told Gibbs and the Director," her voice was soft, almost broken, but steady and insistent, and he saw that the spark that must have kept her alive through months of torture was keeping her moving her memory of that time as well. "But it was not what you told Saleem."
"Only McGee was there to hear any of that, and he was unconscious," Tony resisted. "So whatever I might have said..."
"Not unconscious," she said softly.
"And ... McGee told you?" DiNozzo wasn't quite sure what to think of that. Surprised, and not sure that he had managed to hide the genuine puzzlement about why it would have even come up between Ziva and McGee, given how things had been with all of them now, he backpedaled, "he probably just imagined that; you know, he got an armful of drugs too, I think..."
"...Tony," she tried.
"... and between the drugs and getting knocked out by a rifle butt in the middle of a sandstorm..."
He stilled immediately, but couldn't find it in himself to look back up at her in the eye just then, knowing this just wasn't the time to muddy things with how he felt about her, not so soon, but just not sure he could hide it all if they stayed on this topic. With a quick mental shake he drew a breath and looked back to see her deep brown eyes, still so soft and dark, just as they had been in that hot, sticky cell, filled with pain and question and wonder and impossibility all over again as she asked him again, "why were you there?"
There, in Somalia, drugs and sleep deprivation and the surrealism of the moment allowed for his glib greeting, his pressing on in his blind faith in Gibbs and the plan. But here – in the States, in Washington, in the manufactured comfort of central heating and new furniture and nearly normal surroundings – he had no hollow words for her. He couldn't lie; he couldn't bluster away what she knew, what had driven him like a madness. No matter the noble sentiment or heroic words about preventing the worst, his goal, down deep, had been simple: to kill her killer. "I didn't know what else to do," he said finally. "After all the time that you had been here, in Washington ... after things that went wrong for us all ... for Roy and Jeanne and Michael, and neither of us knowing what to make of any of that. For all that time ... and I had never stopped to think that I might ever lose you." He swallowed, feeling awkward; he shifted his weight to his other foot and blustered slightly, "kinda dumb, really; after all, we don't exactly have desk jobs and with everyone around here who's died, we really ought to know that..."
He wasn't looking at her as he rambled, so the gentle weight of her hand on his arm surprised him. "Tony," she said again, softly. When he looked back to her, he saw her brow drawn, her expression troubled, a mix of concern, regret, remorse, and God knew what else there. He knew in that moment his usually nimble brain had failed to craft him an escape from the truth, and that Ziva had just heard from him a reiteration of the far simpler "can't live without ya" he'd offered her months ago. He waited, uncertain what his confession would bring. Given her recent, recurrent anger with him, her clearly derailed sense of self, and the surprising near-normalcy from her amid the wildly un-Ziva-like tears, he wondered fleetingly if he'd done more harm than good.
She finally dropped her eyes from his, unmoving for many moments, silent now. The silence, always one of the greatest torture methods that could be used on a DiNozzo, finally moved him to try, "hey..."
She looked up immediately, her brow clear again, and – did he just imagine it? – the faintest, earliest gleam of new lightness in her eyes. "It is late, and I am making you stand in the hall." She looked away for a moment, the tension gone from her frame and a tired but more settled look came back in her eyes. "Come into the kitchen with me and I will make us some tea – or hot chocolate?"
He dared to smile a little at her words, allowing him to feel some of the hope that Catherine had promised him. He needed to leave her a out, though ... "I didn't exactly come over on an invitation," he reminded her. "Are you sure you want company this late?"
She nodded, admitting, "sometimes ... the nights are the most difficult. I have seen many late night movies since my return," she added wryly, aware of what the image – and her movie watching – might mean for him. "If it not too late for you, I would like to have someone here – to have you here," she admitted, "to talk ... or even to watch a movie."
"Okay, then," he nodded, vaguely wondering that, even if they were exhausted tomorrow, this step forward might be about the best thing the team – or they – might have happen in a long while.
Ziva started to walk toward the kitchen, Tony behind her, when she turned, one last thought bothering her. "And ... I know that I have been especially intolerant of you since I got back, and have been angry at you with little provocation." She shook her head. "I cannot say why I have acted that way; I have come home at the end of the day sometimes and cannot understand why I..."
"It's okay," he found himself smiling away the most hurtful part of the past weeks, given what had happened in the past few minutes. "You were probably just making up for lost time."
"But I don't know why I would strike out at you..."
"I do," his grin quirked at her. "I know how to take a punch, and I probably just pestered you when I knew you needed to hit something." He saw her hesitate as she considered it, and added, "sounds like me, doesn't it? Just bugging you so you can get it off your chest."
She looked back at him, considering, and after a moment a soft smile played along her lips. "Yes, I suppose so. Just as it sounds like you to come to Somalia, not to get revenge, but to end the killing." She drew a breath as her brows dipped again, and she confessed, "I am not myself, Tony, no one knows that better than you do. I am ... still in that cell, much of the time, still their captive." Her eyes turned back up to him with her admission. "I know it cannot be pleasant to be a part of that."
He shrugged, his answer immediate and sure. "Not so bad. And anytime you're back there – I'll come back to get you. Beats revenge," he offered.
The look in his eyes – steady, sure – caring – let her trust that he meant every word. "I believe you will," she murmured and stepped closer, a hair's breath from his chest. "Thank you."
His arms went around her almost without thought; it was after she relaxed further into his gentle hold that it occurred to him she might find a man's embrace difficult. At least that's settled, he relaxed as well as he let his arms bring her just a tiny bit closer. They stood like that, quietly, for long moments, until he finally let himself nuzzle her hairline gently. "Do you want me to make you that hot chocolate?" As she looked up to him, an exhausted look of gratitude still there, he went on, "because you Israelis are a desert people, and after all, what can a desert people know about hot chocolate, anyway?"
"Would you like me to show you, Tony?"
"I challenge you to show me, Ziva," he grinned his oldest, most comfortably irritating, smuggest grin.
Without thought, as her eyes suddenly welled up again, Ziva stood on tiptoe; a hand to his cheek, she suddenly kissed her partner, sweetly, holding it a moment or two, before breaking it and admitting. "I missed you, Tony. In Israel ... in Somalia ... here, I missed you and have missed you. Here, it has been my fault for not letting myself remember ..." She shook it off and looked away for a moment before looking back up at him. "I will not forget again."
This time he had to fight a sudden prickling in his eyes. "I won't either," he vowed. "I'll always be here for you, Ziva."
She nodded, swallowed the emotions pressing yet again to take her over, and this time got the better of them. "Then I had better get started on that hot chocolate..."
He let her slip from his arms with a winning smile and saw she was getting stronger. He let himself have just a moment to get his bearings, take stock – and swear to himself he would do everything right with her, for her, now that it seemed he had this second – or third, or fourth – chance with her. "I'll bet you'll need my help," he followed behind her, back to his teasing.
So what the hell will tomorrow bring? he found himself wondering. Will we just pick up from here and finally start moving forward – with everything? Are we even going to have to worry about Rule 12 here now, too?
If we do, we need to worry about Gibbs. The thought kept him stopped in his tracks for another moment, before the next one kicked him back to moving again. That's nothing – if anything's starting here, me, with Ziva David – I need to worry about the Director of the whole damn Mossad!
DiNozzo came into the kitchen and watched Ziva pull out two mugs, milk and a saucepan, giving him another soft smile, lighting her features in a way he hadn't seen since long before Michael Rivkin came and threw them all out of whack . Nah, on second thought ... he decided, returning her look with a confident smile as he shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the back of a nearby chair. Gibbs is gonna be way scarier...