Summary: She's alone in the night, crying over things she'd rather not cry about; but of course he shows up in the end.

Disclaimer: I'm so hungry I could eat NCIS. Or something. I'm so sleepy I can't think of a good disclaimer expressing the fact that I don't own NCIS.

Spoilers: 8x23 "Swan Song"; references to Kate, Ari, Michael, EJ, and Ray.

I know, I'm (more than) a little late to the party ^^. But Ziva's "I don't think I can take anymore" caught my attention, and I found it interesting that she didn't say what she couldn't take anymore...I'm probably reading too much into it. Either way, this fic ignores the cliffy ending of Swan Song, and has everyone going home at the end of the day. Enjoy, and please review!

-Soph


Greatness

She hates the night. She hates the way its quietness creeps up upon her; its darkness. Of course there's always sunset, but still the night just seems somehow too sudden to her – all it takes is half an hour for the world to go from being filled with colour to being a dense black. It takes the joy in her heart along with it, and that pain is bearable when she's with others, but once she's alone she simply suffocates in its oppressiveness. She uses all her willpower to pretend she's alright, because even when no one can see her she doesn't break down.

Breaking down can be dangerous, no matter the time and place. Breaking down can mean she can't pull herself together again, and that effectively renders her useless to do anything. She's used to setting out for missions at any time of the day; putting her skills to good use at any moment in her life. Breaking down puts paid to all of her hard work and training, and so she tries not to allow herself the luxury of a good cry.

Except tonight is different. Whatever she thinks should, and must, be is of no more consequence, because she's already been torn apart at the seams; she's already cried and she's already vulnerable. And she's trying really hard to pull her walls back up again, she really is, but for some reason she just can't do it.

She's lying on her bed in the dark now, perfectly still; hands folded neatly across her stomach and tears stinging her eyes. Sometimes she positively hates how her life turned out, because a mere six years ago it would've been so easy for her not to cry. Sometimes she positively hates how she herself turned out, because a mere six years ago it would've been so easy for her to deny what she's admitting to herself at this moment – that she desperately needs Tony. That she desperately wishes he's here, holding her in his arms and wiping away her tears, because wherever he is has always been wherever she feels safest.

She rolls over and buries her face into her pillow; it does her good to pretend she's not crying even if she can't pretend she's not hurting.

There are a lot of things she doesn't think she can take anymore. Tony believes she only means she can't take those who hurt them and theirs, but well – EJ's the one he understands, after all; not her. Her fingernails dig into her pillow. Until today, she hadn't minded that much. But things have changed, because today was the one time she'd shown him all of who she truly is, and still he doesn't understand her.

He doesn't get that she had not just been talking about the monsters they pursue, that she had also been talking about her life – her childhood, her dead siblings, her indifferent father, the guns she wields and the knives she throws. He doesn't get that she can't take the deceit, the harm to her friends, and the fighting anymore; she just can't take anymore.

She's already decided that she's leaving. She needs a better life somewhere else, although she has no idea where, or how it can be better. But she needs it to be different, because she doesn't want history to repeat itself: first Michael, then Ray, and then Tony too, surely? Because she trusts Tony not to lie to her, but that doesn't mean he can't hurt her with the truth, and she can't take anymore hurt.

So tomorrow, she will hand in her resignation letter, and at the end of two weeks she will be free to go. And then perhaps she needn't fear the night anymore.

She jumps when she hears the doorknob turn, and she has her gun out in a flash, her heart thumping in her chest. The door opens slowly; the silhouette that frames the doorway through the light in the hall startles her.

"Tony?" she asks shakily. She's not hallucinating, right?

"Yeah, Zi," a warm voice answers her. "Can you put that gun away? It's scaring me a bit."

She tucks her gun back under her pillow as the silhouette approaches her and sits next to her, smoothing down her dishevelled hair.

"What are you doing here?" she asks.

"Thought you might want some company."

"Try using the doorbell next time."

"I did. You didn't answer, but I figured you'd be home so I let myself in anyway."

"I could have been out."

"You could," Tony answers neutrally, and she doesn't want to wonder about the implications his carefully guarded tone carries.

"Where is EJ?"

"Her apartment, I guess. I haven't seen her tonight."

"You should be with her."

"She doesn't need me right now."

"Are you saying that I need you?"

He shrugs. "I'm saying you could use the company more than she does, and McGee is at Abby's, so there's probably no one here with you."

She pauses and nods, and then shifts aside so that he can climb into her bed. He sits up against the headboard and holds out his arms; she leans into him and rests her head on his shoulder. Just for one last time, before she leaves.

He runs his free hand up and down her arm, almost absent-minded in his movements. "It's okay, you know."

"How can you say that after everything that has happened?"

"I don't mean everything that has happened is okay. But we always make it out of whatever we get into, so we'll make it out this time."

"Every time it happens…we lose a little bit of ourselves."

"We lose a little bit of who we were. That just means we change."

"For the better?"

"When the team lost Kate…I didn't think we could ever be the same again. Gibbs…wouldn't hit anyone, I was angry, McGee was helpless, and Abby was just like she is now. We sort of fell apart. And then you came along and it was like pouring salt onto open wounds…you were so much like Ari, just minus the sniper rifle. But you fit in now, and you're part of our team. It's a different team from the one Kate was in. It's not better or worse, just different."

"Do you miss her?"

"Sometimes I wish she were still here. But I don't wish you aren't."

"You cannot have both of us."

"I don't."

She thinks about that.

"It never ends," she finally says.

"Nope," he agrees. "But we put our lives in danger for a reason. We do what others can't, Zi. That's a great thing."

"I am tired," she said, sighing. "Of living my life this way."

"Yeah, I get tired too. But every time we put another bad guy away, I get this rush that tells me I'm doing some good in this world."

"No, Tony. You do not understand. It is not just the bad guys. It is everything. The under-cover work, the lies, the secrecy…people look up to fire fighters and war zone reporters and search-and-rescue volunteers who risk their lives to bring about good because everything they do is right, and there is no question about it. But what we do, Tony, borders on bad itself. We kill. And we lie to the ones we love. We make deals with bad guys so that we can catch other bad guys. I am tired of doing those things. I am tired of living those things. I am just…it is so hard, Tony."

He hugs her closer to him, cradling her gently. "I know."

"How can it not bother you?"

"It does. But someone has to do it, Zi. The world isn't black-and-white…there are a lot of grey areas, and we know that better than anyone else. There has to be someone willing to step up and do the dirty work. What we do is important, even if it doesn't feel right all the time."

"But I do not know if I can do it anymore."

He is silent for a moment, and his voice is quietly sad when he speaks. "You're a damn good agent, Zi. You have skills no one else has, and maybe you don't like how they came about, but you have them and you're good at using them the right way. Kate's shoes weren't easy to fill…do you remember your first day of work? You were so full of confidence that you could do what was expected of you, and in the end you did do it. You've helped make this team what it is, Zi. We were so torn apart after Kate…someone else could have come in, and that person might not have been able to put us back together again. But you did.

"Look," he continued. "I'm not saying I want you to do something that you don't think you can do. But I want you to realize this…none of us see lies or death when we look at you. What we see an extraordinary woman who does extraordinary things for the people around her. All of us see that. And it means that there's nothing bad in you. There's just greatness."

She blinks away her tears, moved. She smiles into his shoulder. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Zi…" He hesitates before he turns awkwardly and tucks her hair behind her ear, brushing his thumb along her cheekbone as he does so. "You know we're in this together, right?"

"Yes. I know."

"And I'll always have your back, no matter what happens. Always."

It doesn't escape her notice that it's what he's doing right now – having her back just when she needs him the most. She lets out a sigh of happiness and snuggles into him, momentarily forgetting all the cares that had swallowed her whole before he'd come simply to talk to her and hold her and comfort her.

"That is the greatness in you, Tony."