Um, spoiler alert. Like, big time. Just about everything up until The Nature of the Beast is at least vaguely alluded to. It's like a summarization (that's not a word, is it . . . ?) of Tony and Ziva's ever-evolving, always-frustrating relationship. And then I take things into my own, questionably-capable hands. I don't know if I like it. Originally I wasn't going to publish it at all, but on a reread I liked it better than I'd remembered, so . . . Yeah, I'm really decisive when it comes to my own work.

Disclaimer: I think I've run out of witty disclaimer thingies. Like, legit. 'Tis very disheartening. I better go text my friends and replenish my supply of randomness. Tootles!

Ziva David was not, by nature, a jealous woman.

Her relationships had always been casual, as was required by her job, by her lifestyle, by her father. It was important not to become attached, because, like duct tape when left for long periods of time on the skin, it tended to hurt when that which you clung to was torn away.

Distance. Detachment. Isolation.

When you thought about it, they were all sugar-coated synonyms for 'Alone.' But Ziva, who was so remarkably adept at seeing reality, had never picked up on this. And if she had, she would most likely have disregarded it as the after-effects of an adrenaline rush that had accompanied her latest mission.

After all, detachment was a form of survival. And survival was everything.

This left little room for debate, when it came to priorities. First came your country, then your duty, then your family, then yourself.

And with priorities as clearly cut as the chiseled features of a green-eyed face, relationships were never at the front of Ziva's mind.

This was why she, at age 23, hadn't minded terribly when she'd found her boyfriend of three years, Aaron Benji, cheating on her. In fact, she couldn't even blame him. She'd been gone for four and a half months.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but prolonged lapses into the world of those who do not exist tend to put ants into a person's pants. Or sometimes other females.

She'd been fairly indifferent, to tell you the truth. After all, four months was a long time, and Aaron wasn't the only one who had been unfaithful.

Of course, that hadn't stopped her from sending Aaron to the ER with a broken jaw. But that was just the defending of her honor. And as her knight in shining armor seemed to be a turncoat, the fair maiden had taken things into her own capable hands, which could hold a knife just as easily as she could hold her white hankie.

Yes, by nature, Ziva David was not a jealous woman.

At least, she hadn't thought herself one until she met Anthony DiNozzo, whose charming grin and brilliant green eyes swept her off her feet in a way that she was not quite accustomed to.

Normally, it was Ziva doing the sweeping, whether clad in a tiny red cocktail dress or the loose white robes of a Muslim woman, whether with arms dealers or terrorists. She had only to make her rich coffee-brown eyes coquettish, cock her hip just so.

It was a tried and true method, and one that had never failed to get her her man.

But then she met Tony.

Tony was just as accustomed to doing the sweeping as she was, whether with a flirtatious joke or a charming grin, whether with a leggy blond or an inebriated brunette. He had only to let his eyes crinkle in the corners, the way they did when he smiled, tilt his head just so.

It was a tried and true method, and one that had never failed to get him a date.

And then he met Ziva.

Forces met, like one of those long and pointless math problems that required you to calculate the collision point of Train A and Train B, if Train A was an assassin on a mission to prove her half-brother's innocence and Train B was a charming Italian playboy who was grieving for one of the only women he'd ever truly loved.

Ziva didn't know about that collision point, but she knew that the result had been magnificent.

They'd pushed and they'd pulled, rising and falling like the tide, each time a bit bolder, taking a step further over the line before retreating.

It turned into a game of 'chicken,' each trying to get the other to break first.

They laughed and they flirted and they breathed on each other until Ziva had the smell of Tony memorized, and Tony could tell you exactly which of Ziva's teeth had fillings.

It was a long process, a source of literary inspiration for McGee, a source of irritation for Gibbs, and a source of gossip for the rest of the office at large. The office pools had never been so successful as they were that summer, when Gibbs left and Tony stepped into the boots of el jefe.

Things progressed. People almost died, a couple of people diddie, and Gibbs returned in a fanfare of trumpets that left Tony to fade quietly into the background once more. And somewhere along the line, Ziva fell in love in a way that she never had before.

Only that didn't work out, just as Eli had always said. Because Tony had a beautiful bilingual secret with a medical degree and a father as dangerous as Ziva's own.

Which left Ziva in a new kind of predicament, which no amount of red cocktail dresses and coquettish brown eyes could fix.

It was called loneliness and it was new to her, even though she'd been experiencing it for years.

For the first time she understood the importance of detachment. Too bad it was a bit too late.

But life went on. Cars blew up and hearts shattered, people resurrected from the depths of the elevator shaft and hearts reached new heights, only to shrivel guiltily as Tony's own heart broke over a few lines of script.

And maybe it could have worked then, if it hadn't been for Vance.

Or maybe it was Jen's fault.

Ziva wasn't entirely sure who was to blame in that case. All she knew was that, in the wake of hot sun and bikini snap-shots, the people she had grown to call her family were torn away from her.

And all she had left were the memories and an unpleasant burning sensation in her insides, a bit like skin after duct tape has been ripped away from it, that she knew to be loneliness.

Maybe it was the loneliness that caused her to seek out Michael. Maybe it was the memories of earlier days, when life had been as simple as a mission objective, a target, and a gun. She longed for the simplicity that had been lost somewhere along the train tracks.

Her family was returned to her, but the simplicity of long ago was gone.

It was as if the tables were turned, because now it was Tony who watched with eyes that were hard to read as she held hushed conversations in Hebrew over the phone.

Michael dies.

Simplicity is already dead. Decay has started to set in.

In an effort to salvage a clear-cut echo of a life that was once her own, she detangles herself from a sticky situation, from the arms of those that love her, and returns home.

Things are not simple, and suddenly Israel is not 'home.'

Pain and blood and harsh voices that curse her, question her, threaten her family. Ziva craves death every moment of it, but a part of her feels some twisted form of closure.

It might not be pretty, but at least death is simple.

Tony seems to take a malicious sort of satisfaction from taking her high-resolution photographs of reality and feeding them through the paper-shredder. This knight in armor isn't backing down so easily, and Ziva can't even muster the strength to wave her white Kleenex in distress.

She goes home to her true family, and no one stops for a moment to consider whether she is worthy of such friendship.

She wonders if the Prodigal son felt as crappy as she does.

She can't find her simplicity anymore, and reality flits in and out like Tony did when Jeanne Benoit was in the picture. Nightmares plague her and guilt follows her around like a mangy stray.

She looks and she looks for clarity, for understanding (she abandoned hope of recovering simplicity sometime long ago) but instead she finds Ray.

Ray is sweet and he seems to genuinely care about Ziva.

This is something entirely new, and she knows better than to pass this something up so quickly, because Tony is detached, and simplicity, like Michael, is dead.

Ray doesn't ask questions, which makes his career choice a bit dubious in Ziva's eyes. But she doesn't object. In fact, she welcomes his acceptance and almost starts to love him.

Ray's eyes aren't green, but at least they don't cloud with concern every time the breath hitches in her throat.

Yes, she finds herself almost loving Ray, but this fondness, this affection, does absolutely nothing in the face of the ocean of jealousy that floods her senses the first time that Tony's eyes crinkle at Erica Jane Barrett. It doesn't stop her fists from clenching whenever the self-assured blonde marches into the office.

Soon Ray makes his appearance as well.

Ziva's ashamed at the satisfaction she gets from Tony's jealousy, which he does very little to disguise. She tells herself that she is annoyed by Tony's juvenility, that she wants the two most important men in her life (Gibbs aside, of course) to get along.

She also tells herself that she loves Ray, in the hopes that saying so will make it true.

If she were to be honest with herself, she would admit that she feels nothing for Ray other than a mild, almost brotherly affection. But years away from Mossad have clouded Ziva's sense of reality, and so the lies continue.

She's genuinely hurt when she finds out that Ray has been lying to her, but her grief is more for the loss of simplicity once more than anything else.

In a tragic case of death-by-bureaucracy, simplicity is slaughtered as mercilessly as the Naval officers who keep popping up. No amount of apology nor love profession can resurrect it.

That doesn't stop her from feeling guilty when Ray tells her that he loves her. She wonders what her reply, under different circumstances, would have been.

Mike Franks was by no means simple, but she can't help but choke up when she sees Gibbs' face. This is her mentor's mentor.

She wonders if anyone would mourn like that, had it been her.

A few brief seconds in the elevator mean more to her than every single date she ever went on with Ray Cruz. Ray made her feel special, wanted, loved. He always knew what to say. He treated her like a queen.

Tony just stands awkwardly, alternating between shooting her concerned, sympathetic glances and looking decidedly away. He knows that she doesn't like to break down in front of an audience.

She chokes out some emotional nonsense in an effort to make Tony understand how she feels. She wonders if he ever misses simplicity.

He holds her while she cries. He makes things easier, but later she tosses and turns over the memory of his hand cupping her face. Complications ensue.

Things slow down, after a couple more gunfights, rescues, and near-death encounters.

Levin dies. Cade and EJ leave.

Ray gives her an empty ring box. Her disappointment is so real that she begins to wonder if perhaps she does feel something for Ray.

Or maybe she is just disappointed that even Ray, who says that he loves her (which is more than anyone else has ever done), cannot bring himself to commit to a scarred, broken woman.

Her heart breaks a little more. It's going to take more than duct tape to put her back together at this point.

It's going to take a miracle.

But she doesn't get a miracle. She gets a new badge and Tony gets a new mission that has him looking over his shoulder every other second.

She is concerned, about Ray, about Tony.

She writes Ray long letters that go into the 'Drafts' file on her email account. She can't seem to bring herself to do the same for Tony.

Once she tries. She makes a conscious effort to try to explain the intricate web of longing, yearning fear that she has become.

It falls flat, but Tony seems to grasp a little bit of what she is trying to get across. When he presses, eyes curious and maybe a little bit hopeful, she backtracks. Her moment of bravery is past, so she kisses his lips with the eraser of a pencil and retreats into herself.

Time wears on.

Days grow longer and she feels older.

She finally sends Ray an email, a short, concise note devoid of any emotion. She writes it and rewrites it, trying to explain how she feels, but what comes out is a flat, emotionless blurb of typing.

In a fit of frustration, she sends the email anyway. Ray said that he loved her. Perhaps this is who she is.

Tony watches her from across the room. She puts her head down on her fist and wishes that she could cry.

EJ returns, scarred and bitter and intent on revenge. Ziva, for the first time, feels only sympathy for the blonde, who looks utterly breakable as she huddles in an over-large NCIS t-shirt and recounts her time as a hostage.

With work to throw herself into, a bit of normalcy returns briefly. It's not simplicity, but it keeps her occupied, and that's good enough right now.

She just needs to survive on a day-to-day basis until she can figure out how to live.

EJ's captors are found, thanks to some brilliant teamwork on the part of McAbby, as Tony has taken to calling the young couple. It appears that the Goth and the geek have finally gotten their act together.

Gibbs doesn't utter a word about rule twelve.

The routine arrest takes a turn for the worse when EJ arrives. Ziva doesn't know how the ex-agent caught wind of the breakthrough in the case, but obviously she was informed somehow. EJ takes one look at her captors, now handcuffed, and her face fades to a color several shades paler than white.

Then suddenly Ziva and Tony are holding back a struggling EJ, who has a gun. Tears roll down the blonde's face as she writhes, desperate to get free, to take revenge on the men who ruined her life.

And Ziva feels an over-whelming sympathy. She wonders if she would have reacted as Agent Barrett has, had she had the chance to confront Saleem Ulman.

The scary thing is that she doesn't know.

EJ is led away from the crime scene by Gibbs, whose face has changed a bit. His eyes look the way they always do when he is dealing with children, especially those that remind him of Kelly.

McGee's face looks numb as he quietly helps load the men in custody into the car. He mumbles something about calling Abby, and walks a few yards away, visibly shaken.

Tony is watching Gibbs and EJ. His green eyes are hard to read.

EJ is crying. As Ziva and Tony watch, she leans over and vomits water. Her frail body shakes, wracked with retching sobs that produce more liquid.

Gibbs simply holds back Agent Barrett's hair and rubs her back, saying something in a low, soothing voice that Ziva cannot make out.

Tony watches in silence, and Ziva can't bring herself to be jealous.

"I can handle them," she says softly, nodding towards the car though her eyes never leave Tony's face. "Go talk to EJ."

Tony keeps his eyes averted for a long second. He shakes his head and turns to the car. "I don't think she'd want me watching," he says, yanking open the driver's side door.

Ziva wonders why he never had a problem calling her out when she was losing it.

EJ goes home. The men go to prison.

Ray comes back.

This time the box isn't empty.

And she's all set to say yes, to let Ray kiss her, and to let the audience of surrounding diners applaud politely for the happy couple, when something strikes her.

Ray has never once told her that he couldn't live without her.

And suddenly this is of vital importance, and so instead of saying yes, yes, yes, and giving a reason for the diners to applaud, she freezes up. Ray is still smiling, but his grin is a bit strained now, a bit anxious.

"Ziva?"

He has never come up with a nick-name for her, she thinks. Not sweetcheeks, not ninja, not even Zi.

And suddenly this is of vital importance, and so instead of saying yes, yes, yes, she gives the nearby diners the embarrassment of their life by jumping to her feet.

Her sudden movement startles a tray-toting waiter, who had approached, most likely to offer to snap a photo of the happy couple. He stumbles backwards into a table with a crashing of dishes that offers the perfect distraction.

Ziva takes her opportunity and flees for her life.

She wasn't planning on running anywhere in particular, and yet she's not surprised when she ends up on Tony's door. She doesn't give him time to say a word, just announces the second his door opens, "Ray has just asked me to marry him, and I think that I might have said no."

Tony looks at her for a second, takes in her appearance, and hustles her into the living room. He wastes no time with formalities, simply turns around, looks her square in the face, and says, "What?"

She repeats herself breathlessly, feeling exhilarated and terrified and exhausted. She wants to cry.

"Ray has just asked me to marry him . . . and I think I have refused."

Tony looks stunned. "Are you nuts? I mean . . . Why?"

Ziva is about to say that she doesn't know, when suddenly things start making sense in her head, for the first time in a long time, and she finds that she knows the answer after all.

"He never said that he could not live without me."

Tony just looks for a moment, and her stomach drops. Perhaps she was wrong. Perhaps-

Tony smiles just a tiny little bit. "Okay," he says.

Okay.

And suddenly everything is.

Meh. Don't like it. Again. But I'm publishing it, because . . . well, I don't know. Maybe because Engaged Pt. 1 was lacking in the Tiva department for me (yeah, spoilers. whatever.) Even though Mark Harmon's son had very nice eyes which easily made up for things, in my opinion. Consider me smitten!

So review? You can tell me it's bad. Seriously. Or we can just exchange fangirl squees on the general attractiveness of various male actors. What say you, oh readers?