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Dislaimer: Not mine. No profit. Nor prophet.
. . . .
Tony is somewhere between The English Patient and The Road Warrior. He's Mel Gibson. He's Ralph Fiennes. He's Count Laszló Almásy the archeologist and Mad Max the road warrior, and the enemy is sweeping the area, torches blazing. He looks at Ziva for direction because it's hot and dark and the ground is uneven, but she isn't there and neither is his Interceptor nor his Steyr lorry. Tony is trapped and there are tires on gravel and he is surely going to die.
He jerks upright, head spinning, and almost bawls from the pain in his back. No, he has not crashed his getaway vehicle; he has been sleeping on a cold concrete floor in the middle of the Negev. The fire is burning low and the air is dry and he takes several big gulps before he registers how badly he has to pee.
There is a bathroom somewhere, because even Mossad needs facilities, so he gropes along walls until he reaches a powder room and flicks the light on. He squints, undoes his zipper. There is only a dull surprise when he finds blood in his urine.
He washes his hands, studies his face in the mirror. His skin is dry and prickly. His mouth feels cottony. He cups his hands beneath the faucet and drinks and drinks until his stomach is tight and burning. It's a good burn, though, and he wanders back to the fireside feeling a little better.
Ziva is still on her side, breathing softly, hands tucked under her chin. She is almost sweet when she's asleep. Or maybe just less lethal. Tony crouches, easing his big, stiff body down beside her, but there is a faraway noise and he freezes, hairs rising on his arms and neck. "Ziva?" he whispers.
She doesn't move. That weirds him out as much as the noise had. "Ziva?" he tries again.
She rolls without opening her eyes. "What, Tony?"
She is irritated. Petulant. It's like she's his wife annoyed at having been woken, and he gets a sad, sorry feeling deep in his sloshing gut. "I heard something."
She sits up, sways, drags the back of one hand across her mouth. "What?"
"I heard something."
"What did you hear, Tony?"
He falters. "Um, a noise?"
She stands. He is closer than he thought. The ragged edges of her skirt brush his arm and send shivers up into his scalp. "Close?"
"Don't know. My head's kinda..." He makes a circle in the air with one finger.
Ziva softens somewhat. "Oh. We need to go. Come, Tony."
He loves when she says that.
They tiptoe out a steel door at the back of the house. Dawn is a blue light on the horizon. Be'er Sheva sparkles below, half-sleeping. A bus crawls along the boulevard like a caterpillar across a leaf. "Wow," he muses.
She nods. He can barely see her face. "I know. My mother loved the view. She and I used to come out here at dawn. It was the only time she let me have coffee."
There is a low stone wall at the back of the property and a steep, rocky cliff behind it. Ziva hops over and begins the descent, rocks sliding from beneath her thin-soled leather sandals. She has got to be at least half-goat.
They get halfway down before there's a sharp command. Ziva reaches back, grabs his hand, and pulls, but it's too late: there is a hail of automatic gunfire. Something stings Tony's ear and he dives, pushing Ziva beneath him, covering both their heads with his hands. They land hard. Rocks bite through Tony's clothes. Something takes a divot of skin from his elbow.
Twigs and leaves rain down around them and then the bullets stop as abruptly as they began. Birds chirp. He smells thyme. There is no movement beneath him. They could be lurking still, waiting for Ziva or him to pop up like Whack-A-Mole. "You ok?" he whispers.
He shuts up. She shudders and there is stirring in his pants that he quiets with mental images of Probie playing Dungeons & Dragons in his Garanimals. Their breathing slows. Tony's head pulses. The scrubby landscape wavers and Ziva finally exhales. "It is ok now, Tony."
He rolls off her, scrabbling like a crab across the desert hardpack. "Who was that?" he whispers. A scorpion scuttles across his hand. He shakes it off, disgusted.
Ziva's cheek is gashed open, her head bruised, her palms bloodied. She inches up slowly, knees gathered beneath her chest, left hand over her right shoulder. "Moshe's friends," she says casually, looking up, and motions with her split chin. "They think we are dead. That is a good thing."
They have left streaks of blood on the rocks above them, a wide smear on a flat-topped, twisty tree. "Damn," he sighs.
"We are alive," she says sharply. "From here we can walk to Lehavim. From there we can take the train." She pauses to swallow. "The hike will take...four hours. Maybe five."
He looks up, around. Five hours' walk in the desert. His back is thundering like a midsummer storm and she is gripping her arm with pale, dirty fingers. "You ok, Zee-vah?"
She nods. "You will have to put my shoulder back."
He has done this in the field once, when his partner in Baltimore rolled across the hood of a Buick and brought a foot chase to an abrupt end. But that had been more than a decade ago, when he was young and spry and a hundred percent confident that he wouldn't tear Danny's meaty arm clean off. "You sure?" His voice cracks like a teenager.
She nods again, once. "Yes, please, Tony."
"Ok," he sighs.
She scoots closer, inching with the soles of her soft sandals, and sidles up close. He takes her forearm in his hand. The muscle is lax and he remembers an ortho guy telling him once about nerve damage and an end to a career. He cups her elbow, pushes it gently against her side. "Ready?"
Ziva nods, lips white. "Slowly. Let the muscle spasms run their track."
"Run their course," he corrects automatically, and rotates her arm out, using her elbow as a pivot. She grunts, closes her eyes. He doesn't let up. "Hang on," he mutters.
Bone and sinew slide together and her humeral head finds its home with a pop. Ziva's brow smooths. "Thank you."
Warmth rises across the back of his neck. "You're welcome." He unbuttons his dirty shirt and shrugs out of it, uses his teeth to rip a triangle. "We'll need to immobilize your arm. The pain'll kill ya."
She gives him a wry smile and rolls her eyes, but lets him tie off her arm before rising on shaking legs. Tony follows. It is hot now. They are in dappled shade, but what sunlight filters down burns through his undershirt.
She points. There is a trail cut in the scrub. The hum of bees rises and falls. "This way."
Ziva sets off. The trail is narrow, so Tony falls behind. He watches little puffs of dust rise from the heels of her sandals. She has a tidy walk, he thinks, and his gaze rises to her swaying hips and behind. His dry mouth turns up at the corners. Tidy, indeed.
He wants to say something. To tease her, maybe, because he can feel in his battered bones that they are nearing the end of this wholemess and he wants nothing more than to see her smile. "Ever see Hideous Kinky?" he asks.
She doesn't turn around. "No."
"Lots of Sixties counter-culture stuff. Kate Winslet moves with her two kids to Morocco from London. She was looking for the money to study with a Sufi mystic."
Ziva shakes her head. "And she had to turn to prostitution to support herself and her children?"
"What?" he blurts. "No! Hippies, Zee-vah. Self-fulfillment. Search for identity. Ya know?"
She stops and scowls. "Identity? Did she have amnesia?"
"You've never taken a quest to find yourself?"
"No," she replies, and turns away.
They scuttle up a short embankment and the desert opens before them. It is red and mountainous and so beautiful he trips over his own two feet. "Holy—" Tony breathes.
"Yes, it is. There is a trail down the next ridge. We can take it to the river. It may be dry now that the winter rains are over, but we can follow it to Lehavim. It will be an easier hike than climbing up and over."
It is beautiful and it is hot and they have no water. "How much longer, do you think?"
She studies the sky. "We are moving slowly. We will be lucky to make it by nightfall, but do not be surprised if we have to camp."
"Ok," he agrees. It is not over. A sneaking, growing part of him thinks that maybe they will die out here. Their skeletons will bleach beneath the burning sun. Buzzards will circle. One will alight on his skull, tear a strip from the swath around Ziva's shoulder, and fly off into the lapis-blue sky.
. . . .
"Here," Ziva sighs. The sun has disappeared behind the mountains and Tony's skin ripples in the shadows of the rocky overhang. "We should stop here." She runs her good hand across her forehead. "I expected we would make it to Lehavim tonight, but this will have to do."
Tony sits. He hurts. They have walked and walked up the dry riverbed, chewing on wildflowers for the moisture and spitting the bitter petals onto the sand. "How much farther, do you think?"
"I do not know."
He holds back a comment about her internal compass. They are both heatstroked and teetering on the edge of serious dehydration. She is white under her sunburn. "Sit," he says gently, but doesn't make it a request.
Ziva collapses, crossing her legs. Fatigue has dulled her eyes. "We should not build a fire. It is the dry season, and I do not think we should call that kind of attention to ourselves."
Call attention? They have not seen another soul since their transport to Be'er Sheva drove away. They hadn't even seen the shooters. "I'm out of marshmallows," he dismisses. "No fire necessary."
She shivers. Tony holds one arm out. "My survival training said we should snuggle for warmth."
She huffs but sits against his side. He feels mildly victorious. "What do we do when we get to...Leh...Lehavim?"
She shoots him a genuine smile. "Very good, Tony." It fades fast, though, and a crease appears between her brows. "I do not know. I suppose we can call Schmiel and he can buy us train tickets to Tel Aviv. Hopefully Abby will have replaced our documents by then and we will be able to fly home."
This is the most Ziva has spoken all day. Hell, all week. He thinks of his forgotten steak dinner and his stomach turns. He imagines it is a wrinkled little dried apricot. One the size of her ear, which is pressed to his shoulder. "You asleep?"
She is. Her breath is shallow, though, and her head is hot through his undershirt.
"Goodnight, sweet cheeks."
Sweet Cheeks. He hasn't used that nickname since Paris. Nor has he touched her like this, either, but she is leaning hard against him and her body is a balm on his. "Goodnight," he repeats, and sleeps.
. . . .
"Pshew! Pshew! You're dead, Dovi."
"Nuh-uh! You missed!"
"My gun has laser sights, Dumbass. I don't miss."
Scuffling. Someone swears goddamn it and Tony rouses, head a lead balloon. Panic sets in fast, though, and he gets to his feet, intent on getting the hell out of there if someone's got a gun on them.
"Whoa," a voice says. "You ok?"
Everything is spinning. Tony lurches forward and vomits on the ground. A child cries, "Go get Abba, Dovi!"
There is an argument and for once he is not part of it. Running feet retreat. A clatter like weapons laid to rest, which is good because Tony can't find his hands to raise in surrender.
"Hey," a kid says. "I...you should sit down."
Mad Max II had a kid. Emil Minty. The feral boy. Is he about to be clobbered? "Who'r'you?"
No? This kid is in the middle of the godforsaken desert. Tony finally focuses on a pair of American sneakers. Out of them grow a pair of skinny boy-legs. Basketball shorts, a t-shirt, a ballcap. "Who are you?" he asks again.
Ya'ir. Huh. "You lost?"
"I said no. My brother and I were just...fooling around."
Tony vomits again. "You armed?"
"What? No! I'm ten."
Ya'ir is ten. Ten and wearing shiny green basketball shorts and tye-dyed Camp Kol Rena t-shirt. His baseball hat says Seattle Supersonics. That franchise was sold to Oklahoma City. Tony wants to yank it off his head. Emil Minty would not wear something like that. "No gun?"
"N-no. We were playing."
"Oh," he says numbly. "No gun. You're a kid."
Ya'ir-summer-camp-t-shirt is offended. "So? I take care of my brother after school."
"I sent him to get my dad. He's a pediatrician. He can help you stop puking."
Ziva must be the only Israeli whose father isn't a doctor. "I peed blood," he reports seriously.
Ya'ir shrugs. "That happened to me once. I jumped down the stairs and hit the hooks we hang out backpacks on."
Well, crap. That must have hurt. "Yeah? You die?"
"No, I just had to drink a bunch of cranberry juice. And I had to sit out half the season. Basketball."
"Riding the pine is a bunch of bull," he commiserates.
"Yeah, but my mom is really overprotective."
Tony nods, thinking. "She make bacon?"
Ya'ir wrinkles his sunburned nose. "We eat kosher."
Kosher. He plays basketball and wears hi-top sneakers and shoots play-guns at his brother who might have been crying and for whom he probably makes peanut butter sandwiches after school. Kosher peanut butter sandwiches on kosher white bread.
There is the sound of footsteps. The little brother is not crying anymore. He wears the same ballcap as his big brother. He isn't Emil Minty, either. "Hey, I got him!"
A man follows the boy. He looks like James Dean and dresses like a Deadhead. There is a fluorescent green yarmulke pinned to his perfect hair. "Hey," he says. "I'm Jon. Dovi came to get me. He said you were hurt."
Tony gathers himself, stands. "Hiking trip gone bad," he explains. "I have a concussion."
Jon is as tall as he and similarly built. He pinches Tony's chin and looks into his eyes. "Yeah, ya do," he says. He doesn't have an accent. "Ya'ir, let him hang on to you to get up the hill. I'll get...is she your wife?"
He has to take a deep breath. "Yeah. She...fell. Her arm..."
Ziva is still out, curled like a child beneath the outcropping. Jon touches her head, checks her pulse. "Thready. We'll get you guys to the house and have Hatzolah take you to the hospital."
Hospitals have beds and Tony is exhausted. "Thank you," he says.
Jon squats, gathers Ziva, and picks her up. Tony is gripped so hard by jealousy that he damn near pukes again.
Hi-Top Sneakers takes his arm. "C'mon."
"Ok," Tony agree.
It is a short walk but the slope is steep and he is crap at hiking. Hi-Tops grabs his arm again. "Dude, you need something to eat." Eat. Food. Tony's stomach growls. "My mom will make you some chicken or something."
"That's...nice of her."
"She's a good cook. Wait till you taste her brownies."
Chicken. Brownies. American food for an American kid in hi-top sneakers. "I love brownies."
"Everyone loves brownies. This is our house."
It's a simple two-story stucco house with a garage and a minivan and a palm tree strung with colorful lights. Hi-Tops takes him through the front door, pausing to kick off his shoes (Now what will Tony call him?) and shouts, "Ima! Ima! We're back!"
The living room is strewn with toys and a little blonde girl plays with a plastic sword. Ima comes around the kitchen island in her denim skirt and flat-soled sandals. She is tan and pretty and a mom. "Thank you, Ya'ir. I'm glad all the neighbors know you're home." To Tony, she holds out one hand and points to an easy chair in the corner. "Sit, please. My husband will be right in, I'm sure. Want some juice?"
He can't think of an answer. A small plastic cup is pressed into his hand. It's pink. He sips. Grape juice. Amazing, sweet, perfect, purple grape juice. "Thank you."
Magic refills. He drinks again. Another magic refill, but a small, fat hand falls on his. "Easy, chaver."
Tony looks up. The man who looks back is perhaps five-foot-three and round all over. He points to himself. "Menachem. I'm a friend of Jon's. Heard you found some trouble in the desert."
You have no clue, he wants to retort, but Ziva bursts through the door, stumbling and ashen. "Tony!"
He eyes roll back. She almost goes down, but Ima catches her good elbow and jerks. "No," she scolds, but Ziva is not in trouble. "Up. Focus."
Ziva rights herself. Ima steers her to the couch. "Shvi." She flops, unladylike, to the sofa and puts her hand over her mouth.
Tony is distracted by a prick in the crook of his elbow. "Fluids," Shorty says. He uses blue painters tape to hang an IV bag on the wall. "Relax. Judy will bring you some more grape juice."
Judy. Judy Jetson. She's probably a doctor, too. The fluids are a rush of relief. His head stops clanging like a locomotive when Jon does the same for Ziva and the little blonde girl waves her plastic sword. I cut the bad guys, Abba.
. . . .
Tony wakes to whiteness like he is in heaven. It might be true because his head doesn't hurt and his kidneys don't hurt as much and there is a soft bed beneath his very sore ass. He sighs. No. Dead people don't sigh. He looks around for something un-heavenly.
He finds Gibbs wearing his reading glasses and paging through Sniper Monthly. "Hey, Boss," he croaks. "Good to see you."
He looks up, but briefly. "Almost got yourself killed, DiNozzo."
Gibbs nods. "Concussion, bruised kidneys, exposure, heatstroke, dehydration. Urinary tract infection. You have a narrow ureter. More than I ever wanted to know about you."
Tony nods. "Ziva?"
He returns to his magazine. "Next door. She'll be riding a desk for a while."
"Transport leaves at fifteen-hundred. Get up and dressed when you can."
A doctor comes in. She has smooth dark skin and a white coat and a soft, lilting voice and she's the second most beautiful woman in the world. She declares him fit to travel and has breakfast sent in on a tray. Eggs, milk, toast, and two soggy, undercooked strips of glorious, glorious bacon. He rolls them into beautiful porky rosettes and eats them each in one big bite.
Gibbs slaps his magazine down. "Going to check on Ziver. Get your ass up."
Tony rises, stomach full, and finds clothes in the tiny bathroom. Jeans, a button-down, socks, shoes, boxers. His wallet, his watch, his passport. His phone.
He dresses slowly, checking himself over in the mirror. He's sunburned and still weird and peaky-looking, but he pats his hair into place and washes his hands. Home.
He is sore and slow. The hallway is long. A nurse points to Ziva's room. He pauses in the doorway, but she spies him and waves from the pillows. She has IVs in her good arm. Her right arm is all white bandages, but her smile is beautiful. "Good morning."
He eases himself into a hard plastic chair. "Hey. How ya doing?"
"Fine." Gibbs snorts. She ignores him. "We are going home at three o'clock."
His hand finds her hip beneath the pristine white sheets. "Yeah. You ready?"
She sighs. "Yes."
The same beautiful doctor comes in. She smiles. "Shoo, you two. Ms. David and I need to have a talk."
Tony rears up like a lion. "No. Anything you need to say can be said in front of us."
Ziva pinches his hand. "Out. I need to get ready to go."
Gibbs snags his arm and pulls. The hallway is bright and clean, he finds, and Schmiel-Man-of-Steel is waiting, smiling. "Mazal tov," he says softly. "I am happy to see you are recovering nicely and my sweet Ziva is safe." He presses a box into Tony's hands. "Please give this to her, but wait until she is well enough to appreciate it."
"She's fine," he argues, but Schmiel shakes his head.
"Wait, Tony. Please."
"Fine. I'll wait. This isn't rigged to explode, is it?"
Schmiel chuckles. "Never. Safe travels."
He squeaks down the hallway. Gibbs pulls his arm again and they re-enter Ziva's room, where she is seated and arguing with the doctors.
"Easy, Tiger," he says, and she glares at him.
"They want to sedate me for the flight."
Gibbs crosses his arms. "Stand down, David."
She looks away. Tony knows she is pouting. Two IDF medics come in. They sign forms, speak to the doctor, and hand Tony a packet of hospital information in Hebrew. He looks at Ziva for a translation but she is asleep, eyelashes fanned across her sunburned cheeks.
They whisk her away. A jeep takes him to a small airport, where his passport is stamped and they board a C-9 Nightingale. Gibbs gets a cup of coffee, sits in a seriously plush chair, and cocks right ankle onto his left knee. Sniper Monthly is already waiting for him. "Sit, DiNozzo. Gonna be a long flight."
Everyone, everywhere has been telling him to sit down. He goes instead behind the curtain that partitions the cabin. Ziva's gurney is behind it. She is still asleep. A US Army medic checks her blood pressure and scratches the numbers on a clipboard.
The medic's nameplate says Jacobson. Is he Jewish? "Wrecked shoulder, pretty serious infection from the head wound."
"Head wound?" How the hell had he missed that?
Jacobson tosses a vial at him. In it is a shard of stone the size of Tony's thumb. He pulls back the heavy curtain of Ziva's hair and shows him a greenish gash, closed with two-dozen staples. "Pulled that out of her scalp yesterday. Thought she'd like it for a souvenir."
"Shit," he muses.
Jacobson threads a strap across the bed and secures it with a snap. "Go sit. We're preparing for liftoff."
Tony bends, kisses Ziva's hot head, and promises to come back. A candy bar, a bottle of grape juice, and a handmade card wait at a seat across from Gibbs.
Get well soon, Tony it proclaims. A dozen exclamation points follow. Love, Ya'ir Menashe.
The jet engines whirr. The plane taxis down the runway, puts its American nose in the air, and takes off. The landing gear closes and clouds rush by the windows. Get well soon, he reads again, and runs his thumb over the Israeli flag scratched in pencil below his name.
. . . .