A/N: Don't let this fool you. I'm still on hiatus. I just had a thought after reading snippets of information on Berlin. At point of writing, it's still an upcoming episode so anything herein is speculation. The only solid spoilers are for Shabbat Shalom and Shiva. Huge thanks to jsq79 for being a wonderful beta.
In the end, she does not avenge her father's death. Not in the Old Testament, eye-for-an-eye way that she had been planning. She tracked Bodnar down as she had vowed to herself, and her faithful partner had been by her side the whole way. He was there when she finally laid eyes on the man who ordered the killing of her father. He was there when she chased him down and screamed at him for answers that didn't come. He was there when she reached for her phone instead of her gun, and called her Mossad contact in the area. And he was there when Bodnar was taken away by the Israelis to answer for his actions.
The first step to 'it's over' has been taken, and now she and Tony stand in their hotel room in Berlin with silence and uncertainty between them. She has her grief to deal with, but she has been acutely aware of the irritation that has been warring with his urge to comfort since he showed up in her investigative bunker last week. He wants to Talk. She can feel it. But she wants him to just be there for another night. Just be there. If she has to answer to him now, she's not sure she will handle it well.
She is sick of not handling him—them—well.
She turns from him in the small room to take off her jacket and toss it over the back of the single chair that serves a battered writing desk. She sits heavily on the corner of the bed to unzip her boots and then tosses them, one after the other, underneath the desk and out of the way. Her socks come off, her hair comes down, and her gun ends up on the bedside table. Tony stands watch through the whole process, and it is not until she stills and gazes beyond the window to the lights of the city beyond that he follows her movements. Jacket, scarf, gun, boots. His socks stay on—she knows he has a mild thing about his bare feet on foreign carpet—and then he sits beside her. Not touching, but close enough to be there.
She has never been more grateful for anyone in her life.
He stays quiet, keeping the lid on the Talk he wants to have. Another thing to be grateful for.
"I want to get fall-down drunk right now," she hears herself say. Her voice is deep and raspy and sounds foreign to her ears.
"Yeah," he says quietly, but without encouragement. "Not a great idea."
"Or go out and pick a fight with a street gang."
"Worse idea," he concludes.
"I just want to…" she trails off, but grips both hands around the air in front of her to violently shake it.
"I know," he says. He gets it. He always gets it. But he'd never let her engage in such activities.
She lets her eyes lose focus until the edges of the lights outside the room blur and dull. "I do not feel…satisfaction," she decides on.
She feels his face turn towards her, but she's frozen in the lights.
"Killing him would have left you feeling just as empty, Ziva," he says. His voice is gentle as he treads around her. But she knows it won't last. She doesn't want it too.
"I don't know—" she starts to argue, but he sees it coming and stops her.
"Remember when you told me about when Tali died?" he asks, and her heart squeezes again with grief. "You said that you sought vengeance. You said you let yourself get caught up in grief and anger, and you almost lost your life fighting against the loss of hers."
She cannot speak now, but nods to tell him she is listening.
He leans closer, and his shoulder brushes against hers in brief comfort. "Ziva, you told me that you didn't like what it did to you."
She nods again. He is right. She needs him here to remind her of that.
"Killing Bodnar wouldn't give you satisfaction. Nothing you could do to him would be enough."
There is something in his voice that makes her realize he is speaking from personal experience. A tightness and fear amongst the softness. Grief within the wisdom. She blinks away the lights of Berlin and turns her head to look at him. She sees what he is talking about in his eyes. Her heart squeezes again and her throat closes, and just like she does whenever she thinks of this part of their history, she wants to hold onto him and never let go.
"Did you feel satisfaction?" she asks. Her voice is almost gone.
He gazes at her with bare honesty before shaking his head. "No. And I wouldn't, even if I was the one to shoot him in the head. Because every time I think of it, I just want to dig him out of the dust and—" He stops short and clamps his mouth shut. His eyes fall to her shoulder as he struggles with the weight of shame. But she gets it. She puts her hand on his.
"No closure," she sums up.
Her eyes wander over his shoulder as she searches her soul. She shakes her head. "Me neither."
Tony's head bows towards her until his forehead rests on the joint of her shoulder. It is their shared wound—the biggest of many. She has just a moment to press the side of her face to the top of his head before he moves away again. She almost cries out in protest.
"My point is," he says, with his face far too close for casual conversation, "that vengeance doesn't work. It doesn't heal. It only makes the pain worse." He pauses, and she feels how difficult it is for him to continue. "Killing Bodnar would've eaten away at you eventually, Ziva. You've got enough eating at you as there is. I don't want you to add to that. I don't want to…" he pauses and sighs, "lose you before your time."
His face becomes a blur in front of her before her eyes close against tears. She wonders sometimes how he can possibly still be loyal to her when she must cause him such worry. She reaches blindly for his hand on his thigh and lifts it to her mouth to press a kiss to his knuckles.
Her throat is so tight that she can barely speak. "I am not going anywhere." He would not let her. Nor would Gibbs. Or McGee. Her family. She resolves to make their lives—particularly his—easier.
"You have to mean it."
She is not expecting him to challenge her, and she opens her eyes in surprise. Tony's face is serious. He is not taking this lightly. He is demanding her word. Because he knows as well as she does that sometimes, everything they deal with becomes too much. It's all too hard until it becomes all too easy to give up. She has been at that point before, and he pulled her back. She owes it to him to promise.
"I am not going anywhere," she swears. "I am not."
She can see in his eyes that he believes her. And now she believes it too. She'll fight her way through anything to stay with him. Even when he challenges her. Because he challenges her. As he does now.
"I've got to know, Ziva," he says, and his tone transitions from gentle to firm. "Why didn't you come to me? I told you that you're not alone in this. I've never left you alone in anything. Why didn't you come to me?"
He only ever deserves her honesty. "I did not want you involved."
Hurt settles on his face, just as she knew it would. He has warned her time and time again against going rogue. Reminded her every damn day with his presence that he has her back. But still, she tries to keep him out of her dramas. It never works. She is a slow learner.
"Ziva, don't you trust me yet?" His voice breaks her heart, and he keeps up the torture. "I'm always here for you, but you never come to me."
"It has nothing to do with trust," she says, and her voice hasn't been this sure all night.
But this is the Talk he wanted to have, and he's not letting it go. "Then, why?"
His face—God, his face that she loves and knows better than any other—takes on an expression of insecurity that cuts her, even as he demands they delve deeper into this. And she knows that her response will hurt his pride, but she will not lie to him.
"I don't want to be responsible for you being hurt."
He frowns, ready for a fight. "You think I can't protect myself? Or you?"
She is shaking her head almost as soon as he starts speaking. "No, that's not it."
"It has nothing to do with your skill," she tells him, her tone now becoming as firm as his. "But people like Bodnar could take out you or me or any of us without trying. Or they can use you against me. I can't…" She has to take a moment to breathe before she becomes overwhelmed, and stands to pace and calm. When she has her heartbeat under control, she stands before him and is as candid as possible. "I am falling apart already, Tony. I have been on the brink all week. And if Bodnar did anything to you…" She can't finish the thought. It would send her into a panic.
Tony stands and puts his hand on her arm to ground her. He always knows when to do that. "Well, he can't now," he says simply.
"But he could have."
"Ziva." His voice is gentle again, and he succeeds in drawing her gaze. He looks nervous, and her heart pounds again. But it's not in fear. It's anticipation. "If you and me, if we're going to…grow together, I need you to come to me. I need you to make me your first step."
She is clear on what he is saying. They've been growing together for months, and something that once seemed so overwhelming and out of reach is suddenly closer than ever. She has never felt as confident in their relationship before. Never felt so ready. But if there are things that she keeps from him, she knows they won't get there. Tony will not stand for it. And she should never expect him to.
"I do not want you to know this side of me," she admits.
He barely sighs, but she hears it. "I already do. And I'm still here."
He always is. The relief she feels at that drops her head, and she presses against his chest. "I am grateful," she tells him. "You will never know how much."
Warm hands rest lightly against her arms. "Hey. Tell me what you need, Ziva. Right now, what do you need?"
The question brings the sting back to her eyes, but this time she lifts her head and lets him see her tears. Tears of confusion, loss and need. "I just need you to get me through this." She is crying by the time she finishes speaking, and once again, he is there for her.
He kisses her forehead and slides his hands around her back to pull her into him. "I will," he says.
And she believes him. He has never given her any reason to doubt it. She sags against his chest and lets him hold her up. The next thing she knows, a sob has broken from her throat. A soothing kiss is pressed to her temple and strong arms tighten around her, and as she presses her face into his neck to breathe in his reassurance, she thinks she has not felt this secure and supported since she was a small child. He holds her, gets her through it, until she calms again.
When she feels she has control over her sorrow she lifts her head and wipes her eyes. She is surprised to see that Tony's eyes are wet with hers, and she feels the urge to watch out for him as fiercely as ever. Tonight she makes a departure from history, though, and makes a bold move towards him. She brushes her thumb over his damp cheek, and lifts herself to her toes to kiss his other cheek with utter affection. She intends to let her actions speak for her but it feels like insufficient thanks for all he has done for her. If they are to grow together, she needs to give him more.
"I want you to know," she starts, but of course that is where she falters. She has conditioned herself against saying or doing anything that might expose her feelings to him, but she must push through the fear it creates. She swallows her hesitation. "You hold me together. I know it cannot be easy for you, and you must wonder sometimes if I even know you are there. But I always do. There would be days when I would not be able to get out of bed if I did not know you were there. I have never had anyone guard my back like you do. Or support me. You are…" She falters again, and Tony—wonderful, predictable Tony—saves her from her struggle.
"Indescribable," he finishes with a grin.
It is the first time she has smiled all day. And it is a real, heartfelt, from the depths of her soul smile. She shakes her head and says the first word that comes to mind. "Perfect. You are my idea of perfect."
His eyes widen and then soften, and she thinks she may have overstepped the faint but still present line between them. Her eyes dart away from his, and when he doesn't respond right away she begins to panic that she has screwed it all up and pushed him out of her reach.
"Can you look at me?"
His voice is as weak as her heart feels, but she meets his request. His eyes are warm and his lips have stretched in a small, intimate smile.
"Of all the ideas you've had," he says, "that's my favorite."
She smiles again as her fear thaws and melts away. They are still within reach. In fact, they have just drawn even closer. She must remember to be open with him more often. She must remember to make sure he knows that she does not take him for granted. She must remember to support him as flawlessly as he supports her. Because she loves him, and when the day comes that she tells him so, she wants him to already know it.
Tony brushes his lips to her temple again, and lets his hands slide from his back down to her hands. "It's been a big day," he states. "Let's go to bed."
She realizes that she is bone tired—emotionally and physically—and is quick to nod her agreement. They pull apart to prepare for bed. He turns off the lights and she undresses to her underwear and cotton camisole. She hears his clothes hit the floor as she slides between the sheets, and soon he is in there with her. She seeks comfort in the warmth of his body, and he is quick to return the embrace. His arm is heavy and welcome around her back, and for a moment she gives time to the voice in her head that craves this comfort and intimacy with him every night.
It is within reach, she tells herself. Be patient. Get through this. He will still be there.
He is always there.
Her lips find the hollow of his throat to say thank you and I need you. His hand briefly wraps in her curls and his breath catches. It is a reflex he can't help, but there is no sexual spark to this embrace. Just love, loyalty and camaraderie. Tonight, at least, it is what she needs.
"Goodnight," she whispers to him.
His hand returns to her curls, gentle and sure of its place. Just like he is. "Goodnight, Ziva."
It is not a good night. Not by far. But he is here, faithfully by her side. And so she knows there is hope for the future.
Thanks for reading. Now I'm really going on my Gibbs retirement. (Which is to say that I'll be back in a few months.)