AN: Over half a million people have now read this story since it was first posted at the beginning of the year. My mind is blown away that so many of you enjoyed what I've written and decided to take this crazy journey with me and the characters. Thank you for reading and most especially, given those numbers, thank THANK YOU to those of you who actually took the time to leave a review! They are the fuel to my writing muse and let me know that you're actually enjoying what I'm writing and its worth the time and effort I put into it! Many blessings to you all. - Wild
Disclaimer: I do not own the copyright for NCIS or the characters associated with the show.
Tony stepped into the elevator and punched the button repeatedly and with excess force, willing it to move faster. Ziva was the only thing he was thinking about and she was set to return later this evening. Home, he thought. Away from Israel, where bad things happened, in his mind.
The last time she'd been there, they had fought over Rivkin and she'd stayed. That choice set in motion the events that led to her capture in Somalia and a summer spent believing she was dead. Gone from their lives… his life, forever. Just the memory of hearing Gibbs say 'no survivors' sent a chill down his spine and a drop in his heart. He shook his head and thought instead, of the hug they shared before she boarded the plane. So many things he'd wanted to say but couldn't find the words and the timing was wrong. He'd told her in the language of her heart 'at lo levad,' that 'you are not alone.' What he really wanted to tell her he hoped she felt in his arms and saw in his eyes. Her answer of 'I know' when she pulled back, the look she gave him before walking away towards the plane that would carry her too far away... told him that perhaps, she did know exactly what he'd really wanted to say.
He'd left her on the tarmac that night, bound for Tel-Aviv to bury her father five days ago and every morning, Ziva had text him first thing to check in and let him know she was ok. This morning though, he received no text and no reply to his own texts to her. He'd hoped she'd checked in with the others and couldn't wait to get to work.
"You're late, DiNozzo." Gibbs heckled him without looking up from the folder on his desk.
"Boss, have you heard from, Ziva?" Tony tried to ask casually not even acknowledging what Gibbs had said, setting his backpack down behind his desk, and glancing over to see McGee was already at work as well but absent from his desk. "She's been texting me every morning since she arrived in Israel to check in and this morning I can't reach her."
Gibbs sighed and looked up, closing the folder before him taking notice of Tony's frazzled expression. "No, I haven't. She's set to come home today. Maybe they've already boarded the plane and she has no cell service. What time was their flight?" He asked quietly feeling as unsettled as his younger agent to have Ziva back in the Middle East where so many bad things had happened before.
"Not for another hour," Tony leaned forward onto the desk looking at his watch. "She was going to text me before they left so I knew when to pick them up at the tarmac and give her a ride home."
"Not to her home." Gibbs swayed his voice and shook his head looking back at the folder in front of him.
"Boss?" Tony asked with raised eyebrows and not sure what Gibbs meant.
"She's still a target, DiNozzo. Bodnar failed to kill her at your apartment, remember?" Gibbs looked at him incredulously. "She either stays with me or with you again until we catch that SOB. I don't want her to be alone at anytime the moment she lands back on American soil."
"I should have gone with her to Israel." Tony shifted uncomfortably thinking about the danger Ziva was still in from the crazy man who'd killed her father.
"She needed to do this alone, Tony." Gibbs softened knowing from his own experience of dealing with grief. "Ben-Gidon promised Mossad would protect her inside Israel."
"Gidon." Tony snorted sarcastically thinking of the smug Israeli assassin. "Considering he tried to throw Ziva under the bus for his actions on the Damacles, I'm not exactly 'kosher' with his ideas on looking out for Ziva! I don't trust that guy as far as I could throw him."
"I'm not a fan either," Gibbs sat back in his chair watching Tony slowly losing control and biting his nails, "But we don't have a lot of choice in this matter. He's acting as the Temporary Director of Mossad right now and without Ziva's personal invite for her father's funeral," He paused speaking softly, having felt the same anxiety and protectiveness in wanting to accompany Ziva, "we have no business in Israel for NCIS that would justify our presence."
"I should have taken Leave and followed her." Tony stare at Ziva's empty desk, speaking his thoughts out loud.
"She'd of had your hide if you'd done that. And you know it. Which is why we're both sitting here now." Gibbs tilted his head studying the younger man before him, "I can't believe you, of all people, would be so eager to go back to Israel after your last visit, DiNozzo."
"I'd go anywhere for her." Tony responded quietly without thinking to whom he was speaking still staring at her desk and the boarding school photo of his she'd stolen and taped to her computer screen.
"I know." Gibbs answered just as quietly staring at him and remembering quite clearly the lengths Tony would go to for Ziva and their time in the African desert.
"Boss!" McGee suddenly popped into their section, momentarily caught off guard to see Tony had arrived as well. "Hi Tony." He acknowledged his weary looking friend before continuing with his news, "Ziva's waiting on MTAC screen. She said she needs to speak with you."
"Ziva!" Tony's ears perked up and immediately began to stand following Gibbs.
The moment they entered the room, Ziva's larger then life image was displayed before them.
"Hello. Gibbs," She acknowledged them as they took their seats. "Tony." She added seeing him staring intently at her and swallowed hard.
"Ziva," Tony replied, "Nice tan." He smiled softly taking note of her sun kissed skin and caused Ziva to shift uncomfortably before them, momentarily hugging herself and unconsciously touching her naked shoulders feeling exposed and frazzled. She was wearing a black sleeveless dress with hair down and straightened. If not for the sadness in her dark eyes and the dark color she wore in mourning for her father, she looked entirely exotic and beautiful. "I was worried about you. You never text me this morning to check in."
"I'm sorry. I've been so busy here I forgot what time it was there." Ziva looked away from him and tucked her hair behind her ear.
"As beautiful as you look in that dress, David, it's awfully fancy attire to be wearing for your flight home in 40 minutes, isn't it, Ziva?" Tony continued to persist with questions feeling a gnawing in his gut that she wasn't going to be making that flight considering she was still at Mossad Headquarters, talking to them behind a screen.
McGee sat wide-eyed watching the conversation with head bouncing back and forth between the two who acted as if they were the only two in the room, and then to their boss whom Tony had effectively silenced by taking over the conversation with Ziva from the moment they entered the room. Gibbs, he noted, sat back with fingers near his mouth and focused eyes that shifted back and forth between Ziva and Tony taking in their interaction and Tony's continued unraveling state. It reminded both Gibbs and McGee of the way Tony had been during those months he was determined to first find out where Ziva had disappeared to that summer and then to finding her killer in Saleem. The sheer desperation and loss of control that had him overstepping his boundaries with Gibbs and saying things and acting in ways he otherwise normally wouldn't where Ziva was concerned.
"That is the reason I needed to speak with you, Gibbs." She turned her attention from Tony back to her boss, choosing to ignore Tony's remarks that had her stomach flipping and rolling.
"Change of plans, Ziva?" Gibbs asked calmly watching Tony shift in the seat next to him and sink a little into his chair, realizing Gibbs had been waiting to speak with her until Tony's Inquistion was over.
"I won't be making the flight this morning." She fidgeted nervously with her hands lying on the desk before her and staring at them. "They've asked me to take over as Director." She finally looked up to see the reaction.
"Oh," Gibbs answered stunned with raised eyebrows and swallowed hard. It was then he took in where exactly Ziva had been sitting in speaking with them. At her father's desk.
"Director of Mossad?" Tony all but screamed with a manacle smile, "But you can't! You're an American now. You're NCIS! You're one of us!" His fears of never seeing her again, lost once more to Israel and Mossad were threatening to undo him. "Right, Boss?" He turned quickly to Gibbs to clarify.
"Ziva," Gibbs ignored Tony's outburst and questions, knowing exactly how the younger man was feeling but controlling his emotions before reacting. "What are you thinking?" He knew she was a mess emotionally after her father's death even if she insisted she was 'fine.' She was anything but. The former Mossad assassin inside her had begun to rear its terrifying head again in the days that followed with her walls going up and determined to seek revenge for her father's killer.
"If I do this, I'll have unlimited access to find my father's killer, Gibbs. I have to find him." She straightened her spine and sat up taller, her fingers curling into a fist where they lay on the desk thinking about the man who'd betrayed her father.
"Ziva, we're going to find him." Gibbs continued to speak calmly to her, hoping he could talk her off this ledge she was so dangerously close to going over. "We're all working on it. We'll find him."
"Bodnar is Mossad. He is one of us. We can find him faster. We know his ways! I know his ways! And I will make him pay!" Ziva's tone was tinged with venom.
Gibbs swallowed hard. She'd said 'one of us' as in Mossad. Not NCIS. Before he had a chance to respond, the emotional man next to him leapt out of his chair.
"One of us? Ziva!" Tony threw his hands up towards her on the screen with fear of losing her to them again over taking him, "You're one of us! NCIS! You're on our team, remember!? You're not one of them anymore! You belong here! With us! With me-"
"Enough!" Gibbs had grabbed the front of Tony's shirt, cutting him off in his rant and pushed him back into the chair before he lost it said too much, pushing Ziva over the edge feeling challenged by Tony. "You be quiet!" He pointed at Tony with dangerous eyes daring him not to speak another word.
"You don't understand, Tony!" Ziva fought back with passion and anger, "I am NCIS! I am one of you! But I am also Israeli! I am also Mossad! Gibbs understands! You are never a former Marine! You are always a Marine! I will always be Mossad!"
"I do get it, Ziva. I understand how conflicted you're feeling right now." Gibbs continued to speak calmly trying to put out the fires threatening to turn into an inferno any moment talking them both back from the ledge of doing things they couldn't take back once more and would result in disastrous consequences. "You're feeling torn about who you were and who you are now."
"I am both, Gibbs!" Ziva exhaled shaking her head looking down.
"Not anymore, Ziver." He answered quietly, hoping she would look at him. "That part of you died in the desert. Remember?" He tried to jog her memory about their conversation years ago, when she recalled what happened on the Damacles and in that terrorist camp in Somalia. How much she'd changed. "You're not alone anymore. We're going to find Bodnar. Come home and we'll find him together. You don't have to do this by yourself. That's your past, Ziva. Are you really willing to give up everything you've worked so hard for the last couple of years… for revenge? Give up the life you want to go back to that?"
Ziva's eyes filled with tears and she quickly looked away, shaking her head softly.
"If you do this, become the Director of Mossad in place of your father, Ziva… you'll give up your position at NCIS. You'll give up your American citizenship. Not just until you find your father's killer, Ziva. But forever. You'd forfeit everything and everyone," He paused with eyes glancing towards Tony discreetly, knowing only she could see where his eyes pointed and what he was hinting at, willing to use whatever was in his arsenal to talk her off the ledge, "in your life here. Forever. Is that a price you're willing to pay for revenge, Ziva?"
"No, I don't want to… but Gibbs-" Ziva cried softly, wiping at the tear that rolled down her cheek.
"No buts, Ziva. You either do or you don't. There is no coming back from this if you make this decision and stay there. No third chances." He spoke more sternly, staring her in the eye. He knew he shouldn't bully her into making this decision but he was growing desperate. He knew she felt responsible to find her father's killer, especially over the guilt she was feeling having her last words ever spoken with Eli be in anger and refusing to forgive his actions in her life. "Let us help you. We can do this together. I promise, Ziva. Trust us." He added quietly, gaining her full attention and reminding her who she could trust and what happened the last time she trusted the wrong people.
"Okay," Ziva relented nodding quietly and taking a breath, blinking back her tears and putting on her game face. "I have to give a press conference formerly denouncing my nomination as Director…and then I'll be home." She added, reminding herself where home was now and with whom as her eyes flitted from Gibbs over to Tony quickly and away again, unable to hold his gaze long seeing how upset he was at the thought of her staying in Israel once again. "I'll be home tonight. The press conference starts in 30 minutes. Schmeil and I will leave directly after."
"Okay," Gibbs nodded breathing a sigh of relief that he'd gotten through. He knew that's why she wanted to speak with him from looking into her deep dark eyes on the screen. She needed him to talk her down, seeking his guidance and rational when she felt so lost at present. "We'll find Bodnar. Together."
"Okay." She nodded inhaling a long breath and feeling more confident in what she was about to do.
"Ziva," Gibbs gained her attention once more, "Make sure you're on that plane." He nodded sharply, remembering the last time they'd left her behind on the tarmac in Israel. "Make sure you're on the plane." He repeated.
"I'll be on the plane, Gibbs. I promise." She gave him a small smile through glassy eyes. "I'm coming home."
"Good." Gibbs smiled back at her softly.
"I can't believe they asked Ziva to be the Director of Mossad!" Abby ranted angrily upon hearing the news pacing up and down the aisle between their desks. "Who do they think they are trying to take our Ziva away again? She's ours now! An American! NCIS!"
"Well, Abs, she is the inherit princess of Mossad, so to speak. It's not surprising really, that they'd want her to take over from her father. Why Bodnar would want to have killed her too as another person standing in his way to the top. " McGee voiced from his chair earning a sharp glance from both Abby and Tony who slammed his desk drawer shut with more force then necessary. "I didn't say I liked it or agreed with it!"
"Well they can't have her! She's ours!" Abby stamped her foot in front of his desk with arms crossed over her chest.
"Yeah!" Tony agreed glaring at McGee.
"You did not go to the desert to rescue her, Timmy, just to lose her again!" Abby nearly shouted feeling the same sense of panic at the thought as everyone else.
"Yeah!" Tony shouted again in agreement, feeling an emotional overload from just the thought that they'd nearly lost Ziva again to Israel and Mossad.
"You two," Gibbs pointed at Abby and Tony, "Give him a break! He said he didn't like it or agree with it so stop with the death glares. You," He pointed at McGee, "Bring up ZNN on the screen. The press conference is about to begin." He wouldn't breathe a sigh of relief until he actually saw and heard Ziva denounce to the world any claim to the 'proverbial' throne of Mossad.
"Did we miss it, Jethro?" Ducky and Palmer quickly hurried from the elevator to join the group gathering around the screen. Word spread like wildfire through the office of Mossad's offer to Ziva to become the new Director and the press conference they were about to give. Slowly, people from all over the office floor began to close in around the television where they were already broadcasting LIVE from Tel-Aviv.
"No, Duck. You just made it." Gibbs took a breath and sipped his coffee as they watched the flashes of the photographers in the front row of the building start popping in a wild explosion as Ziva entered the room followed by Gidon, and several other high ranking members of Mossad.
"She looks beautiful." Abby smiled to see her friend in any form for the first time in several days.
"She always does." Tony added under his breath just loud enough that McGee and Abby shared a quick glance at each other before flashing their eyes to witness Gibbs reaction to the declaration Tony had just made. If Gibbs heard it, he didn't react. Only continue to stare at the screen where Ziva was taking her place behind the podium to speak. She stood before a wall of glass with the gorgeous Israeli sun setting behind her, making the room glow with brilliant warm light and giving the perfect backdrop of reds, purples and oranges as the sun began its descent into the desert sand. The others took their seats behind her in a row of waiting chairs while the press continued to snap photos, expecting to hear her accept the position of Director that had been widely speculated all day.
"Hello." She smiled softly greeting those in the room before her and those she couldn't see viewing around the world. Her palms were sweating in nervousness and felt her mouth going dry. She took a breath to calm herself and forged on. "I'd like to thank you all for being here today and also, to thank you for your sincere condolences on the death of my father, Director Eli David."
"What is she saying?" Abby was getting panicked, "I can't speak Hebrew!"
"Give them a minute." McGee chimed in feeling the same distress, "They should start translating in English during her pauses." He hoped. "There." He smiled at Abby when they heard the translation quickly following whatever Ziva was speaking about in regards to her father, his life and his death.
"I am an American now. But my heart was born in Israel and I will always love this country. Israel will always be my first home." Ziva paused taking a breath, steadying herself before making this announcement before the world, "But it is my home no longer. My life awaits for me on different shores. I will not be accepting the great honor that has been offered me, as Director of Mossad."
Abby reached over and squeezed Tony's hand with a small smile feeling tears prick her eyes and relief fill her heart to hear Ziva's words that she was coming home. "She's coming home, Tony. She's coming home." She whispered leaning into his side seeing and feeling him visibly relax beside her.
"Not fast enough." Tony whispered without taking his eyes off Ziva on the screen who continued to speak.
Mid-sentence Ziva felt something explode through her chest from her back in the span of a second and looked down. A tattered hole pierced the front of her dress over her left breast and in what seemed like slow motion to her, watched as blood quickly spilled from her body saturating the fabric around it. Her fingers reaching to touch the dark wetness spreading across her chest, feeling the warm stickiness and pulling them back to reveal the bright red color and gasped, tasting the metallic sting invading her mouth. A woman in the Press screamed when Ziva pulled her fingers away and they realized what had happened. Chaos erupted in the span of seconds while Ziva waivered on unsteady legs, reaching down with her bloody hand to steady herself against the podium feeling her vision going and unable to take another breath.
"Ziva!" Malachi Ben-Gidon screamed behind her racing towards her from his chair, deafening to those watching in horror on the television screen and around the world, but unheard by Ziva as she dropped to the ground. The camera operator zooming quickly to her lying on the stage while those in the crowd scrambled to get out of the room as quickly as possible and the Mossad agents went into action helping Ziva and assessing the situation and threat.
"Oh God!" Abby screamed the first to voice the horror they were seeing when Malachi moved around Ziva, ripping off his jacket and pressing it against her chest in an attempt to stem the blood flow and give them their first up close view of Ziva. The blood had already begun to seep out of her nose and mouth in horrific fashion trailing down her face as Malachi screamed orders and begged Ziva to 'stay with him' when her eyes began to flutter close.
"Ziva!" Malachi screamed again in vain as Ziva's eyes closed for a final time and stayed that way. The camera operator for ZNN dipped the camera then and started to flee with the others and the screen went black as the feed was cut.
Everyone gathered around the television to watch Ziva at NCIS stood frozen for a moment in shock before panic and tears exploded around them. Tony stood frozen staring at the black screen unable to breathe.
For those tempted to quit reading now I beg you not to...give this story a few chapters! I promise it's worth it!