A Test in Partnership — Chapter Seventeen

Cleared for duty.

Tony had never been more surprised to see the words in his entire life. After the way he'd flipped out at his last evaluation, he'd been sure he'd been on desk duty for the rest of his life. Dr. White had clearly lost her marbles.

"Grab your gear," Gibbs declared as he walked into the bullpen, sipping his coffee. Clearly fate felt the need to welcome Tony back to the field. He stood up at once, grabbing his bag — then stopped when he realized something was missing.

"Boss?" Gibbs eyed Tony silently over his coffee cup. "Where's Ziva?"

Gibbs lowered his cup slowly; his next words made Tony feel as if someone was ripping his heart out and stomping on it.

"She's not coming."

"Something wrong, chica?"

Ziva shifted her eyes to Hunt, who was watching her over a cup of coffee. "I was not aware Hunt was a Spanish name," she responded dryly, and Hunt chuckled.

"I got a thing for languages. I can speak five fairly fluently. Impressive, non?"

Daniel Hunt was, Ziva had decided, the Tony DiNozzo of Intelligence. Overly inflated ego, loved to impressed, but underneath all the seemingly bad, he really did have a good heart. And he was easy to tease. "Siz gerçekten etkileyici bir birey vardır," she replied, and Daniel blinked a couple of times.

"Uh…right. You've got a freaky language thing going on too. How many do you speak again, four, five…?"

"Nine, actually," Ziva replied with a slight smile, and Daniel chuckled, returning his attention to his computer.

"My mistake. So seriously, what's wrong? You look majorly bummed." Ziva raised an eyebrow. "Down. Depressed. Upset."

"Oh. It is nothing." Ziva looked over at the e-mail she'd been reading before Daniel interrupted her — the e-mail informing her that she had not been cleared for field duty. Not that she was surprised. But the text she'd received from Tony ten minutes earlier had informed her he had been cleared. And a small part of her couldn't help but wonder: Why him and not me?

There was a bigger part, though, that didn't mind as much — a part that was happy for an excuse to stay in Intelligence. In front of the computer. Away from the field. The death. The bodies. The victims. The murderers.

Needless to say, all of this led to one conflicted Ziva.

No one was really surprised when lunchtime rolled around and Tony popped into Intelligence. He'd been coming around a lot lately in the last week to drag Ziva out for food. It reminded everyone suspiciously of a husband-and-wife pair. Not that any of them would ever voice that thought aloud — Ziva's reputation preceded her; most of them knew about her vast knowledge of how to kill people.

"Can't believe the first case we pick up after I get cleared turns out to be a suicide," Tony said as they made their way out of the building, heading for the food cart. Ziva made a noise of sympathy, secretly thanking whatever God existed that she'd been able to avoid that one. "So hey, you never answered my text earlier. Were you cleared or what?"

Ziva deliberately put off answering as she ordered a sandwich and a bottle of water. Of course, she could only avoid it for so long. "No," she finally said, focusing on the sidewalk instead of on Tony's face; she didn't see the disappointment that flitted across his expression.

"Why not?"

"They did not say." Tony got his food, and they went to sit down. "I guess someone finally figured out I am crazier than I sometimes let on."

"That's not true," Tony said at once. Ironic considering he was the one who had always called her the "crazy ninja." "Let Gibbs loose on the psych people, he takes a few shots at them, they'll have you cleared in no time—"

"I do not want to be cleared."

The words stopped Tony dead. His mouth dropped, the food in front of him forgotten, and he swallowed a couple of times. Ziva deliberately avoided looking at him. "You…what?" Tony finally managed to say. Suddenly, Ziva wasn't hungry; she stood up quickly, backing away from the table.

"I am sorry," she mumbled, quickly walking away. Tony stared after her, silently begging his voice to work so he could call after her, or for his legs to work so he could run after her — anything to stop her from walking away.

But his brain was frozen, Ziva's last words ringing in his head. I do not want to be cleared.



Ziva looked over her shoulder, surprised to see Abby standing in the door of the Intelligence office. "McGee must think he's died and gone to heaven every time he comes down here," she said with a grin as she made her way over to Ziva's station, earning herself a few strange glances when people saw how she was dressed. "Come on, let's get lunch."

"I already left for lunch," Ziva muttered, turning back to her computer. "An hour ago, actually."

"Yeah, but you didn't actually eat, therefore that lunch is void and I'm declaring you need another one." And with that, Abby grabbed Ziva's hand.

"Abby I can't just leave—"

"Who's in charge?" Abby asked at once, looking around and no doubt planning to strong arm whoever she had to get permission to take Ziva with her.

"Just take her," Binns called without looking up from his computer, and Abby grinned triumphantly.

"Thank you sir! Come on Ziva."

And with that, she dragged Ziva out of the office. "Abby, I am not hungry—"

"You don't have to eat, then. We'll just talk." Gee. Ziva wondered idly what Abby could possibly want to talk about. "So what's this I hear about you not wanting to come back to the team?"

"I do not want to talk, either," Ziva declared, pulling her hand out of Abby's grip. Abby sighed as she turned to look at Ziva.

"Ziva, how long have we known each other?"

The question surprised Ziva a bit. "About…six years, more or less."

"Right. And in that time, you must have learned that no matter what happens, I always get my way. Right?" Yes…yes she did. Ziva couldn't argue with that, unfortunately. "You don't have to talk to me. In fact, I don't expect you to talk to me. However, I do expect you to listen to me, and follow me, and do what I say. Does that seem fair?"

Oh brother. Ziva sighed as she gave in and nodded, and Abby grinned, taking Ziva's hand again. "Great! Glad we worked that out."

They entered the elevator; Ziva was surprised when Abby hit the button for the basement. "We are going to the morgue?"

"Ziva, we've known each other for six years. In that time, I've learned something about you — and that's that you'll only really talk to three people. Gibbs, Tony…" The doors dinged open, revealing the older, smiling face of Donald Mallard. "And Ducky. She's all yours."

And with that, Abby gently pushed Ziva out of the elevator, hitting the button for her lab, smiling and waving to Ducky and Ziva as the doors slid shut. "This feels like a set up," Ziva grumbled. Ducky chuckled as he led Ziva into the morgue, where the tea was already waiting for them.

"No set up, my dear. Just an overdue conversation between two friends. Sit, sit…" Ziva did as she was told, and Ducky poured a cup, handing it to her. "Now, what's this I hear about you not wanting to return to field duty?"

"Everyone gossips around here," Ziva muttered, taking a sip, and Ducky chuckled. She was right, of course — Tony had mentioned it to McGee, who had told Abby, who had all but run to Ducky. But there was no need for Ziva to know that.

"We're just concerned. This is quite a change for you — usually after something happens you're itching to get back on the field—"

"Well I am not who I used to be." The words surprised Ziva as much as they did Ducky. The older man raised an eyebrow, silently encouraging Ziva to continue. "I am not who I was six years ago, Ducky. Or even six months ago." Ducky would certainly agree with that. "I have been thinking about it for a long time, ever since Franks…" Her voice drifted off for a moment, and she swallowed hard before continuing. "I am tired of the death. Tired of the monsters. They're always there — Shay and Rawling, Cobbs…Saleem…" Ducky straightened up a bit at the allusion to Ziva's time in Somalia. Of course, she didn't elaborate. Those secrets truly would join her in the grave. "Everything is…easier…in Intelligence. Computer screens and numbers are easier to deal with then death and victims and monsters."

Ducky couldn't disagree with that. He'd watched, for six years, as wild, impulsive Ziva had grown and changed, becoming a beautiful woman who really couldn't even be compared to who she'd once been. The final piece of the puzzle had been Somalia — the nightmare that had transformed Ziva forever.

It was no surprise that this latest hostage situation had finally put her over the edge. Lesser people would have broken a long, long time ago.

"There's nothing wrong with wanting better for yourself, you know," Ducky said quietly, sipping his tea. Given the world Ziva had grown up in, she certainly deserved better than seeing death on a daily basis.

"Everyone is going to hate me," Ziva replied, her voice shaking a bit. Ducky set his tea aside, reaching an old, withered hand out and placing it over her shaking one.

"We could never hate you, my dear," he informed her firmly. "We love you far too much for that. We just want you to be happy. And if you're happier in Intelligence than you are with the team, than who are we to take that away from you? We will support you one-hundred percent."

Somehow…Ziva wasn't sure she believed that.

Gibbs didn't look up as a pair of light footsteps made their way down the stairs to his basement. He'd known this was coming when he'd heard Tony telling McGee Ziva didn't want to be cleared for field duty.

They were silent for a few moments; Gibbs could feel her eyes on his back. "Something on your mind, Ziver?" Gibbs finally asked, turning to look at the woman. She rocked back on her heels for a moment, looking down at the floor, unable to meet his eyes.

"I…do not think I am coming back to the team," she said after a moment. Gibbs would admit, he wasn't entirely surprised.

"Okay then." Ziva's eyes dodged up to meet Gibbs' gaze at last. "I can't make you do anything you don't want to do. If you're sure this is what you want…"

"It is," Ziva replied without hesitation, and Gibbs nodded.

"All right." A moment of silence. "We'll miss you in the office." Suddenly, Ziva's throat felt tight. She had to look away again to hide the tears threatening to well in her eyes.

"You are…not mad?" It seemed like such a silly question to Ziva. For Gibbs, it dragged him back in time, to a guilty Kelly standing next to a broken window, whimpering, Are you mad, Daddy?

Gibbs held out his arms; Ziva didn't hesitate to step forward, allowing Gibbs to wrap her in his warm grip. "Do whatever you have to do to be happy," he told her, pressing his lips to the top of her head. He didn't need to add, "We'll be here for you." She already knew that.

Gibbs couldn't help but wonder, though, if Ziva had realized yet what had already crossed his mind — with her transferring to Intelligence, rule number twelve was null and void.

Tony wasn't surprised when he opened his apartment door and found Ziva standing in the hallway, regarding him with an apprehensive gaze.



Silence. "Wanna come in?" Tony finally asked, stepping aside. Ziva nodded as she made her way into the apartment. He closed the door, and…more silence.



They spoke at the same time and instantly stopped, their mouths snapping shut again. "Go ahead," Tony said after a moment, and Ziva sighed, running a hand through her hair before she spoke again.

"I…told Gibbs I was leaving the team. I will be putting in the paperwork tomorrow."

Tony nodded, pressing his lips together. "Good. I mean…not good, obviously. But…is this what you want?"

"Yes." The more people asked, the more Ziva was sure. Yes. Yes, this was what she wanted.

"Then…good. Well, still not good. But if it's what you want…if you're happy, I'm happy."

A lie if Ziva had ever heard one. "You don't look happy," she informed him wryly. He responded with the biggest, cheesiest, fakest grin she'd ever seen. "Tony—"

"Okay, okay." The smile faded, and Tony ran a hand through his hair. "Look…I'm not going to pretend I'm happy you're leaving. Honestly, I think it sucks, and I'm gonna miss you like hell around the office. But I'm not about to try and make you stay with us. Do what you have to do, as long as it makes you happy." The honesty was…not surprising, exactly. Appreciated, though. "Besides, it's not like you're…leaving the country or anything. You'll be two floors down, and I have a pretty good idea of where your apartment is. It's not like we're saying goodbye. We just…won't be working together anymore. It's not goodbye, though." He paused for a moment before adding, "Right?"

"No." The answer was instant and forceful — it took them both by surprise. "Not goodbye." Never goodbye, a voice in the back of Ziva's head added. Tony smiled wryly.

"Okay then."

After a moment…Ziva smiled as well.

"Okay, then."

Author's Note: So…here's the deal. My inspiration for this story took a vacation. It's basically where I want it to be (though maybe not where you want it to be), so here's what I'm proposing — I'm going to call this story complete for the simple fact that I've played out the basic storyline that was accompanied with it, and once I've had a chance to get my head on straight and plan out where to go from here, I'll post a sequel. Not ideal, I know, and I'm expecting plenty of complaints, but I'd rather do that then just completely abandon the story.

So…review? Pretty, pretty please with a cherry on top? ~Sa