Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events.

Author's Note: Set during 9.13 "A Desperate Man."

Carry Me Through

The world was hollow, Ziva decided as she drove home that night. The world was hollow, and so was she.

By the time she faced her empty apartment, walked to the bathroom without turning on any lights, and subjected herself to the shower's scalding spray, she hadn't changed her mind.

The world was hollow, full of hollow people who cared nothing for others and everything for themselves. Who made promises and then broke them, reservations and got caught up in work. Dates, and stood them up.

The world was hollow, and Ziva hated it.

She had since she'd turned ten years old.

For her tenth birthday, her father had promised to be at her party. He'd never come to any of her parties before, but he'd never promised to be at any of those. For her tenth, he'd promised. And then he'd broken his promise. It was really as simple as that, yet Ziva still couldn't pry away the hurt his lie had nailed to her heart that night.

That night, as she tried to laugh and smile and say thank you to her friends for all their wonderful presents, and to her mother for such a wonderful party, Ziva had shoved back tears with a strength that surprised her. That night, as she sat on her bed and fingered the worn patches on her favorite stuffed animal, Ziva had wondered what was wrong with her. What had she done to make her papa so mad that he would break his promise to her?

That night had been the night Papa became Father.

He hadn't been Papa since. Not really. She still called him that, still found her lips forming the syllables, but she never meant it. He wasn't Papa, or Abba, or anything else she called him while avoiding his shard-sharp eyes. Just Father. Actually Eli, though she never called him that to his face. The scared, sub-par little girl in her wouldn't let her call him Eli. But Father was okay. And really, not even Father. Just…father.

He wasn't Father; he was a figure, absent more than present, and a bad one at that. She hated him. Hated him so much that it hurt. But she also loved him so much that it hurt.

But Ziva was hollow, which meant that she couldn't hate, couldn't love, couldn't feel anything other than this horrible, aching emptiness where her heart had once been.

Or had she even had a heart?

Ziva didn't know anymore.

The water needled into her, heat burrowing deep into her wounded flesh, trying to heal a hurt it didn't understand. A hurt she didn't understand. She thought of Ray, and the hours she'd waited for him, alone, in the restaurant. Draped in the red dress that she'd secretly hoped would make his eyes light up, with her hair tumbling in soft waves down her back and around her bare shoulders. Made pretty with more make-up than she'd ever dared to use before.

Make-up that now ran down her cheeks like inky tears, staining the shower floor a dappled ebony.

She was hollow. Hollow and worthless, a woman whom no one loved or appreciated or took the time to know.

Ziva hugged herself against the driving spray and leaned against the tiles. When the emptiness became too much, she crumpled to the slick floor, rocking herself against the pain.

When the water's heat faded into ice, she rose and shut off the water, stepping out onto the rug. She toweled the moisture from her limbs and tugged on leggings and a shapeless sweatshirt. Then, hair dripping in icy rivulets down her neck, she padded out of the bathroom and huddled on the couch. She hadn't been there ten minutes before she reached out and fumbled through her purse. Her fingers closed around it, and she held very still for a moment before pulling it out and dialing.

It rang four times before he picked up. "Hello?"

She opened her mouth, but the words wouldn't come; her heart was frozen in its grief. Her eyes squeezed shut, and she clutched the phone until she feared it would break.

"Ziva? Ziver, is that you?"

The nickname broke her, smashed through her walls in a shower of tears and need. "Gibbs…Gibbs," she sobbed, hugging her waist against the pain.

"Ziva, what is it? What's wrong?"

"Please, Gibbs. Keep talking. I need to know you're here. Please."

And so he talked, talked to the weeping young woman with wet hair and a shattered heart, talked until he made her laugh. And then he came and listened while she cried herself through those three lonely hours in the restaurant.

The world was hollow…but not all the time.