Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS or the song "Eyes Open," by Taylor Swift.

The evening is warm and bright, the lowering sun illuminating the vast field before her in with an orange glow. She hasn't been to this site in decades, and the place that she once vowed to frequent seems almost foreign to her. She weaves in and out of the maze of marble gravestones, ashamed that it had been so long that she has very nearly forgotten the location of the particular headstone that she seeks.

After the death, she had come once a week. But training took up much of her time, and soon it was once a month, then once a year, then not at all.

The peacefulness of the graveyard makes Ziva smile. Oftentimes, graveyards are portrayed as haunted, dark, and lonely, but the flowers that grow in the beds and the well-tended-to bushes prove otherwise. This is a place of remembrance and of love.

It is a sacred place.

Her eyes settle on the familiar tombstone, relieved that she found it at last. For a while, she just stares at it, taking in the warmth of the rays of the setting sun.

Mahmoud Yousif


Ziva has always hated the tombstone. With just his name and dates of birth and death, it holds almost no personality in it, nothing that would let people know the interesting, creative, and playful boy buried beneath her feet.

Thirteen years old was way too young. His life, like Tali's and so many others', had not even started.

Ziva had been twelve. It was a lot of weight to place on a twelve year old's shoulders. The death of her childhood best friend had struck her hard. Eli simply used it to show her what they were fighting against. He used Mahmoud's death to his own advantage, by fueling the fight in Ziva.

He had failed to mention the fact that Mahmoud's death was the direct result of Israeli retaliatory missile strike.

"I am sorry," she whispers. She knows that she must seem crazy, talking to a lump of marble, but the silence is oppressing. Talking to him almost felt normal in this situation. "I should have visited sooner. But after everything that's happened… I did not know if it was safe for me to return here," Ziva continues, "Did you know that my cousin Gabrielle is getting married tomorrow? I am to be a bridesmaid. Do you remember her? It does not seem like so long ago. We used to play with her when she would come over. You did not like her because she always wanted to play with dolls, when you and I wanted to play pretend war in the backyard.

The tricky thing

Is yesterday we were just children

Playing soldiers

Ziva sighs. "We used to have so much fun with that game. But war, as I have found out, is not all that we cut it out to be… You know that as well as I do. It took your life."

Just pretending

Dreaming dreams with happy endings

"I was foolish to think that we could escape a life of violence," Ziva says, "You… you did, somewhat. You died before you ever let it have a chance to claim your soul. The violence that I have seen is the kind that hollows you out, kills you far before a bullet ever enters your body."

In backyards, winning battles with our wooden swords

But now we've stepped into a cruel world

Where everybody stands and keeps score

"If only real war were like the kind we used to play. The kind where you can get stabbed without feeling the pain, kill without taking a life, and get shot through the heart with the only consequence being forced to lie on the ground for thirty seconds before your back up life came into action. There would be far less evil in the world," Ziva says forlornly.

Keep your eyes open

"But I must face the truth. There are no 'back-up lives' in real war. You must always watch your back, trust no one… War is not what we liked to pretend it was, Mahmoud," she tells him in a weary voice.

Everybody's waiting for you to breakdown

Everybody's watching to see the fallout

"But still, you must carry on. Show no weakness. Pretend that everything is alright, even after seeing the decapitated head of a man you once knew because some terrorists sent it to your agency by overnight express to make an example of him. Even when you see injustices done that make your skin crawl and blood boil. Even after witnessing all of the hate… You must carry on without batting an eyelash."

Even when you're sleeping, sleeping

Keep your eyes open

"You cannot let your guard down. Ever. Soon, that guard, that façade, that tough outer armor… It fuses with your true skin and you no longer know which is which."

So here you are, two steps ahead and staying on guard

"Sometimes I think you have been lucky, you know. You never had to take part in this war," she admits.

Every lesson forms a new scar

They never thought you'd make it this far

"But I have. I have done things that I am not proud of. But I have learned from the mistakes. They held me to improve myself and slowly morph back from who my father made me become to the little girl that died with you, Mahmoud. I do not think my father thought that I could do it. He thought that he controlled me. But he does not, I have proved that. He knows that he does not own me now. He suspected before, a couple years ago, that he was slowly losing me to the Americans. I let him manipulate me into going back here… I will not do that again."

But turn around, oh they've surrounded you

"The last time I tried to prove myself to him, I was sent to die. I had nothing left anymore… so I went along with it."

It's a showdown

And nobody comes to save you now

"I was hoping, going into that camp, that he would care enough to rescue me. It was a month before I realized that… There was no rescue coming. Despite me being his daughter, he could not use valuable Mossad resources to find me."

But you've got something they don't

Yeah you've got something they don't

"If they had not wanted that information so bad, Mahmoud, I would probably be with you now. No, that is not true. If it had not been for Tony, I would be dead now. But that is a different story," she dismisses, tucking her hair behind her ear.

You've just gotta keep your eyes open

"My whole adult life, I have been on my own. People are not to be trusted. People have their own agendas, for which they will gladly screw you over. Trust is shaky and easily broken. Of course, there are people in my life now that prove to me that not all people will betray trust. There are some who genuinely would give up their lives for mine. I have chosen them over my father."

Keep your feet ready

Heartbeat steady

"Even though that killed façade is gone, the training… It is still beaten into me. Do not show weakness. Do not become attached. Do not express your emotions…" she explains.

Keep your eyes open

Keep your aim locked

The night goes dark

Keep your eyes open

"I do not know what I want, Mahmoud," she sighs, "But I am working on figuring it out. And when I do… I'll let you know, okay?"

Everybody's waiting for you to breakdown

"The people back in D.C. care. But I feel like my every move is scrutinized."

Everybody's watching to see the fallout

"It is like I am some ticking time-bomb. They expect that one day I will just… combust from all of the pressure of the emotions building up inside of me. And perhaps they are right. Perhaps one day I will just… breakdown. But I do not like to think about that. And I am finding it easier to express myself, easier to let out my emotions. Maybe this is progress, yes? The Ziva you knew and loved is still alive and well in me, dearest Mahmoud. I am reinventing myself and my life. And I think… I think that you would approve of the new me," Ziva finishes, feeling relaxed. She bends down and places the flowers that she brought at the base of the tombstone. "Thanks for listening," she whispers, before turning her back and walking away through the rows of graves, not looking back.

Even when you're sleeping, sleeping

Keep your eyes open

She would never be able to trust openly— not after the betrayals that she had witnessed. But she was still able to trust. She would remain cautious and guarded, but there were some people that she could trust to have her six.

Around those people, she could close her eyes without fear.

Her only regret was that Mahmoud was not here to see who she was becoming. He would be so proud.

A/N: I hope that you enjoyed it! I enjoyed writing it. For those who don't know, Mahmoud was the young Muslim boy that was her childhood best friend, until he was killed when Ziva was twelve. I think I will end up writing more about him.

Please review!

PS: just thought that I would let everyone know that, after I publish the next chapter of each of my in progress stories, I will be taking a hiatus and will most likely not update until May.