So what we have here is a little Ziva-Centric T/Z fic that is absolutely nothing like what I had intended on writing. I'm warning you now, it is a Somalia-flavored fic, but it does not take place in Somalia or dealing with the immediate aftermath. I hope you enjoy it. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS.
This was only one of the many nights that Ziva David thought she would never sleep again. She lay stark still in bed, staring up at the ceiling. A quick glance at the clock told her that it was 3:15 am, and she hadn't slept a wink. She absolutely could not close her eyes. She couldn't will her mind to slow down, to stop images she thought she had successfully buried long ago from flashing through her mind.
She thought she had gotten over the flashbacks and the nightmares. It had been nearly six months since she had been woken up drenched in a cold sweat, the covers twisted around her body as she shook like a leaf. She thought she had willed them away. With all of the other things on her mind, she hadn't allowed the memories violently overtake her. That was until earlier that day.
There were many cases she had worked between her rescue from Somalia two years ago and present. Some, like the case of Petty Officer Caitlin Burrows, were trying - to say the least. Some cases more difficult than others, but she managed to make it through the majority unscathed. Some - like her father's visit and her kidnapping during the P2P case – were triggers, but most of the struggles came during the very recent aftershock of the ordeal. The nightmares that gripped her were nothing out of the ordinary. Now they had a firmer hold than she would like to admit.
The case was a particularly difficult one, and a long one at that. Young women who were kidnapped, tortured and later disposed of. Most definitely a hate crime, the victims had all been naval officers of Middle Eastern descent. That alone made Ziva sick. When she saw their bodies, their familiar scars, it was all she could do not to vomit. She could tell that the rest of the team was acutely aware of her discomfort. Each would cast concerned glances at her when they thought she wasn't looking. As though she would miss the pity in their eyes.
Gibbs' refusal to send her undercover proved to be her only saving grace. She would be eternally grateful to him for that.
This killer had taken his time, allowing the wounds to heal just enough before ripping them open once again. The familiarity both shocked and stung her. It was as if she could feel the pain of her wounds all over again. She began to get more frequent flashbacks during the case, but none as forceful as those that came during the takedown that day.
It had taken 2 ½ months to track down Lance Corporal Joshua Gatchell's location. They had him, and they knew it. They had his DNA, his prints, and they had finally found his torture chamber. They were closing in on the killer when the smell first hit her. It was dust, stale sweat and urine, and finally, the coppery smell of blood. She was immediately taken aback by the barrage of memories that invaded her brain.
The dust of the desert coated her throat as she was thrown against the cold dirt floor of her cell. She licked her lips, dry, cracked and bleeding. Even the small action caused her to moan in pain, her jaw bruised and broken.
She shook her head, trying to will the thoughts away.
"Zi," Tony whispered, "Are you okay?"
"I am fine," she tersely replied.
He knew she was lying, she could tell. He shot her a doubtful look, but there was no time to dwell on what had been.
She continued on, shaken. It was not until she saw Gatchell, knife in hand, victim number four chained to the wall that her panic began.
The knife, her knife, dragged down her inner thigh, the skin splitting open slowly as he pushed the blade in deeper and deeper. Her blood dripped down her leg, trailing down her calf and pooling at her feet.
Saleem's face came closer and closer to hers as he took a drag of his cigarette. He took immense pleasure in not just his nicotine fix, but the resolve he saw slipping on her face as he came so close he could touch his nose with hers. He blew the smoke gently in her face, smiling menacingly as he put out his cigarette on her chest.
Tony and Gibbs' muffled shouting interrupted her memories.
"Federal Agents! Drop your weapon!"
She tried to draw in a slow breath, but it caught in her throat. She couldn't breathe. Why couldn't she breathe?
Her body was betraying her. Her lungs refused to cooperate. She could see Gatchell point his gun at her, but she was frozen to the spot. It was all she could do to remain standing. She wasn't sure whose gun went off first - Gatchell's or Gibbs' - but she did know she heard Tony scream her name and felt her body slam into the ground.
Any air that was left in her lungs rushed out as she hit the ground as Tony's solid frame fell on top of her. She pushed him off as quickly as possible. His once comforting weight was oppressive, her body pinned underneath his. She heard his groan of pain as she pushed him off, but she ignored it as she scrambled to her feet. The feeling of the dust in her hair and on her skin was far too much for her to handle.
"Ziva!" she heard Gibbs shout. Her head snapped to his immediately as he pulled her out of her trance. "Ambulance, now!"
She pulled her phone out of her pocket to dial, realizing for the first time that she had blood on her hands. She looked down at Tony lying on the ground, clutching his bicep. It was Tony's blood.
"Tony," she whispered as she finished with emergency dispatch. She took his arm in her hands, putting as much pressure on the wound as she could. He gasped in pain at the sensation.
"Tony, I am so sorry."
"I believe this situation merits an exception."
"Not your fault. Besides, it's just a graze."
She heard the paramedics enter the room. One of them gently pried her fingers from Tony's arm so they could bandage him temporarily; he insisted that they just stitch him up right there. The others tended to the victim that she could not bear to look at for fear of slipping into another panic attack.
Gibbs approached as the paramedics tried and failed to load Tony on to the stretcher.
"DiNozzo, quit being a pain in the ass." he said.
"Yes, Boss." he replied, finally sitting on the stretcher.
He turned to her, his trademark stare fixed in place.
"I don't want to hear it. Go with him. I want an update on him and the girl in an hour if I'm not there first. McGee and I will head over when we're done here."
"Yes, Gibbs." She turned to walk away, guilt clear in her step.
"And call Abby." he called after her. She couldn't stop a soft groan from slipping through her lips. How would she explain this one?
Ziva lay still in bed, tears streaming down her face. She had gotten Tony shot. How could she possibly have been so careless? How could she have allowed her weakness to overtake her again? She couldn't face him. She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. She allowed cowardice to the long list of things she was ashamed of today.
She waited patiently in the lobby as Tony was stitched up, or more accurately, waited to be stitched up. The victim took priority with her numerous injuries. The doctors had yet to appear with a status report, and she was growing antsy. Nearly an hour had passed and Gibbs had not yet arrived. She prepared herself to give a very unhelpful progress report when Gibbs and McGee walked through the door.
"David, sit rep."
"The doctors have not given me an update as of yet. I do know that they are currently working on the girl, and Tony will have to wait until someone is available to get his stitches."
"Okay. McGee, go see if you can find DiNozzo, make sure he's alright." he said still looking at Ziva.
"Yes, boss." he replied easily, clearly knowing he was not wanted for the coming conversation.
"You wanna stay in here, or get some fresh air?" Gibbs asked her.
"I think it would be prudent for us to go outside," she said, resigned to the fact that she was about to have a very unpleasant conversation.
"Do you want to talk about what happened?" He asked as they exited the hospital's front doors.
"Yeah, well that's too damn bad. What the hell happened in there?"
"I was having...a panic attack. I was having flashbacks to some of my...experiences...in Somalia, and that caused a shortness of breath and as you could tell, an inability to move from my position."
"Do you have any idea the danger that you just put us in?"
"If you didn't think you could handle it, you should have told me. I would have told you to hang back."
"I did not want to sit this one out."
"I don't give a damn what you want. If you knew that this case was going to affect you this way, you should have said something. I should have benched you. I've known it since victim number one, but I trusted you to tell me when it was too much for you. I should have known better."
Ziva hung her head in shame. She took a deep breath before responding. "I thought I could handle it. I thought I was in control. I have been in control the entire case. There was no reason to think that I would not be alright today."
Gibbs stepped to her, determined to meet her eyes,"You're telling me that you had no idea, not even a moment of doubt before you went in there that told you that you could have an attack?"
Her jaw clenched. He knew she was lying. He could sense her guilt, her shame. She didn't even have words to defend herself. Even if she did, they didn't matter. He would pay them no mind.
"That's what I thought."
"Gibbs, this was a one time incident."
He cut her off, "How do you know?"
"Can you guarantee me that you won't freeze up again?" He asked, voice rising in volume.
"No," she replied, her voice rising to match his. "No, I cannot."
"Then I can't let you out into the field."
"Gibbs!" she shouted, outraged, "That is not fair!"
"You wanna tell that to DiNozzo? I've got my best agent in the hospital because you couldn't hold your own in the field."
"That has never happened before, and there is no reason to believe it will again! It has been two years, and this is the first time one of the attacks has affected my work."
"But you have had the flashbacks in the field before."
She paused for a moment "Yes."
"Why does it matter?"
"Because it affects my team, that's why!"
"I believed until now that I was a part of your team. Is that now untrue because I have tripped up?"
He was too angry to correct her idiomatic mistake "Of course not, but I need to know that no matter what, when we go into the field, the team will be safe. I can't do that if you are having panic attacks."
"Gibbs, you told me once to trust my judgement. I am telling you now that this will not happen again. I need you to trust my judgement too."
"I don't know if I can."
Her head and shoulders slouched in defeat. Her anger was battling with an overwhelming sadness she could no longer ignore.
"I am going back to NCIS," she said. "My report will be on your desk when you get back." She turned away in defeat, leaving her team behind and cursing herself for allowing her emotions to get ahold of her once again.
She lay awake still, her tears refusing to cease. She had left Tony in the hospital. She hadn't even tried to find out if he was okay. She had lost Gibbs' trust, and most likely the trust of her partners. All because she still couldn't face her past without falling through the cracks once again.
She glanced over at her alarm clock. It read 4:57am. There was no way she could sleep now. Gathering herself she decided it would be best if she went for a run. Running was one of the few times that she could really clear her head. If there was a time for that, now was it. She dressed quickly in her running gear and was out the door less than ten minutes later. The cool October air bit at her throat and lungs. It was slightly painful as she took each breath. The cold stabbed relentlessly at her insides, and yet she refused to slow down. She could not stop running, she would not let herself cry again.
She paid no mind to where she was running or how she managed to get there, but as she took in the world around her for the first time, she noted that she was only three blocks away from Tony's apartment complex. Trust her subconscious to bring her exactly where she both needed and dreaded to be. She took a deep breath and continued on her path to Tony's apartment. She would have to face him at work, there was no reason to put off the confrontation any longer.
As she approached his door, she knew that it could very well be a mistake. What if he wasn't alone in there? What if she woke him up unnecessarily? The little voice inside her head shouted from the back of her mind "What if he just can't forgive you this time? What if you've finally done it for good?" The tears she had tried to fight away sprung to her eyes once again. There was a good possibility that he would never want to see her again. She choked back a sob at even the thought.
She took a step back. She had to knock, right? She came all this way, and if she was going to break down, she'd rather it not be in the middle of the squad room. Or the elevator. Or the men's room. If this was it, she had to know before she entered NCIS. She had to know if she would be editing an IA report, or writing a resignation.
She knocked gently on the door. It was entirely too timid for her, but she knew he would know. He always knew. After a few moments of no response, she knocked again, more firmly this time. A few seconds later he opened the door. His hair was tousled just so, and his right arm bore a sling, broadcasting her failure to anyone who even glanced his way. Even before she spoke she bowed her head in shame.
"You could've just used your key, you know. I've been expecting you." He said softly, his voice still garbled slightly from sleep.
"I did not think you would take kindly to me just barging in." she said as he allowed her entrance. "Especially not after what happened." She paused "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, like I said before, it was just a graze."
"Really?" she said in a tone of happiness with a hint of disbelief and skepticism.
"No. It was a through and through, but it was so close to the surface it might as well have been one."
"Don't apologize to me, Ziva. Please don't"
"But I am the reason you are in this condition. It is my fault you were shot."
"It's not. You think I don't know what's been happening to you for the past three months? That you've been getting the nightmares and the flashbacks? I know, Zi. I can see it in your face. I can tell you haven't been sleeping. It's just like when we got back. I should have told you to hang back. When I saw that look on your face before we went in, I shouldn't have asked you if you were okay. I knew you weren't. I should have told you to stand down. I didn't. This is my fault. Your panic attack was my fault."
"How can you even think that? It is not your responsibility to tell me when to stand down. Nor is it your fault that my flashbacks chose that moment to kick on. It is my fault you are in this mess. Now please let me apologize."
"No! This is not your fault and I won't let you think it is. I may have gotten shot because of something that happened to you, but it only happened in the first place because of me."
"What are you saying?"
"I shouldn't have let Gibbs leave you in Tel Aviv."
"Are we really having this conversation now?"
"Well it seems as good a time as any. We really haven't done it. We might as well do it when we're already yelling."
She contemplated his words for a moment, staring at him with an expression that landed somewhere between frustration, helplessness and incredulity. She took a deep breath and gained some level of control over herself before responding calmly.
"What happened in Somalia was not your fault either. It was mine. I should not have trusted Michael or my father. I should have trusted you. It was my own foolish mistake that landed me in that position, not anything you had done."
"If I hadn't gone to your apartment that night, none of this would have happened. Come to think of it, if we'd stayed with the Director in LA like you wanted, none of this would have happened. You never would have started seeing the bastard, I wouldn't have killed him, and you wouldn't have gone back to Mossad."
"You do not know that! You do not know if we could have changed anything! Nothing that has happened between us is your fault. Tony," she said as she took his face into her hands. "I need you to look into my eyes and believe me. There is nothing you could have done to change what happened to me. I was too far gone. I was lost. Unfortunately that led me down a very dangerous path. But no matter what happened before, the important thing is that you found me."
Tony took a moment to look deeply into Ziva's eyes before he spoke again. To her surprise, there was pain evident in his voice.
"Ziva, you have to know...I was in a bad place when you left. I couldn't go anywhere or do anything without thinking of you. When Gibbs told us that the Damocles went down with no survivors," he paused, gathering himself, "My world just...stopped turning. Nothing in my life had meaning with you gone. I have one of your shirts here, one that you left behind a long time ago...but it smelled like you. It was the only thing keeping me connected to reality. Knowing that I had even a little piece of you left. That sounds really creepy now that I say it out loud. Point is, Zi, when I went to Somalia, it wasn't to save you. I thought you were dead, and I just couldn't...couldn't keep going knowing that the bastard that killed you was still alive."
"When I went to Africa, I wasn't really planning on coming back."
She stared at him in utter disbelief, but with a love he hadn't seen in her eyes in years. He stepped towards her and took her face in his hands, gently stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. "When I told you that I couldn't live without you, I meant it. I know we haven't been the same since you came back, and I think that's something I can learn to live with...but when we go out into the field, you are my number one priority. When I saw that look on your face today, I knew something was wrong. I should have told you to hang back, or at least have kept you closer by. I just... I can't lose you again."
Ziva had tears pooling in her eyes. His commitment to her was overwhelming. She could not have him putting her welfare before his. That was how they had managed to get themselves in this situation in the first place. She took his hands in hers, lowering them from her face but still grasping them firmly.
"As much as I appreciate your commitment to me and to our partnership, I cannot have you putting yourself in harm's way for me."
"Don't tell me you don't deserve it. That's what you said the last time. You were wrong then, and you're wrong now."
She smiled at him "Even if that were the case, I need to know that you will put yourself first, not me. Believe it or not, I cannot lose you either. Whatever I am going through, it would do me well to know that you are safe. Knowing that it is I who is responsible for your pain...it is too much."
"As much as I want to be able to promise you that I won't jump in front of another bullet for you, if I did it would be a lie."
"I..." he cut her off as she began to protest.
"No. You have to understand that I will do anything in my power to keep you safe. I know you can take care of yourself. I've seen you in action. You and your ninja skills can put me to shame, I'm sure of it. All I'm asking you is to let me watch your six like I always have. Let me take care of you."
She could clearly see that he was not about to back down. She wasn't sure if his words comforted or terrified her. No one had ever wanted to take care of her like that before.
"Okay, Tony," she said conceding. "You may watch my six. Just know that I will be doing the same for you."
"I wouldn't have it any other way." He smiled lovingly at her.
She wasn't sure exactly what came over her in that moment, but she was certain that for once what she was feeling was right. Ziva pushed herself up onto her tiptoes and kissed Tony softly on the lips. Mere seconds passed before he gently kissed her back. She allowed herself to linger there for only a moment before breaking away and falling back down onto her heels.
"And what was that for?" he asked her softly, still smiling.
"Another discussion for another time," she replied.
He nodded. They had certainly had enough serious conversation for the time being. "In that case, can I make you breakfast? I think we have enough time to get a good meal in before we go to work."
"I do not think that is a good idea," she said, watching his face fall slightly, "I do not want you to injure your arm. But unless you rearranged your kitchen, which I do find unlikely, I believe I can find what I need to make something."
"Who am I to say no to ninja pancakes?" he said brightening up.
"Who said you were getting pancakes?"
"Please, Zi?" he whined "I'm injured, here."
"Well, alright, I suppose I can do that. But no chocolate chips."
"Fiiiiine." he groaned.
She found it strange that the manliest of men could so easily transform himself into a five year old boy. She found it even more strange that she enjoyed it.
A few hours later when Tony and Ziva made their way into the bullpen all seemed well. Gibbs was brooding quietly at his desk whilst working on his paperwork from the previous day, while McGee was trying to make it look like he was doing his. They quietly entered the squad room, splitting off to their respective desks and seemingly preparing themselves for a day of paperwork and likely reprimand. Ziva fidgeted for a few moments before getting up once again and approaching Gibbs' desk.
"May I speak with you, please?" she asked.
"Yuh," he grunted, head gesturing towards the elevator.
As soon as the doors closed he hit the emergency switch and Ziva began without hesitation.
"I know you have rules that I must follow, but I am about to break several of them. I am sorry for what happened yesterday. I realize that I put the entire team in danger by neglecting to inform you of my condition."
"You have PTSD." Not a question.
"I do not wish to label it. I have not actually been diagnosed."
"How long have you known?"
"As soon as I returned I knew the process of healing would be trying, but I did not anticipate that it would take this long."
"Frankly, I'm surprised you're handling this as well as you are."
"Yesterday that is not what you seemed to be feeling."
"Yesterday I wasn't. I was angry. Still am. You put the entire team in danger because you didn't want us to know that you were struggling, but we already knew. We could see you were hurting, Ziver. But I wanted you to tell me when you'd had enough."
"I know, and I was wrong, but you have to believe that I really did think I could handle it. I did not mean to put us in danger."
"You never do." He paused, his own past flashing in front of him. "I trust you...but I still can't let you back in the field."
"Are you seeing someone about this?"
She seemed slightly taken aback as she answered,"I was, for a while when I first got back, but I have not been in over a year."
"You're gonna have to start going back. Vance said you need to pass a new round of psych evals before you can go back out."
"Does that mean you have to take my gun?"
He nodded, "Just your government issued piece. I have no control over the others."
"Good." They stood in silence before Ziva hit the emergency switch once more, putting the elevator back in motion before it stopped abruptly once again.
"You said you were gonna break several of my rules. I just counted one."
"Number six," she said, "But I feel I should tell you that I am about to follow one into breaking another."
He looked at her as though she'd gone insane.
"I kissed Tony this morning. Hopefully sometime soon he will ask me out on a real date and when he does I will say yes. We are going to break rule 12, Gibbs. You can start being angry about it now and try to stop us, but I believe it would be a waste of time."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Getting a jump on Rule 18."
"It is better to seek forgiveness than ask permission," he said tilting his head back in slight exasperation.
"Like you said, I am not asking, I am telling. I am hoping that you will be supportive of us."
He sighed, clearly "Your partner jumped in front of a bullet for you yesterday. I don't think all that much is going to change."
She smiled "Thank you."
He kissed the top of her head. "You do what you have to for your kids."
"What? Kicking our butts into therapy and not killing our significant others."
"Well yeah," he said as he flicked the elevator into motion.
They exited the elevator, the air at least a bit clearer than it was before. As Gibbs passed Tony's desk he said, "DiNozzo, steak tonight?"
"Cowboy style, boss?"
"Any other way?"
"I'll bring the beer."
Gibbs nodded in response. Tony's gaze fell to Ziva. He gave her a look that clearly asked 'What are you not telling me?' She only shrugged and scrunched her face up quickly in return, turning to her computer and logging in.
Tony in turn went about trying to get McGee to do his work. "C'mon, McGeek, I'm injured here."
"Somehow I think I'd like you better on painkillers right now."
"Choose your words wisely, Probie. I can make that happen."
Gibbs sighed and rolled his eyes before mumbling something about coffee and leaving the team to their shenanigans.
Ziva smirked and suppressed a giggle as Tony turned to her and winked subtly before turning his antics back on McGee. As she watched her partners bicker back and forth all she could do was smile.
They would be okay.