A/N: This was originally written as the conclusion to a much longer piece (which I am still writing) but I realized about halfway through that it really didn't vibe at all with the theme of that story, and decided to flesh it out as a stand-alone instead. It actually doesn't really vibe with most of my Ziva character studies…but it was there, so I wrote it.
Ilan had stood before the wall, seeming righteous and humble, for nearly an hour. In the dwindling light of the evening, he had stood, his shadow growing long behind him; and she had tried to summon up some explanation for his presence there, some reason that he would appear in Jerusalem, of all places, would put himself at risk by returning to the one place where she was bound to find him. But at length, alone, he had wandered away.
And she had followed him up the street.
She had almost hoped that he would see her, that he would feel her on his trail. But he was blind to her, and the day was disappearing.
As he skirted the edge of the garden, she had gone ahead. Quiet and calculating, not understanding herself, she ducked into an alley where rubble and bare brick laid the ground. She had waited. The light died out and night fell across the city. A nail in the wall caught her eye; the nailhead was scratched thin, and as a streetlight flickered on across the way, it gleamed, dull and silvery.
Silent and barely moving, she had taken the nail, and tucked it into the pocket at her side.
And she had waited.
"Ilan Bodnar was in Turkey recently," Tony told her, solemnly sidling up to her desk. The squadroom was quiet and empty; she wondered for a moment how long he'd known and how long he'd been waiting to get her alone to talk about it.
"A pickpocket in Istanbul got busted with the check card for one of his smaller accounts. Turkish authority got the flag we sent out and reported it. Pickpocket says he 'found' it about three weeks back."
She glanced at her keyboard, slipping behind a mask that seemed to fall into place a moment too late.
"Istanbul," she repeated. Tried to sound genuinely intrigued. "He could be leaving breadcrumbs. Trying to fool us."
"You don't use breadcrumbs for that," he corrected, almost offhandedly. She could see him from the corner of her eye, folding his arms across his chest. "You leave breadcrumbs when you want to find your way home."
She stared pointedly at the keyboard as he spoke. She tried not to blink when he forged ahead.
"Anyway, that seems sloppy for somebody who worked for Mossad."
She balked. "Getting pickpocketed sounds sloppy for somebody who worked for Mossad."
He said nothing.
After a moment, she glanced up from her desk to find him staring at the windows, brow knit.
"Didn't you have a layover in Istanbul?" he mused.
And he was off-course; he didn't know, because it hadn't happened in Istanbul. But the fact that he was asking made her stomach fall, because eventually, and inevitably, it meant that he would ask the right question – and she didn't think she had it in her to lie to him again.
There were others. There were witnesses. She was sloppy and vindictive. She had dragged this man into an alley off the street, shouting and kicking up dust as they went; blood on the bricks where she had emerged from the shadows and had broken his nose in one swift hit, from the gash in his shoulder when he had struggled; and there were others peering in at her. It registered briefly in her mind, like a jolt of pain or righteousness, that it didn't matter if anyone saw this, because here she was above and outside of the law; because this was Israel, and she was Mossad.
She saw and felt the eyes on her. Street children and vendors peering in through the gap of the alleyway, curious and alarmed. She hated to be seen. She was ashamed and exposed, but it was far too late for pride or grace to stop her.
The man in her hands was hyperventilating. She could hear blood bubbling up at the back of his throat as he struggled to breathe and speak at once.
"Bevakhasha," he rasped, and his eyes flashed dark and shallow like drops of oil in the lamplight. She shuddered internally, shaken, relishing and recoiling at how strange it felt to be suddenly crawling back into the skin that she had shed so long ago. That the feeling was unnatural and yet somehow irresistible; she was a snake crawling back into its skin and as horrible as it felt to her, now, she knew there was no way for her to back out again, and she just had to push herself through to the other end of it.
The man in her hands was trembling, breathing hard. "Bevakhasha, Ziva!"
She turned him over onto his belly, wrenched his arm out from under him and splayed it against the ground.
With her free hand, she took the nail from her pocket.
She could feel the others watching at her back.
"I know you pretty well by now," he commented offhandedly one day as they headed out to question a suspect. She hadn't been able to understand where the comment had come from, but his voice was light and almost playful, so she tried to quell her confusion.
"Do you?" she asked.
Tony nodded. Then tipped his head to the side and shrugged a bit.
"Well…most of the time," he said. "You still have some surprises. But most of the time, yeah."
She glanced at the windshield and then back again. Not wanting to bite; but wanting to know.
"Where is this coming from?"
He shrugged again. But she noticed that the almost-smile had faded.
"I just want you to now, if you ever need to talk about anything. That you don't have to ask."
He looked at her, and she felt the words stirring like poison at the back of her throat. She swallowed them back and said nothing.
Sometime in the screaming and the tremor of her own heartbeat blasting in her ears, the witnesses had gone. It was late; the heat of the day, having baked the bricks, was quickly fading from the ground, and as she straddled the trembling body of the man, she could feel a chill beginning to creep up from the brick against her knees. Sweat was pooling at the pit of her back, at her collarbone and her hairline, cooling, making her tremble. She breathed hard and felt the presence of the knife sitting, discarded, on the ground beside her knee.
"Lemah?" she asked.
He did not answer.
She jostled him, but his face was against the ground and though she knew that he was awake, that he could hear her, she knew, too, that he had dipped into a level of consciousness that toyed with the limits of lucidity: that he was just a bit gone, that the pain and fear had jarred his mind. She knew because she'd been there. Because she was uniquely qualified in the psychology of torture.
"Lemah?" she repeated.
She waited for the man to answer. When he said nothing, she waited for the earth to answer; and for the walls, and the sky, and the quiet of the night and the knife to tell her.
But the witnesses had gone. She could feel the knife on the ground beside her knee. And this man could give her neither insight nor relief, and all that he still had to offer her was closure in death. Justice, or something like it. She peered at the knife on the ground, its outline visible in the low light of the street lamp; in the gleam of the blood that was still smeared across the blade.
Something fluttered in the pit of her stomach.
She'd had the knife, and they had been alone.
"Ilan Bodnar is dead."
She peered at Vance across his desk, willing her face to show neither shock nor recognition. This moment had been coming for a long time.
"Where?" she asked.
"Israel. Jerusalem. They fished his body out of a reservoir."
"Who?" she asked.
He stared for a moment. He hadn't been back for long and she suspected that he'd gotten hell from the higher-ups for wanting to return to NCIS so soon; but she could see the bit of bloodshot-red that rimmed his eyes and she knew that it wasn't just grief that was burning up inside of him. She both envied and pitied the strength it must have taken him to get this far. And she knew the question that was lingering behind his calm but broken demeanor.
At length, he leaned back in his chair.
"Mossad says they don't know."
She furrowed her brow. Feigning confusion wasn't hard: this bit of information had actually surprised her, just a little, because she hadn't fully believed that Mossad would have her back. She tried to let that surprise slide into relief. But something sour was still stirring in her stomach.
He continued, unblinking.
"They say it was incidental. Some guy just mugged him and then cut his throat." He paused. "For the hell of it."
"Oh," she said, deliberately.
"Yeah." He watched her.
She felt the pretense slipping and dared to push it just an inch further. Because Mossad was already protecting her from this. Because it had been Israel. Because Ilan Bodnar had crossed them, too.
"He was beaten?" she asked, and watched as the corner of Vance's lip twitched downward.
"Yeah," he said. "Something like that." He glanced at his hands crossed on the desk in front of him. "His fingers were broken."
"That is a shame," she deadpanned.
Vance's tightly controlled exterior didn't waver. He nodded.
"Shame," he agreed.
And she could hear in his voice that he knew.
Every inch of it burned her. Every inch of skin and screaming. She finished it fast, but the body burned her for a long time afterward.
She dragged him haltingly and sloppy to the edge of the Beit Zayit reservoir, relishing in a sick and painful way how righteous justice felt when it was raw. When it was not calculated. It was sick and painful and it burned every inch of her, as she flipped him over beneath the addled awning of the dock and tied his hinds with chord, that she had stalked this thing and killed it in a way that felt, at once, both vindicated and nauseating. She'd never felt death in such a way. It burned her; she promised herself that the pain would stop very soon, that it was just adrenaline and raw emotion; that it was the fringes of grief that had yet to run its course the way grief always did for her, with rage that would simmer down into a quiet, aching kind of acceptance. And she knew that she was lying to herself. Because something was wrong with the way that it felt to kill this man.
But she bit her tongue and rolled him into the dark, rolling waters of Beit Zayit.
And left him there.
Eventually, Tony asked the right question, and by then she knew it would do no good to lie, even if she'd had the heart to do it. Because the evidence was there. She'd seen this coming from a mile away and still she'd not been able to plan for it. She'd tried to put it out of her mind, immersing herself in the warm, comforting thought that she now knew to be a lie – that she'd changed. That she was better. That the squirming, writhing, angry thing inside of her had died away. That she'd left that part of herself in Somalia, or on the Damocles, or in Israel if she stretched the limits of her own denial. She tried to think that this was true. That she was a better person.
But there was a body, now, in Israel. And it had only been a matter of time – she knew, had always known – before the sins of all the dead and the not-so-dead –after-all would come to light.
As she'd slipped out of Vance's office, feeling heavy and light-headed all at once, he'd been there, furrowing his brow and asking, "what was that about?"
She swallowed hard.
"Ilan Bodnar is dead," she told him, repeating what had been said to her not ten minutes before, because she liked the sound of it.
Something like shock flashed across his face. Then something like fear. He watched her and she wondered if he knew or if he was lying to himself, and whether or not her demeanor had given her away.
"How?" he asked.
"He was murdered."
He seemed lost, like his brain was struggling to keep up with this information. He took in her expression and then shook his head.
In the space of a second, the quiet that fell between them almost startled her, and she made to head for the stairs but he stopped her, his voice low and almost breathless.
"Ziva, where was he killed?"
She answered without looking back.
And she was glad that she could not see his face.
A nightmare took shape.
It was one she'd never had before. That itself was a strange thing: her mind was full of memories that had fallen like waking nightmares into her life; all the wrong turns she might have taken, and the overwhelming possibilities of the what-could-have-beens in the most terrible moments of her life: getting left in the desert; a bullet in her skull from Hoffman's gun; Ari, standing righteous and deceitful above a body in Gibbs' basement; or a different unfurling of events in which she could have burst into her apartment to find Tony, and not Michael, bleeding on the ground.
She'd had all the materials she'd needed to populate her dreams for years, and yet this one nightmare, this lingering ghost of a memory, began to take shape. It was more confusing than frightening to her that she had nearly forgotten this memory beneath the sand and blood, and yet, here and now, it came to her.
In the dream, she was curled against the floor of a cell in the Horn of Africa. The smoke of burned flesh stung her eyes and throat, though in the darkness and through the pain, she could not remember where the burn had come from. Someone was kneeling beside her with a revolver to her temple. Asking questions. Speaking nonsense.
And he told her there was a bullet in the chamber and he pulled the trigger, and she'd flinched, hating herself for the fear of mortality that she should have abandoned at the threshold. But the bullet never came. He unhinged the cylinder and spun it, snapped it back into place and started over.
"Why did he go back there?"
She asked the empty room. She stared at her bedroom wall and willed herself not to fall asleep. The wall didn't answer and she waited on the earth, or the sky, or the air to answer her.
He must have known that she would find and kill him there; the body had been fished from the bottom of Beit Zayit. House of olives. She closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against the mattress, and the answer could not come to her.
She knew that he knew.
She knew that this poison simmering at the back of her throat was beginning to burn a hole in her, that the smell of charred skin and smoke was lingering. He would give her that look and for the life her she prayed that he wasn't fooling himself, that he knew and simply knew when he looked at her that it was bad, that she was going up in flames about it because she didn't know if she could stand to watch that disappointment falling on his face when, eventually, and inevitably, one of them chose to speak these sins aloud.
She'd hoped that it wouldn't be Tony. And if she'd had to guess she would've said that, Tony notwithstanding, it might have been Gibbs, who had sought this kind of revenge himself, once; or even Vance, because Vance already knew and she suspected that he held a lingering resentment toward her - the way she still resented Gibbs, just a little, for killing Saleem Ulman before she'd had the chance.
But, of course, they all knew that Ilan Bodnar was dead. The sentence seemed almost without meaning, having been used so many times, and she had to mentally if not verbally amend it: she had killed Ilan Bodnar.
And most of them knew.
But with Tony everything was different. They'd teetered too long between comfort and chaos; everything was different for her when Tony was involved, and she suspected that everything for Tony was different when she was involved. But when he had told her, in the chaos of it all, that she was not alone, he had meant that she'd had more than just him, that she had a family in D.C.. And in the end, it was Gibbs, sitting alone with her in the squad room, who caught her eye as she was typing.
"What?" she asked.
His eyes slid to Tony's empty desk. Her stomach had fluttered nervously, and she'd hoped that whatever he had to say would be benign. Something about the case they were working on. Something about anything that wasn't Beit Zayit.
"He's waiting for you to tell him," he said.
Her stomach fluttered into a tailspin.
The only word that came out of her mouth was one that burned and left a sour taste, and she hated that she hadn't thought to say anything else: "Why?"
"He wants to tell you that he's worried."
She couldn't ask the same question twice. She lapsed into silence, looking down at her keyboard and trying to remember whatever it was she'd been typing.
At length, he spoke again, and she didn't look up.
"Did it make it better?" he asked.
She remembered the body tumbling into the reservoir, and knew what he was asking.
She took a wavering breath. She thought, but it didn't take long for her to think on it, and she felt her brow furrowing when she finally replied, "no," and in the same breath asked him, "why?"
When he didn't respond, she added, finally looking up at him, "Why is this so hard?"
He stared. At length, he blinked, and said as if it were obvious: "Because it was so easy."
A/N: Open ended, but for a reason. This is a oneshot.
With regard to the Hebrew: Bevakhasha is "please" and lemah is "why." Technically, "why" would be more like lamah, but it seemed kind of absurd and silly to have Ziva shouting what basically sounds like "llama" as she tortures somebody, so I took liberties.
Please review. Reviews are 100-percent bio-degradable.