Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS.
Spoilers: Major ToC (considering it's the premise of the fic, anyway). Minor Aliyah and possibly everything else Tiva. General NCIS.
Setting: AU, post-ToC. This takes place after Ziva has been discharged from the hospital, and her behaviour is slightly different from when she had first come back, because things have finally caught up. In this story, Tony takes a month off after returning from Somalia.
Warning: High T, because of dark story lines and uh ... general messed-up-ness. This story is not recommended for young readers.
So guess what Sophie did, since she had a dissertation to do :P yes, she wrote. But she's handed in her first draft to her dissertation supervisor now, so she has time to write :D and so arriveth a new fic! In this fic, Ziva is ... all over the place, shall we say? That's not likely to change for a while, so before going into this fic, please be aware that if you're looking for a fluff fix, you're in the wrong place.
His gut tells him that something is not quite right the moment he steps in front of the door.
He pushes the feeling aside because, after all, he isn't Gibbs; the last time he'd followed his gut, he had ended up killing Ziva's boyfriend and sending the woman he loved to the other end of the world to be tortured.
Sure, he had then saved her, but it's still different. His gut has never not led him astray before.
He doesn't realize how long he's stood motionless in front of her door, his mouth gaping open stupidly with one fist raised to knock, until she appears in the doorway.
The first thing he notices, with choked breath, is how there's no light in her eyes. They are dull; lifeless.
The next thing he notices—and it's then that he believes his gut—is that there's no light in her living room, either. The brown walls of her temporary home leave something to be desired, of course, but it's not really that. It's not really anything, in fact, and perhaps that's what terrifies him.
There are no signs of life in the room, and yet there are no signs of non-life. There is an unmade bed with its cover half-falling onto the floor, an opened (and distinctly gross-looking) pizza box lying on the table, and a chair sitting in the middle of the room; it is as if the place had once held life that had been forced to abandon the space suddenly, and that scares the living daylights out of him because he knows for a fact that Ziva has been staying in the room for the past two days. Yet, like her eyes, the room simply holds nothingness.
"Uhm, so that's why Gibbs asked me to check in on you," he breathes out, but she doesn't reply. He wipes his palms on his trousers. "How are you?"
It's a stupid question at best, but there isn't even the trademark impatient flicker in her eyes. "Fine."
He pauses. "Can I come in?"
She moves aside to permit his entrance into the room, and he swallows the lump in his throat. Something is off about her—compliant and robotic in her movements, she doesn't even step aside like Ziva would have anymore.
"Have you been eating?" He doesn't know why that question pops into his mouth—maybe it's the sight of the barely touched box of pizza on her table. It's looking soggy and maybe a bit green, but that may just be his imagination.
She makes a tiny shrugging motion. "I had half a slice of pizza yesterday."
He whirls to face her. "Half a slice? Yesterday?"
"You asked me, yes?" Well, at least she still talks like herself.
"Y-yeah," he splutters, "But Zi, that's not enough."
"I know." She says it unashamedly.
"Ziva." His voice comes out more shocked than he'd expected, but he can't help it. Her empty eyes drift up.
"Are you mad at me?" It's the second question of the night that he doesn't know why he's asked. Maybe because it's the one that's been on the tip of his tongue since he hadn't knocked on the door, or maybe because it's the one that he's wanted the answer to for months. Or maybe … maybe he just wants to know if she hates him for not having gotten to her sooner.
Now is not the time to ask such questions, really, but he can't bear not knowing any longer.
"No," she answers, but he can't let go of the breath he's holding because she still stares right through him, rather than at him.
"Why aren't you eating?" he asks quietly, the words scraping his throat raw.
"I'm not hungry."
"Why aren't you hungry?"
"I don't know." He sees a hint of emotion in her eyes for the first time—a tinge of despair, quick as a flash, before it's gone.
"Do you … do you want to eat?"
"I do not mind either way."
"Alright. How 'bout we get you changed, and then we go ou—"
"No." Her voice, loud and panicked, cuts through the middle of his sentence. She stumbles a step back, her breath hitching in her throat; he freezes, unsure of what he's said, when the words tumble out of her mouth in a slurred, uncensored rush. "No going out. I'm a mess. No going out."
"Okay, okay," he replies, trying to reassure her even before the words register in his mind. "No going out. Wait, what do you mean, you're a mess?"
"I'm a mess," she just repeats, resolute in her assertion, if nothing else.
"Ziva, you're not a mess." He steps cautiously towards her, and she stumbles back another step, her eyes widening with panic again.
"Tony, go," she pleads.
He halts in his footsteps, uncertain of what to do. He can't go. He can't leave her here, in this state, whatever state this is, even if he can't help; he can't leave her to defend herself alone from the demons that he can't see.
In that moment, he recognizes that he can't anything. Can't go, can't stay, can't leave, can't help. A sob gets stuck halfway up his throat.
She's staring at him (at him, not through him) now, her figure small and vulnerable with her arms wrapped around herself and her eyes swirling with what looks like hurt and confusion.
"Ziva, I can't go." His tone begs her to understand.
"Why not?" she asks in a small voice.
"Because I'm worried about you."
"You don't have to worry about me." The answer lacks so much of her old passion that he wonders if it's just the default she gives.
"I am, anyway."
He blinks. "'Okay'?"
"You are worried about me." She nods. "I understand."
He suppresses the involuntary shudder that threatens to run through him. "Why are you being so understanding?"
"I understand," she merely says again, sinking into a squat, and his heart pounds with the worry that brain damage is not entirely out of the question.
He squats down opposite her, wincing at the way his knee cracks. "Do you really?" he asks, and she nods, swaying slightly. "Are you tired?"
She nods again.
"Do you want to sleep?" he tries, and she bites her lip.
"They come in my sleep," she offers brokenly, and something deep in his chest twists with pain.
"I'll keep them away," he whispers.
"You cannot, Tony. No one can."
"Let me try." She looks up at him then, her brown eyes brightening just the tiniest bit; behind them, he sees fear but gratitude, and he feels light-headed from the roar in his ears that she is still here. Her hand twitches without moving from its spot around her lower legs, but he recognizes the gesture for what it is. "I'm just going to hold your hand, okay?"
She bites her lip again and nods, and he wraps his hand around hers, ignoring the way the rest of her body seems to recoil from him. She stands when he pulls her up and, with her permission, takes up her other hand to lead her to the bed, shuffling backwards slowly like one would while acting as a crutch to an older person.
Except Ziva isn't old; she is merely broken.
Tears spring into his eyes against his will.
Once at the bed, she stands around helplessly until he gently instructs her to sit down. "Have you forgotten how to use a bed?" he teases lightly, and she gazes at the mattress around her.
"I did not have a bed in Somalia."
He pauses. "So you've really forgotten how to use a bed?"
"No, of course not." The slightest amount of derision seeps into her voice. "I just … do not know how to get comfortable in one anymore."
"But you slept in a bed in the hospital, didn't you?"
"They sedated me."
She remains silent as she tentatively shifts a leg onto the bed, followed by another; a look of intense discomfort comes onto her face as she lies back and rests her hands flat on her stomach. It's such an eerily funereal pose that he swallows and tries not to look at anything other than her face, where her brows are scrunched in concentration.
"How did you sleep last night?" he questions.
"I did not sleep. I passed out."
Trepidation fills his being. "From alcohol?"
"No. I just passed out."
"Oh," he answers again, feeling helpless. "How 'bout I stay here till you fall asleep?"
"I thought … that was the plan," she replies, and it floors him so much that he starts to laugh. Of course it had been the plan, but he had forgotten it all in light of the new revelations.
He doesn't know whether it's stress or overwhelming relief at her interaction that causes the room to ring with his laughter, but at least a corner of her lips quirks up, and her eyes dance a tiny bit. He takes a deep breath and pats at one of her hands, not finding it in himself to be sad even though she flinches a little bit. "Yeah, it's the plan," he assures her, drawing the chair up to her bedside. He sobers and smiles at her. "Do you want me to hold your hand?"
She actually looks like she ponders that. "It would be nice," she says eventually, albeit with reluctance.
He reaches out and slips her thin hand into his again; not threading his fingers between hers because that would be too much presumption and intimacy, but daring to give her a squeeze. Her lips twitch momentarily with the shadow of a smile again.
"Sleep well," he says, wishing he could say more, but she only nods once again and closes her eyes, her fingers twitching around his in the semblance of a possessive hold, as if to keep him there for the entire night.