NCIS is somebody's elses, probably Bellisarius Productions/Paramount/CBS, and Stargate Atlantis is somebody else's, probably MGMs, and I freely admit that whoever's they are, I'm borrowing their shows and they retain all rights, etc.
Author's Note: I'm almost positive the original inspiration for this came from reading a fanfic which had Ziva meeting John on a morning run set around the same time frame and those details sticking in my head as a great concept. I say almost positive because I've failed to find said fic despite backtracking through my reading everywhere, so either I dreamed that I read that fic and it too is a figment of my imagination or I just can't find it. Anyway, if the fic exists, its author deserves credit for the original premise and any similarity beyond the pairing, running and time-frame is coincidental as I really can't remember the rest of the fic in detail. If anyone else knows it, please PM me!
Pairings: Ziva David/John Sheppard with allusion to Ziva/Tony, Ziva/Michael and John/Whoever-the-reader-wants. Warning for adult themes.
AU for both given this is a crossover. Set early S7 NCIS/post S5 Enemy at the Gate SGA. I don't actually think knowledge of either show in depth is necessary for the purposes of this fic.
Ziva noticed the new runner on her route immediately.
She was some distance on the other side of the park from him but on the same pathway. They would cross each other just beyond the mid-point for her if their speed remained constant.
He was dressed in black; sweatpants, a sweater to ward off the Washington chill, running shoes - all looked brand new. Military, she surmised in a heartbeat; perhaps retired, perhaps not. She questioned her reasoning when he got closer but, still: her gut told her military. She kept her eyes on him as he neared. He was an attractive man but the bags under his eyes, the lines drawn across his face and the mess of dark hair gave him character.
He was almost beside her when she realised he was assessing her as thoroughly as she had assessed him. She wondered what he saw; a thirty-something brunette, hair tied back in a loose ponytail, wearing grey yoga pants and a grey hooded sweatshirt with pink running shoes. Her running outfit had been chosen with the aim of blending into the Washington scenery. She knew she was attractive but she was not particularly eye-catching unless she wanted to be, and lately, she had not wanted to draw any attention at all. That she had drawn his attention…a frisson of something floated through her; adrenaline, fear, interest? She could not pinpoint it.
He nodded at her as they passed, a smirk twisting his lips. It was not a nod of politeness or one of attraction: it was an acknowledgement of one predator to another.
Ziva understood that without question immediately too.
Three days passed; three days of running with no sign of the new guy.
Ziva had been tempted to vary the route she took, it would have been the sensible option, but it was her route. The one she had established when she had found her new apartment on her return to Washington; the one she would not change again because of her desire to leave her old habits in the past.
On the fourth day, he showed up. Again, on the fifth. Each time he gave the same nod as they ran by each other.
On the sixth, he didn't show and didn't again for over a week. Ziva wondered at her worry for a man she knew nothing about.
It was a cold morning when he reappeared but he was still in the same outfit although the sleeves of the fleece had been pulled down to his wrists instead of rolled up to his elbows as they had previously. Ziva thought he would be better adding a hat as she had if he was cold, but she was too aware of the relief thudding through her veins at the sight of him for the thought to be anything other than an attempt to distract herself.
He was slower than normal; stiff as though nursing aches and bruises. When they passed, she noticed a bruise violently green along his jaw line; the dark shadow of his stubble hiding the worst of it.
It was a slow day at work and Ziva spent too much time thinking about her mysterious running acquaintance and how he'd obtained the bruises; wondering why she cared.
In the days that followed, her mysterious runner sometimes appeared and sometimes didn't, but there was not an absence as long as the week that predated the bruises. It took Ziva longer than she was prepared to admit to work out he must be varying his route intentionally or away from Washington every few days. Perhaps, she speculated on a day when she ran alone, a combination of both. The first was sensible if his work was classified and dangerous, something she felt was likely as she was more certain than ever he was military. There was a look in his eyes that spoke of seeing too much death to Ziva; she recognised it from seeing it in the mirror every morning.
The bruise on his face had faded; his body had healed. Any outward signs of whatever trauma he had suffered had disappeared. Ziva refused to consider that she tracked his healing more closely than she had tracked her own after Africa. She had ignored the cuts, bruises and abrasions she carried. She had focused only on recovering her physical strength and reconciling enough with her team-mates – her friends – that she could determine a way forward that was her own.
Ziva approved of his route varying; there was no rhyme or rhythm to when he chose her route. He would make an unpredictable target. She fought against the urge to institute a variance of her own. It was advice often given to women in self defence classes the world over, never mind former Mossad and probationary NCIS agents, but Ziva balked at returning to her previous behaviour. She wouldn't be that Ziva again ever.
By the day that marked the first month anniversary of the man's appearance on her route, Ziva realised she might be thinking too much about him. She also realised that on every day when their paths crossed, he had never once failed to nod at her.
A week before the second month anniversary, Ziva spotted him at Andrews. She and McGee had gone to question a Marine and they had quickly discerned that the young man would give up the information more quickly to McGee than Ziva since they belonged to the same Geek tribe.
Ziva waited for McGee in a non-descript corridor of the airbase, her escort hovering to the side. She was in the midst of texting a status report when a door opened and a flow of people walked out. He was in the midst of the crowd and she almost didn't recognise him because of the uniform he wore; Air Force service blues, medals and honours adorning the chest. He was deep in conversation with another officer of similar height and build. Together they looked like a recruitment poster. It was only a glimpse as they walked away in the opposite direction and disappeared behind a secure door.
She had no idea whether he saw her or not but she suddenly felt irrationally guilty as though she had unknowingly broken some secret pact they had not to know anything about each other but that they ran in the same park sometimes; that they recognised each other for what they were under the veneer of civilisation.
Her curiosity flared to life at the locked door he had entered, the Air Force uniform he wore. Her instinct to find out his weaknesses, to protect herself, nagged at her. She wrestled the instinct back.
Ziva sighed and brushed back the heavy sweep of her hair. She couldn't deny that she was happy that her speculation had been accurate: he was military. With hindsight, she would also bet he was a pilot. He had that flyboy cockiness in the smirk he always wore, the way his head always turned upward at the sound of a plane.
She focused her attention on the case, consigning her new knowledge to the back of her mind until he nodded at her the following day during their run.
Two weeks later, to avoid talking about herself, Ziva found herself talking about the Air Force officer to her psychiatrist.
Early sessions had been mandated by NCIS Director Vance's order; Ziva had attended them physically and not at all in spirit. After Vance had approved her application as a NCIS agent though, Ziva had taken a perverse delight in doing something her former self would chafe against madly, and had found a civilian psychiatrist outside of the NCIS purview. Not that she actually told Doctor Partick anything of value in her sessions. Attending the sessions was a rebellion; to reveal anything of import would be foolish.
So, she talked of the running man; their first encounter, of the long absence and the bruises on his return, the days since, the unexpected sighting, and ended with the latest interaction that morning.
Ziva had missed the previous day's running working on a new missing child case; it was not the first day since her return to work where the team had been required to remain overnight and into the next day without sleep, but evidently it was the first day her own absence in the park had been noted by her running friend. She had run that morning and had been surprised at the look of relief that had accompanied his usual nod as they passed. She finished the story there, unable to confide the feeling of warmth that flooded through her knowing he had been concerned.
Partick, a homely woman in her fifties with steel grey hair that hung in a smooth bob, was looking at her with blue eyes that were suddenly too sharp and intent in a way they'd never been before. Ziva was suddenly afraid that she had been foolish.
"This is the first time you've talked about someone outside of your inner circle." Partick informed her briskly. Her no-nonsense approach was one of the reasons Ziva secretly liked her. "What do you think has prompted you to connect with him?"
Ziva wanted to argue that passing each other once every few days did not make a connection but she knew better than to give Partick an opening and even she could see it was a lie. She frowned.
Partick stared at her.
The silence stretched.
"As I said, we recognised each other as soldiers." Ziva said eventually. 'Warriors' was the term that leapt to her mind; 'killers' whispered her father's voice inside her head. She kept her tone even; the anger at having revealed something, although she knew not what, to Partick scrubbed ruthlessly from each syllable.
Partick pressed her lips together until they had all but disappeared. Her eyes remained on Ziva's. "Have you never considered that it's more basic than that, Ziva?"
"I do not understand." Ziva said tersely.
The psychiatrist glanced at the clock and flipped her notebook shut. "Before our next session perhaps you should consider that you're both running. Maybe there's a reason for that."
She dismissed Ziva with a blunt effectiveness that both surprised and infuriated her.
After five days of brooding, Ziva woke early again. The faint grey light of morning washed out the bright colours of her new bedroom. She had deliberately chosen an apartment far away from her previous one where Michael had died; where he had almost killed Tony. She stretched out, one hand loosely holding the sheet over her breasts while the other was tucked under her hair beside her head.
Partick's parting statement churned over in her head.
"…you're both running. Maybe there's a reason for that."
Ziva knew Partick did not mean the actual act of the exercise so much as metaphorical running. Why had she connected with the running man in black? Because she had recognised him as military as she had told Partick, or was their military connection nothing more than a convenient lie Ziva had told herself to account for her interest?
The question left her discomfited and she shifted in the bed, turning over to lie on her stomach, her face pushed into the pillow.
The image of him bruised and hurting slid across her consciousness. She flinched but wouldn't look away from it. She had been wounded too. Battered and bruised; tortured. She had healed physically just as he had done. But they were both still running.
Because they hadn't healed completely, Ziva mused with chagrin. Yes, she had healed enough psychologically to work; to reform the fragile relationships she had once believed she had lost, but otherwise?
Ziva kept her eyes open and forced herself to face the truth. Wasn't she running away from herself? From old Ziva? The one she was trying to leave behind by rebuilding someone else from the ashes.
But the thought didn't feel completely right; it was not the whole truth. Why was she running away from old Ziva?
Maybe, she had not connected with the running man because he was a soldier but because she had recognised herself.
Her old self.
Her true self, still fighting for survival despite Ziva's best attempts to bury her.
She cursed out loud, threw back the bedcovers and headed to the bathroom.
It wasn't until she saw him again that Ziva made the decision to stop running. He had only just entered the park; was nothing more than a slim form on the horizon. She slowed and stopped and waited. Her heartbeat pounded through her veins; her palms sweated. She had no idea what she was going to say.
If he stopped…if he didn't stop…
She could tell when he saw her; his rhythm altered before it smoothed again. He approached her without slowing. He wasn't going to stop. The words to call out to him hovered on her tongue but her mouth was too dry to speak them. He ran past her with his usual nod and she saw nothing more than puzzlement on his face otherwise.
Ziva didn't look behind her; the disappointment that he hadn't stopped slicing through her like a well-aimed knife. Stupid, Ziva berated herself; stupid to think that he would. Perhaps their connection was nothing more than a figment of her mind; a fantasy to enable her to feel human again; to feel like an attractive woman. She had no doubt imagined his look of concern.
She was appalled to find tears stinging her eyes and she swiped at them hurriedly. She should continue running; take a step and move forward…
"Hey. You OK?"
Ziva turned around slowly. He stood a few feet away; a good distance enough that if she attacked he would have warning. His hands were low on his hips and there was tension in his frame, as though he was poised for flight. But there was also concern darkening his eyes.
He had stopped running.
The silence on the way to her apartment was heavy; weighted down with anticipation and trepidation. Ziva was certain she knew his weakness now; he had a soft spot for a damsel in distress. He had hesitated only momentarily when she had informed him she was not OK and requested he walk her home. But he was wary enough to maintain a distance as though he had been burned before by a pretty girl and was not eager to repeat the experience. They hadn't talked since; not even to exchange names.
She mapped out her strategy with every block they walked. Another plea for his help would get him into her apartment and once there…she had no idea how to proceed. She didn't believe that he would confide in a stranger anymore than she would.
They arrived at her apartment building and Ziva swallowed her hesitancy.
"Would you come inside? I…need to talk with you."
He didn't hide the wince. One hand strayed up to rub at the back of his neck as the other gestured out toward her. "Look, I'm not really good at the, uh, talking thing."
She softened her expression and held his gaze. Up close his eyes were a strange colour of green and brown; shifting with the light and presumably his emotions. "I would not ask normally," and that was an understatement, she mused wryly, "but it is important." She entreated.
It worked. He sighed and scrubbed his hand through his hair, sending the mussed up strands into further disarray. "I need to be somewhere in two hours."
"This will not take long." She hoped. She was going to be late for work otherwise.
"So…" he motioned towards the door. "You promise you're not going to try to kill me once we're inside? Because I hate it when that happens." His voice was light but his eyes were too serious for it to be a joke.
"I promise." Ziva said amused anyway. She unlocked the front door and led the way up the stairs to her apartment.
The apartment door closed behind them and for a long moment, they stood in her small hallway staring at each other.
Ziva went with her gut. She moved forward into his space and kissed him. He returned the kiss initially but grasped her upper arms as though to push her away and yanked his head back.
"Really?" He asked, surprise written all over his face.
"Unless you would prefer to talk?" Ziva suggested with a wicked grin.
There was a moment of doubt when he clearly debated the wisdom of staying but he kissed her again abruptly. Hard, hot and wet.
It was not the first time she had used sex to make a target compliant to her wishes and her questions. And if the action was all old Ziva, for once she didn't care.
Suddenly, her body flared to life; hungry and thirsty for his touch, his taste. Her mouth opened to his; her hands slid under his fleece seeking him. Her response to him wasn't planned but Ziva revelled in it, welcomed it as she led the way to her bedroom.
The sex was physical, both of them battling for dominance, and it left them breathless and sated afterward.
He made no immediate move to get up from the bed and Ziva pulled at the coverlet, wrapping it around herself to hide her nakedness before lying back down next to him. She propped her head up on one hand and looked over him. His body was scarred but beautiful in its form; lean, long, enough muscle to be toned but not so much to be overly defined. His dog tags glinted against the dark hair of his chest. She was tempted to look and discover his name but she didn't.
"I think I prefer your definition of talking." He said eventually, flashing a surprisingly shy smile in her direction as he scratched absently at a bicep, near to the faded scar of a bullet graze.
Ziva smiled back at him. "Unfortunately, I also do need to talk talk with you."
He winced. "About?" His eyes were wary as they met hers.
"Why are you here in Washington?" Ziva asked bluntly. She held up her free hand. "And I don't want the answer you give for politeness or the one forced upon you by your superiors. What is the real reason you are here?"
He moved swiftly, swinging his legs off the bed and sitting on the edge with his back to her; tensed and unhappy. "Well, you don't ask the easy questions, do you?" He reached for his abandoned briefs on the floor, pulling them on. "Why do you want to know?"
Ziva sat up, keeping to her own side to allow him some metaphorical space. "Months ago, I was held captive and tortured by a terrorist."
He looked back over his shoulder at her. There was understanding in his guarded expression. An uneasy thought that he already knew about it, about her, tumbled about her head before she dismissed it.
She babbled the rest; honesty in place of lies she once would have told. "My psychiatrist thinks I connected with you for a reason; this reason." She stumbled; she had never been good at asking for help. "I need to know what that is. I need to know why you ran here to Washington."
"Who said I ran?" He quipped lightly.
Ziva held his gaze. She waited as he assessed her sincerity, her need; his eyes a light green in the brash sunlight filtering through the open curtains.
He sighed again heavily, surrendering to help her as she has suspected he would. "The polite answer is that I would have gone crazy flying a desk for the time it took to repair…well, what doesn't matter. The answer the General gives is that it really isn't anyone's business because he's a General and he can do whatever he wants. The real reason…" He turned away from her and hesitated.
For a long moment, she thought he would not reply at all.
"The real reason…" he began again tentatively, "is that I…I, uh, fell for someone I shouldn't have."
"What do you mean?" She probed, trying to keep the demand out of her tone.
"They're…it's…" his hand waved in the air beside his head, "let's just say they're unavailable and leave it at that." His eyebrows lowered in a frown.
"So you came here to get some distance?" Ziva prodded before the answer came to her. "You are trying to get over them."
Ziva slid down to lie flat on her back, staring up on the ceiling. "I also fell for someone I shouldn't have."
She was barely aware that he discarded the pants he had picked up to lie back down beside her; replicating her former position only it was he who peered down at her.
"And?" His tone was gentle.
"He was killed by…by my…by Tony. We work together. He's my partner." Ziva felt her emotions whirling again. She could still see the tableau of finding Tony and Michael; could still feel the pain that had arrowed through her. "It was self-defence. Tony was trying to protect me."
She had forgiven Tony. What in the end was there to forgive? Tony had been watching out for her; Michael had tried to kill him. In the end it didn't matter. She and Tony were rebuilding their trust; rebuilding their friendship and the potential for more some day that had always been between them. That was what was important. But Tony wasn't the 'someone' who Ziva had fallen for when she shouldn't have; that had been Michael. Michael who she believed she could have loved. Only Michael had used her and Ziva had not realised it…she had not forgiven herself for falling for him, for his lies, Ziva realised.
She looked back at the man beside her. Ziva reached out to comfort him – herself, she wasn't sure which. Her hand cupped his cheek, her thumb swept over his rough jaw line along the skin where the bruise had been. He leaned in and kissed her. It was soft and gentle. If the sex had made her feel powerful and attractive, his kiss made her feel cherished. One kiss segued into another. But eventually he eased back off the bed and began to pick up his clothing.
"I think maybe it's time I went home." He said, pulling on his sweatpants.
She knew deep down he was not referring to wherever he stayed in Washington. He was going to return to whatever classified unit he was part of and stop running. She was disappointed; loss drifted through her unexpectedly. Ziva scrambled back into a sitting position and watched him.
"I will not see you again, will I?" Ziva questioned.
"Probably not." He tugged his fleece over his head, hiding the dog tags. He gave a sad smile and sat back down to pull on his running shoes. He looked back to her. "Well, I should, uh…" he jerked his thumb toward the door.
Ziva pinned a smile on her face. "If you are ever in Washington again and need to talk…"
He stretched over the bed to kiss her again before getting up and heading for the door. He paused in the doorway. "Will you do something for me?"
She arched an eyebrow in mute query.
"Vary your goddamn route. You're making yourself an easy target, Ziva David."
And just like that, before she could do anything more than open her mouth in startled astonishment, he was gone; the definitive sound of the apartment door closing underscoring his departure. For a long moment, she stayed sitting on the bed. Her heartbeat slowed as she adjusted to the knowledge that he had always known who she was; what she was; that he had stepped into her apartment and helped her anyway. Their discussion repeated in her head like a tape recording on an endless loop.
In the light of her new knowledge, Ziva could see she was rebuilding herself because she didn't trust the old Ziva. Old Ziva had fallen for someone she shouldn't have; had trusted someone she shouldn't have. Old Ziva had hurt the people around her who loved her. Old Ziva was why she had ended up captured and tortured for months. But it was past time to forgive herself. It was time she stopped running too.
Her phone rang and she picked it up. "Ziva."
"Hey, where are you? Gibbs is going nuts. Oh, and yeah; we have a body." Tony told her cheerfully in lieu of a greeting.
"I will meet you there, Tony." Ziva promised and barely waited for the location before she snapped the phone shut and went to take a shower.
It had been a productive day. One murderer caught. One psychiatrist fired. Maybe one day she'd send Partick a bottle of champagne as a thank you but not that day. Gibbs had commented that it was good to have her back and Ziva hadn't been tempted to argue that she hadn't been away. She was not healed; Ziva knew that. A brief tumble in a bed and a shot of needed insight had not magically made everything all right with Ziva's world. But her path was clear now; the flaw in her previous plan revealed. She would need to find a middle way between the old Ziva and the new; would need to learn to trust herself again.
She stretched outside of her apartment building, preparing for an evening run to make up for the missed run that morning. She had dressed in black; black leggings, black tank top under a black hooded sweatshirt. She wore the pink running shoes. She smirked inwardly, acknowledging her outfit was her own small nod to her former running mate.
She ran her usual route and let herself remember seeing him for the first time; when he had come back wounded; the nod he had always given her; the look of concern that he had given her when he had noticed her missing one day; the sound of his voice asking her if she was OK. She finished her run and threw a look over her shoulder before she entered her building. The sun was low on the horizon; red and gold bled through the heavy haze of pollution. She knew she would never run that route again.
Ziva went inside. She did her cool down; showered and pulled on flannel pyjamas in a bright green check. Woolly socks finished the outfit and she left her wet hair down, the ends leaving trails of moisture on the fabric at her shoulders. She lit some candles around the den, the shadow of the flames dancing on the walls reminiscent of fire-light, before she gathered a glass of red wine and sat cross-legged on the sofa. She pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and gazed at it.
It had been frighteningly easy to discover who he was in the end. Her position on NCIS gave her privileged access into all kinds of databases and it had been simple enough to search for a dark-haired, hazel eyed Air Force officer in his age range. She had hidden it within more generic search parameters, of course, so not to draw attention. But it had not taken long for her to recognise his face among the many. She had printed out several IDs to cover her tracks only to shred the unwanted ones at NCIS. She had only brought his home with her.
She smoothed out the crumpled paper and gazed down at him. She swirled the wine around in the balloon glass absently. She could do more; look up his service record, find out his posting, perform a deep background search. Yet she knew she would not. Apart from the thought that whatever unit he was involved with wouldn't like it, she liked the idea of only knowing that which she had gained through her own interaction with him. A compromise, Ziva thought with satisfaction, between her old self and the Ziva she wanted to become.
Ziva tipped the paper toward the candle on the coffee table in front of her and watched as it caught, flaring brilliantly blue for a moment. She dropped it into a ceramic plate where it crumpled into ashes almost immediately. She raised her wine glass.
"Shalom, John Sheppard."