Summary: Even the toughest of people need an outlet for the release of their emotions. For Ziva, this outlet is running. A story on how she manages to keep it all together, all the time.

Disclaimer: Okay, for this story I'm gonna make an exception and say I'm REALLY glad I don't own NCIS.

Spoilers: Some mention of Kate, Mossad, and Tali; none specific.

This story is really dark. And I know I scare easily, but this story is still somewhat dark for people who don't scare easily. It also details psychologically unhealthy thought patterns, so it is not recommended for young readers. But please review if you read!

-Soph


Soulless

No one knew why she ran. No one knew why she put on her trainers every morning and laced them up tight, making sure her feet hurt just a little bit before she was satisfied that they were on properly. No one knew why she ran in the park for hours, through copses and by streams, never letting anything stop her.

They all had their theories, of course. Gibbs and Tony would have said that it was a habit from her Mossad days, when she had had to undergo vigorous training every day. Abby and McGee would have said that it was her need to keep fit. Ducky would have said that it was a routine which kept her grounded in an otherwise unpredictable world.

They were all right. But they were also all wrong. They could have told anyone who asked them what time she ran, what she wore when she ran, where she ran and what she did after she ran, and they would have been spot-on, but they could never really have been accurate about why she ran. It was a part of her that she kept secret.

Because every family has its secrets. Not the kind that it shares among itself, but the kind that it keeps from one another. The father with the gambling problem that his family does not know about. The mother who secretly hates her children. The teenage son who does not tell his family that he does drugs. The little girl who is too afraid to tell her parents she has been molested.

And they were her family, but this was something that she could not tell them. She needed them to think that she was perfect. Strong, and invincible. She needed them to believe in the façade that she put up at work; the assassin, the fighter, the sharp end of the spear. She did not need them to know that she was weak.

She did not need them to know that it was why she ran. Because she was vulnerable; because she bled from every orifice and her heart shattered into a million tiny pieces each time she was alone. She was human, and she hated that part of her. She ran to get rid of it so that when she went to work she could be inhuman again.

It was necessary; it was required. It was what she had been taught in Mossad. There was no room for error in her line of work; one misstep, a single moment of hesitation, and there would not be a recognizable part left of her. That scared her. She needed to be alive; to be able to fight.

She needed to be a soldier, because to be a human meant that she would not be indestructible, and to not be indestructible meant that she could be reduced to a smear upon the concrete pavement or a spatter upon the walls, as if she had never existed at all. That was an unacceptable reality for someone who needed her life to mean something.

It was hard when she knew that it did not. There were thousands out there like her, eager and ambitious, tough and unbreakable, who could replace her in a second. She was a mere tool in a difficult game, and tools were easily replaced – one need only go to a hardware store and get another. Her successor in Mossad was proof of that.

And she was afraid that she could be just as easily replaced in NCIS. She was no fool; she knew that for now she mattered to those around her. But Kate had mattered too, and in the end Kate had simply been replaced by her. Such was the transient nature of life. Because who would ever want to remember her after she had gone?

After all, she was not a Mother Teresa or a Mahatma Gandhi. She was not even a Kate. She took away lives, not saved them, and people tended not to want to remember that. And she might have protected the lives of thousands in the process, but she was no saint; no person that anyone would want to put on a pedestal. So deep ran her sins that if she were to be cut open she would have bled black instead of red.

It was no illogical conclusion, then, that she needed to keep her heart as black as her blood. She needed herself to be evil, to be soulless; to have no second guesses or hesitations. To mean something deadly while alive and to not care if she meant nothing dead. To be what she had been honed to do. A merciless killer. Except that she was not.

The first time she realized she hurt had been when Tali had died. She had grieved for Tali; felt anger for her, and even missed her. And then she had grown angry at herself, because she was not supposed to have mourned Tali. She was supposed to have wiped out the entire organization that was responsible for Tali's death and moved on to other missions. That was her job. Her life.

When she eventually moved on from Tali's death she became the emotionless soldier again. NCIS had unravelled all of that. They had chipped away at her shell bit by bit, always moving her and surprising her. When she realized it she had become frantic. She had felt the pieces of her slipping away, her identity washed away and discarded.

And that was why she ran. To regain her shield. She never simply ran for the exercise. Instead she ran into the copses and screamed her lungs out; she left imprints of her fists on trees and trails of blood upon the leaf-covered ground. It was the soulless side of her, trying to purge the side of her that felt emotions before it was too late.

It never worked. She still felt; she still loved her colleagues, and whenever she saw Tony her heart still skipped a beat. That drove her to even crazier heights. She never even noticed that the time for which she ran grew increasingly longer, from half an hour to an hour to three hours. Each time she returned exhausted but not yet purged of feelings.

And so it was now an obsession with her. She ran when she had the time, in rain and in sunshine and in the middle of the night. She ran when she did not have the time. She made up lies and concocted scenarios to evade detection. She ran hard and fast, not even stopping in the copses anymore because it took too long. But as long as her feet blistered she knew that she was still a killer, because she still had the means to push herself further than her body could handle it.

And she loved the adrenalin rush of it all, knowing that she could still be soulless.