"We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present."
-Adlai E. Stevenson
Tony pushed himself out of the Jeep to stand wobbly on the hard packed dirt. The military plane that was going to take them home-home!—stood twenty feet away. His feet felt like bricks as he made his way to the ramp. Somehow, Ziva had made it over to the ramp by herself. She had paused at the bottom staring upward. He could tell she was contemplating whether or not she could make it up the ramp unassisted. Tony was betting she couldn't, though knowing how stubborn she could be, she'd probably fall before she asked someone for help. He probably wouldn't be much help in his current state.
Ziva had just started up the metal incline when he made it to the bottom. She took another step forward, and lost her balance. Without a second thought, he reached out, placing a hand on her back. She jerked away, pitching forward now. He lunged to catch her, wrapping his other arm around her waist just before she hit the ground. He almost went down with her. She wasn't fighting him anymore, but he was pretty sure he couldn't get her back upright.
"Boss!" he called, out of breath.
"She needs help getting up…I can't…" It killed him to not be able to help her. His grip was slipping.
"Let me fall," she told him.
He shook his head angrily. Gibbs was at their side a moment later. "Take her!" Tony barked.
Gibbs scooped her up and carried her into the plane. Tony's knees hit the ramp hard, and he knelt there on all fours catching his breath. Gibbs came back out onto the ramp.
"She okay?" Tony managed, pushing himself up.
"She's settled in a seat," Gibbs told him. "Need a hand?"
"I got it," Tony grumbled, staggering up the ramp unassisted. He paused, looking from Ziva and the empty spot beside her, to the empty bank of seats on the other side. He wanted to sit next to her. Part of him still wasn't convinced this wasn't just a dream, finding her alive. Would she want him next to her? They had not parted on good terms, and this was going to be a long flight.
"Sit down, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered, guiding him toward the empty bank of seats across from Ziva.
He sighed and started to comply, then stopped abruptly. He needed to sit next to her. He crossed the aisle and sat in the empty seat on her left. His head was throbbing as the truth serum wore off. He laid it back against the wall of the plane, and turned to face his partner. Was she still his partner? He wasn't sure.
Her eyes had drifted closed. She slumped in the seat, looking as exhausted as he was and then some.
"Hold on to the netting," he told her hoarsely. His voice was starting to go. She didn't respond. The plane was about to take off. The back hatch of the plane slammed shut. She jumped, with a small whimper, eyes still closed. He reached out to touch her hand gently. And she snapped, swatting his hand away angrily and backing away, right off the seat. She hit the floor with a thud. Tony looked down at her, concerned. Across the plane, Gibbs and McGee were watching with concern too.
She was looking up at him confused. In that moment he knew that she hadn't pushed him away for touching her…she was somewhere else entirely at that moment.
"The hatch slammed shut and you jumped. I tried to…" he explained. "Come on." He offered his hand to pull her up.
She shook her head, inching backwards.
"Plane's about to take off. You need to hold on." He had gotten through to her, though, because she nodded at that. He held out his hand again.
She shook her head again. "You cannot pull me up. You will fall too," she told him, craning to look for Gibbs. He was there at her back and helped her into the seat as Tony sat back in frustration. She was right. He wouldn't have been able to get her up.
"Can you hold on?" Gibbs asked her.
"I am fine," she insisted, angrily. She grabbed a handful of the netting. Tony didn't think she looked very confident. Again, she'd never admit it.
The plane's engine roared to life, and she clenched her eyes shut, taking deep shallow breaths. Tony looked on, worried. She didn't have a good grip on the netting. "You got it?" he asked, as the plane began to taxi down the strip of sand. The plane accelerated, and he didn't give her a chance to answer. He wrapped his free arm around her waist and held on tight as they took off. He hoped that he really was strong enough to hold them both in place. The plane leveled off and he relaxed a bit, looking down at Ziva. She hadn't tried to fight him away this time, but her face was contorted in a wince. His grasp was hurting her. He quickly retracted his hand.
"Sorry," he murmured. He hadn't even thought about how battered and bruised she was when he grabbed her that hard.
"Thank you," she told him quietly, as she leaned back against the plane wall.
Their arms were just barely touching as they both settled in for the long flight.
"Got it, boss." Tony ended the call and sighed. He had to bring Ziva back upstairs. To interrogation. They were going to put her and Malachi in a room together.
First, he had to get her away from Ducky and out of autopsy. He peered through the window. She didn't look happy. Even turned away from him, he could tell. It was something in her body language. He rapped his knuckles on the thick plexiglass. She whipped her head around to face the door, and Tony cocked his head toward the elevator, indicating it was time to go.
Through the glass he heard her say, "I must go, Ducky," as she headed to the exit, pointing to Tony.
"Think about it," Ducky told her as she scurried into the hallway. The doors swung shut behind her.
"You're in a rush to get out of there," Tony noted, as he called the elevator.
Ziva stood beside him, arms crossed. "You were knocking on the door!" she exclaimed.
"But you still would've taken your time if you wanted to."
"Yes, I would have," she snapped.
"I have to take you up to interrogation," he told her as they entered the elevator. Ziva nodded, her face blank. "They are going to put you and Mal in a room together."
She rolled her eyes and retreated to the back of the small enclosure.
Tony pressed the button and asked, "What did Ducky want?"
"I do not wish to talk about it." She leaned back and closed her eyes.
He studied her for a moment. Standing there, in the corner, with her arms crossed, she was so closed off. He didn't blame her, being put in the hot seat like this, just as she was starting to get past the events of the summer. It was unclear what side Gibbs was on at this point. Tony only knew where he himself stood. He was solidly Team Ziva. He was pretty sure Abby and McGee were too. She needed to know that. He flipped the switch, plunging them into the eerie, bluish light.
Instantly, Ziva's eyes snapped open. "Why did you stop us?" she demanded.
"I need to talk to you for a minute," he told her.
"They are waiting for me upstairs," she argued.
"They can wait a little longer."
"Well, talk then," she said, wearily.
"You're not alone in this, you know?" he began.
At this, Ziva scoffed.
"We've got your back. Me and McGee and Abby. We want to help."
"You cannot protect me from this."
"Did you kill—"
"Tony, you know I cannot answer that."
"I know you can't tell Gibbs and Vance that on the record, but I thought you might be able to tell me, alone in the elevator." It was a long shot.
"I…" she faltered. She had actually considered it. "I cannot." She reached forward and flipped the switch.
Tony nodded. He had expected that lack of answer, but had to try. The door dinged open and they headed down the hall.
"Look at the .45's," she told him quietly as they approached the door to interrogation.
"Got it." They had paused at the door. "Good luck in there."
She looked at him sadly, and went into the room. If she wanted him to look more closely at certain ballistics then she couldn't have done it. Could she?
"Une chambre," Tony grinned as they reached the tiny hotel elevator. "I understood that part."
"Of course you did," Ziva sighed, though she was smiling. That was a good sign. "Un lit aussi."
"Huh?" Tony asked, stepping out as the door opened on their floor. His French was extremely limited.
Ziva snorted a laugh. "I knew you did not understand that part, or you would not have shut up about it."
That got Tony's attention. "Un lit?" She nodded. He thought about the word. Most of what he knew of French came from his Italian or Spanish. "Un lit…un letto! Solo un letto?"
"Si, solo un letto," Ziva chuckled. She was not fluent in Italian, but she could understand a fair amount since she spoke so many other languages.
"And you don't have a problem with that?" he asked, curious. Ziva was weird when it came to boundaries. Sometimes she had none, and sometimes they were impenetrable.
"Should I?" she shrugged. "We have shared a bed before."
Tony nodded. They had, but it had been quite some time ago, before things got so damn complicated.
She opened the door, surveying the room before entering. "I would like the right side," she declared.
The side by the door, Tony noted. "Sure." He personally didn't care which side he slept on. "Do you still sleep with your gun under your pillow?"
"I do," she answered, removing it from her waist holster, and placing it under the pillow as if to emphasize that she wouldn't be changing that particular habit on this trip.
He crossed over to the window, pulling back the curtain. "No view."
"Get some rest," Ziva told him, "You wanted to see the sights in the morning and we must retrieve Nora from the embassy with plenty of time to catch our flight home."
"I can't persuade you to sightsee with me?" They had already had that conversation several times on the plane, but he couldn't help but try again. He was going to go either way, but he'd rather do it with her.
He turned around just as she had removed her shirt to change into her pajamas. Yeah, apparently tonight Ziva didn't care about boundaries.
"I have told you already that I have seen Paris many times."
But Tony wasn't listening. He was transfixed by the scars that crisscrossed her sides. Large swaths had been left untouched, but the parts that were marked were marked to the extreme.
She didn't turn to face him, but it was obvious she'd realized he was starting. "They have gotten better," she told him quietly.
"I'm sorry, Ziva. I shouldn't have sta—"
"Do not be sorry."
He crossed over to sit beside her on the bed. She had not made an effort to put on her top, so she was sitting there beside him in just her bra.
"The marks…they're so concentrated," he reached out to touch the raised skin, then thought the better of it. She had given him permission to look, not to touch.
She was quiet for a minute, then explained, "He carved some vile things into my skin. Symbols and awful words in Arabic. I had to—" her voice broke.
"You cut yourself up more to make them illegible," his tone was something of awe, though he wasn't sure that was appropriate.
"I do not regret it," she told him, now reaching for her pajama top in a hurry.
Tony held out his hand to stop her, and to his surprise, she paused. His hand lingered near her skin. "May I?" She was fighting to maintain her composure, but she nodded, still flinching a bit at first when his hand met her skin. "They are healing well," he assured her. As chilling as it was to see, it was impossible to look at it and not see her strength. She was able to add to her already significant scarring to get rid of the words she found so offensive.
He kissed the side of her head and stood up, crossing around to his side of the bed. He peeled off his clothes down to his boxers, as she put on her shorts and t-shirt. After they had both slipped under the covers, he turned to face her. She was staring at the ceiling.
"Thank you," he told her. She turned to face him. "For sharing that with me."
Ziva took a deep breath and nodded. He reached out and tugged her closer. She let her head rest against his chest as they both fell asleep.
The car ride back to the ship had been remarkably silent. Tony snuck a glance over at Ziva every now and then, before turning back to the road. For the whole ride she had been slouched in the seat, head back, staring vacantly out the window. She seemed lost in her head. He didn't know how to bring it up. There was no way she would want to talk about it. She never did.
"Earlier, what you told McGee…"
She was suddenly very alert, her gaze locking onto him. "Tony, I do not wish to talk—"
"Was that what you wish you had been able to do?"
She had never told him about it, but he knew. Ziva took a deep breath, closing her eyes and nodding once.
"McGee didn't get it," Tony muttered. He'd wanted to kick the Probie's ass for being so insensitive. McGee hadn't even considered that rape was something she might have been through while captive.
"No, he did not," she sighed. "It is better that way."
"How do you figure?"
"It is not something that I want people to know."
"But then you have to listen to Mc—"
"It is preferable to explaining," she snapped. She curled toward the window, closing herself off from him and this conversation.
Tony sighed concentrating on the road. A step forward, a step back. That was always their little dance.
"At least we killed those bastards," he said a few miles later.
"Some of them," Ziva qualified, not turning to face him.
"Some of them," Tony agreed. "The leader. That's something."
"You don't agree?"
"A single bullet to the head was merciful."
"Too quick for you?" Tony asked cautiously. She was talking about things she didn't usually talk about. He didn't want her to slam those walls shut on him again.
"The punishments I fantasized…" she paused to choose her words, "were always much more drawn out. More fitting retribution for what I was subjected to."
"You thought about this a lot?"
She turned to him sadly. "I had a lot of time with nothing to do but think."
She had told him that before. He recalled that conversation in the men's room when they really began the long path of mending their friendship.
"I hope you don't still think you deserved any of that."
Ziva took a deep breath. "No, I have come to terms with that."
"You need to get into the other lane. It's this exit," she pointed out, transitioning seamlessly into work mode.
"Think these guys are gonna give us anything new?"
"We shall see."
Tony looked around at the empty bullpen. He was the only one left. It had been a good day—starting with the prank that was executed to great hilarity. Ziva pulling her gun on her computer? Priceless. Now that he sat alone at his desk, though, all of the weight of what had been bothering him came crashing down. He was in no rush to go home to an empty apartment and had no desire to go to a crowded bar.
Everyone else had great plans for the Christmas holiday. Everyone except him. Gibbs was driving to Stillwater. McGee was going to see his family. Ziva—he didn't even want to think about that. She was off to winter wonderland with Mr. South Beach. She had slipped out without him noticing-without saying goodbye. It bothered him more than it should have.
The elevator dinged, but he didn't look up. "Why are you still here?" Ziva asked.
At her voice, he turned to look her way. "I thought you left," he noted.
"I went to the gym," she told him, gesturing her clothing. She was clad in sweatpants and sneakers. "The snow makes it difficult to run outside."
"Oh." He didn't remember her leaving.
Off his questioning look, Ziva explained, "I told you where I was going, but you were too busy teasing McGee about the present he bought his mother to listen." She stopped in front of her desk.
Now that he thought about it, he did recall her getting frustrated with the two of them. "Don't you have a flight to catch?" he sighed, pulling apart a paperclip on his desk. "Do you need a ride?" Yes, he decided, he was willing to drive her to the airport to meet her boyfriend.
She smiled at the offer. "I'm not leaving till the morning."
"I thought you left tonight. You're flying on Christmas Day?" He looked up.
"I do not celebrate Christmas," she answered.
"I would have thought you'd want to spend every possible moment with—"
"He was detained at work," she told him through pursed lips. He studied her for a moment, and she continued, "I could have gone up there by myself tonight, but I chose to go tomorrow instead."
"Passing up a peaceful evening at the ski resort…for what?"
She looked at him simply. "How are you doing?"
"What does that have to do with—I am fine." It wasn't really true and he knew that she knew it. He bowed his head. "I was fine all day."
"But now?" She had crossed around his desk while he wasn't looking.
"Balance is not easy," he sighed.
She patted his cheek. "Well, it's not something you can figure out instantly. We have to work at it."
"Mmm," she answered, then chose her words carefully. "You have helped me many times."
This revelation surprised him. He hadn't realized he was any help in all those times he struggled for her to let him in. "Yeah?"
She nodded. "You have my back."
She smiled. "I have yours as well."
He locked eyes with her. "I know."
They just looked at each other for a moment. Without stopping to notice the change, they had repaired their friendship over the last few months. It was stronger than ever. They were closer than before.
"You were lost in thought for a moment there," she noted.
"What did you have in mind for encouraging balance tonight?" He asked with a grin.
She smiled. "Movie?"
He nodded. "And dinner?"
"Let me go change, and then we can go," she told him.
She was still going on vacation with her boyfriend tomorrow, and that was okay. For now. She was happy, and that was what was important. Balance. He could focus on making their friendship as strong as possible.
"We should only have one flashlight on at a time," Tony decided, flicking his off. They had been trapped in this maze for about a half hour.
"Why?" Ziva demanded. She continued to examine the edges of the enclosure.
"To make sure we don't run out of power."
She paused. "Do you really think that we will be in here long enough that the batteries will run out?" She sounded miserable at the prospect.
"I sure hope not," Tony sighed. "But I don't want to sit here in the pitch black, and I'm sure you don't want to either."
"No…I do not."
"I don't think you're going to find a way out."
"I need to try." Her voice was tinged with desperation.
"It's putting you more and more on edge every time you try."
She turned on him angrily. "I have to try."
"Why?" It was a dangerous question. Her flashlight was pointed at him, and his was off, so he couldn't see her.
"You know why," she answered finally. "I cannot just stand here."
"What can we do then?" Tony asked.
"I do not want to do anything. I just want to get out of here."
"We just have to be patient," he shrugged.
"I am not a patient person," she growled. "Neither are you."
"I can be patient."
"Well, I cannot. Not here." He noticed she stayed to the middle of the room, away from the walls.
"This is bigger," he pointed out.
"I was barely able to lie down." She rarely told him any details.
It seemed to Tony that pointing out the differences was the way to go. "Plywood walls, here," he noted, knocking on one. "That's different, yeah?"
"And an old linoleum floor. Not packed dirt." He stomped on the ground. "Was it hot or cold there?" he asked.
"Both," Ziva answered. "Hot during the day. Cold at night."
Okay, not a difference he was looking for. "Well, right now it's still day, even though its dark, and its freezing."
This earned him a chuckle. She was allowing him to talk through this and rationalize the differences. She stood still beside him. He was truly surprised she hadn't tried to escape the conversation.
"There is one very important difference," she told him, as he was struggling to continue this train of thought.
"What's that?" he asked, turning to face her.
"I am not alone." She was leaning against his arm.
"No, you are definitely not alone." He smiled and slid his hand into hers. "I want to help you." He tugged her closer.
"Tony…" It sounded like she was going to protest the liberty he'd just taken, but then her cheek fell against his shoulder. "You are helping."
"What can I…?"
"I don't know," she sighed. "But you are doing a good job making it up as you go. I trust that you will continue to."
He squeezed her hand in his. He was glad to have her trust.
Tony studied his partner as they walked to the building from the parking lot. She was a little scraped up with one large gash on the side of her head. She was moving a little gingerly, but for the most part she seemed okay. Thank God. He couldn't deal with losing her again. He turned to her as they walked across the blacktop.
"What?" she demanded warily.
"You are probably sick of this question—"
"I feel okay. Tired, but okay."
Tony nodded. It was the answer he was expecting. Ziva rarely admitted to feeling anything other than fine.
"And you are sure you don't want to—"
"I do not want to go to the hospital. Correct."
Tony chuckled. "Just through I'd ask, now that the rest of the crowd is gone…"
Ziva nodded at his explanation, but told him, "We just got back here. I think Ducky will suffice."
Tony held the door open for her as they entered the building.
She glared at him for the gesture. "It is only a concussion."
She could always talk so matter-of-factly about her injuries. Only a concussion. In the realm of things she'd endured he knew it was on the lesser end, but still.
"Doesn't mean I can't hold the door open for you." He should really do that more often.
She looked at him curiously, but said nothing.
"If Ducky—" he began.
"If Ducky thinks that I should go to the emergency room, I will go," she sighed. "But I do not think he will."
Tony nodded. At least she wasn't ruling it out completely.
"I am glad that it is just you accompanying me down here."
He was too, because it gave him time to check in with her alone. He was curious why this pleased her though. "Yeah?"
"I was sick of the audience."
"You wouldn't rather have-?"
"Not right now, no."
"Huh." He hadn't meant to voice his curiosity out loud.
Ziva sighed, loudly. "I do not know what is going on with that, and I am too tired to figure it out right now. It does not take much effort to be with you."
Tony considered that. It really had gotten easy for them to be around one another again.
He hadn't expected her to continue, but she added, "You understand without my having to explain…"
"I do," he assured her as they got into the elevator.
She leaned back against the wall of the elevator and closed her eyes.
"It's a short trip, you know?" he grinned. "Not long enough for a nap."
She glared at him, but was fighting a smile.
"One more question, and then I'll leave it."
"Go ahead," Ziva sighed, leading him out of the elevator towards autopsy.
"Are you okay?"
"You have asked that alrea—"
"Not physically. I mean…" he struggled to phrase his thoughts.
She paused. "It was very different."
He waited patiently for her to continue.
"The hit to the head that knocked me out was the only blow I received. Cobb returned to Washington almost as soon as he brought me to that old farm. I was a distraction. He did not want anything from me."
"I was so worried," he told her, his voice a little hoarse.
She took his hand and squeezed it tightly. "I am okay." She looked up at him. "Please believe that."
"Okay," he nodded.
"Come on," she tugged him along, " Let us go have Ducky assure you."
Tony stood in the hallway outside Ziva's apartment, and knocked loudly on the door. She was going to kick his ass for waking her up at three in the morning. He probably shouldn't have come, but he just needed to see her. He rubbed his hand across his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. His head had been throbbing since he'd woken up from the nightmare.
The door swung open. No asking who was there, which meant she'd been watching him through the peephole. She was standing there in just a tank top and panties. Her hair was wild. Yup, he definitely woke her up. But she wasn't yelling at him. Instead she was staring at him with a look of concern. That look made him uneasy. He might have preferred yelling.
"You look like hell," she told him finally, gesturing for him to come in.
"Gee, thanks," he grumbled, standing wearily in the middle of her living room. He had been almost on autopilot coming over to her place. Now that he was there, he had no idea what to do.
"Sit down before you fall down," Ziva told him, taking him by the arm and pulling him to the couch.
He sat. His tired body felt very heavy. She settled beside him, curling her knees up and leaning into his arm. This is what he was here for. Her—very real and very alive—silent comfort. Except he was pretty sure this time she wasn't going to settle for silence.
Impulsively, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her to his chest. The sudden motion startled her, but she let him hold her. They sat in silence for a bit. His eyes were getting heavy when she placed her hand on his chest, and asked gently, "Why are you here, Tony?"
There it was. The question he didn't know how to answer. "I…" he started. "I just needed…" he swallowed hard around the tightness in his throat. Why was this so damn hard?
Ziva ran the heel of her hand up his chest, and tipped her head to look at him. "What did you need?" Her voice was still very soft and gentle.
"I just needed to see you," he admitted, looking away.
She grasped his chin, and pulled it back to face her. "Nightmare?"
He nodded. "Do you still have them?"
She looked at him hesitantly. "How did you know…" He gave her a pointed look. "Not often," she told him.
"When did they start?"
"When I thought I lost you again…when Cobb…" he bowed his head in an effort to not look her in the eye.
Ziva sat up, and threw a leg over his lap, capturing his face between her hands. He felt Ziva take a deep breath and lean her forehead against his. "Your nightmares are about losing me?"
He nodded slightly. "I just needed to see you tonight."
She had his shirt clenched tightly in her hands now, and her breath was unsteady. "I wish that I was not the cause of your nightmares—I wish that you did not have nightmares to begin with. You do not deserve…I am not worth the-"
"I thought you were over that bullshit!" He wrapped his arms tightly around her waist.
She gasped at the sudden movement. "I…I am. I am." She put her arms around his neck.
She sat back, looking at him sadly. "I cannot be the cause of your pain." She started to climb off his lap.
"I don't get a choice in this?" Tony demanded.
"Don't just walk away." His grasp on her waist tightened again. "You don't want to cause me pain, but walking away is not going to stop that!"
She stared at him in shock through glazed over eyes. He was a little shocked himself that he had actually pushed this after walking away so many times. He brushed her hair out of her face.
"What do we do now?" she asked him. What did they do now?
"We figure it out as we go," he exhaled. "Together."
He leaned in, gently capturing her lips with his. She kissed him back immediately. They'd kissed before. This was nothing like any of those times. It had always been wild and passionate. This was soft and tender, so much more intense. He couldn't get enough.
This had been a moment of no return. All or nothing. No longer were they repeating the same mistakes over and over. They were charting their future.