As an NCIS fan, I've always thought that Somalia was swept under a rug too easily. Therefore, as many authors have, I'm writing a post-Somalia story. While it will be Ziva-centric, it is also T/Z, promise. In this story, Truth or Consequences happened. Reunion did not.
"Comfortable?" Saleem's voice is as rough as the air around them, thick with sand and dust. The heat is smoldering, bearing down on every living thing within hundreds of miles with little to no hope of replenishment or escape. There is little hope of anything, really. The entirety of the Sahara Desert is a vast expanse of misery and desperation to those who find themselves there. Unless an individual is well equipped or knows what he or she is doing, the best hope that person can have is that something else gets them before the heat does.
And even that hope is nearly pointless.
Ziva David glares through the dirty air at the man who has spoken to her, Saleem. He is smirking at her, his question more of a tease than anything else. He doesn't care if she's comfortable. He wants her to suffer. It's the entire reason that she's there.
Well, not entirely, but those details are fuzzy now.
Saleem laughs a throaty chuckle, and Ziva fights back a wince at the sound, so guttural and repulsive. There's a knife in his hands and he's turning it over and over in his palms. He stops for a moment and looks at her as if she isn't worth the ground she's sitting on. He's thinking, which concerns her just a little. His lips twitch slightly as if he's fighting a smile, and then he continues his previous actions as he walks back and forth in front of her, his pace slow.
"Tell me something, Ziva. Are your friends going to find you here?" He walks over to a shelf on the wall and picks up a piece of steel, running the edges of the knife across it, sharpening the blade.
Her breath catches and she prays that it went undetected. Her friends? She sees all of their faces in flashes, laughing and smiling. Then she sees Gibbs just before he got on the plane to leave her, his expression so somber. She remembers just being able to hear Tony over the roar of the plane engine asking if they're missing one. At the time, she hadn't cared. She had turned her back on them and walked away. They had betrayed her, after all. Especially Tony.
Now, things are different. After spending a very long two weeks in a camp in the middle of nowhere, she is leaning more toward the idea that she had been the one to betray them instead. She wonders what they told Abby and the rest of the team when they returned. She is sure that they were made aware of what had happened, and if they didn't hate her then, they've surely moved on by now.
Saleem raises an eyebrow, waiting on her answer. She takes only a moment to make sure she can keep her voice steady, and then she speaks. "No."
"No?" Saleem seems surprised. "Why would that be, Ziva? You were their little pet for quite some time, were you not?"
She swallows the profanities she wants to scream at him, though it isn't easy. A man standing in the corner laughs, and Ziva recognizes him. He's the one that had liked touching her face and neck, running his filthy fingers along her skin over and over. He's the one who had made promises of seeing her as often as he'd like to and whenever he wanted. It makes Ziva's skin crawl to remember the gravely tone in his voice when he'd let his hand dip a little lower on her neck and told her to be a "good girl". The memory causes her to feel sick, and she forces it away, focusing back on Saleem, who is watching her, waiting for her to answer his question.
When she doesn't do so, he shrugs nonchalantly. "What makes you so sure they will not find you, Ziva? Do you not think they can?"
She fights the rush of sadness that envelopes her in vain. She can still see Tony's face vividly, so angry at the idea that she didn't trust him, so upset that she would think his motives weren't favorable. She had accused him of terrible things and called him every bad name in the book. She was wrong about all of it, but it's much too late for apologies and reconciliation.
"They are probably not even looking," she tells him after a moment, hating that her voice cracks a little. She knows Saleem caught it because his expresses flickers just the slightest.
"Hm." He takes a moment to process that information. He turns to the man in the corner, who is grinning with raised eyebrows. "That is a shame, don't you think?"
"Ziva." Ziva jumps at the sound of her name, a gasp falling past her lips. She looks up to see that Tony is sitting a foot or two away from her as opposed to on the other side of the plane. She blinks a few times, regaining her bearings and focusing on him. Her heart is beating quick enough for it to hurt, but she ignores it. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Gibbs told me to ask if you wanted another bottle of water or anything."
"Gibbs told me to ask" echoes in her mind, and she wonders if Tony is going through Gibbs for a specific reason. She lets her eyes travel to Gibbs, sitting across from her on the plane. His face is careful, and she realizes that both he and Tony are wearing similar expressions. They aren't sure what she'll do or how she'll react to anything. They don't know anything about what she went through or how she feels, so they're being careful.
It takes her a full twenty seconds to process his request through the numbness of her mind. She registers the fact that her body is still somewhat in shock at the day's sudden turn in events. When she finally thinks through the fog in her brain, she looks back at Tony and shakes her head.
"I am... fine," she says slowly, looking down at her lap. She thinks he'll just walk away, and she honestly wants him to, because the alternative would be talking about things that she would rather stay not discussed, at least for the moment.
"I said I am fine." She snaps, interrupting him before he can say another word. She looks up at him, her heart rate quickening again. Hurt flashes to his features, and he does little to cover it. She immediately feels guilty, but she can't get anything else past her lips. He nods once, standing and heading back over to the other side of the plane. When he sits down, he says something to Gibbs, but she doesn't hear what it is.
Gibbs is talking to him then, their whispers too low for her to make out, but suddenly Tony is playing with his fingers, looking down at his lap. Guilt settles in more deeply as she watches the scene, knowing that the hurt on Tony's face is her fault. He was just trying to help and she'd hurt his feelings.
She had been wrong in her assumptions at the camp, apparently. The team had found her, rescued her, and now they were on their way back to America. What really amazes her is that they didn't expect to find her. They had expected to simply avenge her.
"Couldn't live without you, I guess."
The statement still breaks her heart. She had kicked him, pointed a gun at him, and given him every reason in the world to despise her, but he'd still went to hell and back for her, knowing just as well as she had that the mission was suicide. She looks at him from where she sits, knowing that she didn't deserve that. Not after everything that had happened.
No longer able to stomach the look on his face combined with the guilt eating at her, she looks down at her lap again. A mark in between her thumb and first finger catches her eye, and she lets her other thumb brush across it.
"Do you think my knife is sharp enough, Ziva?"
Saleem holds it out a little in her direction, allowing her to see the edges. The metal shines in the light coming in through the window from somewhere and she squints at it, but her mouth stays shut. She doesn't want to give him the satisfaction.
Saleem tilts his head curiously at her, his eyes darkened by what Ziva assumes to be the hatred he's given and received. "Ziva," he begins, leveling his eyes at her. "I asked you a question."
She considers continuing her silence, but one look at the man in the corner changes her mind. "Yes, it looks very sharp," she tells him through gritted teeth. She's trying as hard as she can to keep some level of fight in her, but she's losing it fast and she has no idea how long she'll be here or how much longer she'll be alive.
Saleem nods, and for a moment, she thinks he has accepted her words and that he'll move on. He turns on his heel and takes a few steps away, only to turn once again and walk back, standing right in front of her. "You see, Ziva, it isn't that I do not believe you, but I would like to make absolutely sure. It is very important that this knife be in perfect condition."
She sees it coming and braces herself, but she still winces when he presses the knife to the skin on her hand. It slices deep without applying much pressure and blood starts seeping out of the wound. Saleem watches for a moment, and then smiles. "Well, it seems you were correct, Ziva. The knife is very sharp. That is good to know."
He laughs a little, and she wants nothing more than to snatch the knife from his hand and stab him in the throat with it. She's weak, however, and she knows that even if she could get out of being bound, it wouldn't do her any good. Even without being underfed for two weeks, even if she managed to get past all the men in the camp, she would never make it out. There was too much desert.
She glares at him as he nods to the man in the corner and they walk out together, leaving her. A glance out the window to the west tells her that the sun is close to setting, and it'll be dark soon.
Dark is better, because the heat isn't really a factor. Dark is also worse, because she has more time to think in the loneliness of the tiny room she's being kept in.
Dark is worse, too, because every time she closes her eyes in an attempt to sleep, she sees them. Every time she sees them, she hates herself just a little bit more.
The warm welcome the four of them receive when they walk in is unexpected, as is Abby's hug. Ziva doesn't expect to be welcomed back at all.
Of course, she didn't expect any of this.
She can feel Tony's eyes on her, but she can't find it in her to look at him through the guilt threatening to crush her, so she glances off to the side, trying to ignore the intensity of his stare as it burns into the skin of her cheek.
She has questions to answer, but thankfully, they don't ask what specifically happened to her. Of the things she doesn't want to talk about, those details are at the top of the list. When it comes time for everyone to go home, an awkward silence passes before Gibbs offers to let her stay with him until she finds another place to live.
Right before she leaves to follow Gibbs out of the door, Tony looks at her and tells her to "take care". The expression on his face is so defeated that she almost pulls him to her and hugs him. She feels like she should thank him, tell him that she doesn't resent him anymore. But when it comes down to it, her mouth won't move and Gibbs is waiting, so she just walks away.
She and Gibbs both stay silent throughout the drive, and when she walks through his door and the first thing he does is hand her clothes, she isn't sure what to say. "They'll be big, but they'll do for tonight," he tells her simply, and she nods, accepting the clothes nearly mechanically.
He starts to walk away, and it's then that she finds her voice. "T-thank you."
Gibbs stops and turns back to her. His gaze is soft and it takes her by surprise. He looks at her for a moment, and then nods. "Go change. I'll go get some blankets put on the couch for you."
She does as he says, and even though the clothes are way too big, a few rolls of the shorts and tying the shirt with a rubber band makes it manageable. Anything is better than what she had on, and she couldn't imagine complaining anyway.
She's sitting on the couch staring at the wall when Gibbs comes back, two blankets and a pillow in his arms. He hands them to her and then stands there, looking her over. "You gonna be okay?" he asks, and she can see that his concern is genuine. She follows his eyes to her leg, where a barely healed cut peeks out from beneath the shorts she's wearing.
That has been another test of Saleem's knife. She has those scars everywhere. A few on her arms, two on each of her legs, three on her shoulders, a few on her back, a couple on her stomach, and one just behind her ear, under her hairline. She looks back up at Gibbs, and he's still looking, trying to find more. She knows that if he looks too hard, he'll see them, so she takes the blanket and lies down, covering up with it.
She considers staying silent and not answering his question in hopes that he'll drop it and leave, but after a few seconds of deliberation, she speaks softly. "I am fine."
Gibbs accepts her answer, surprisingly enough, but he's never been one to push. She pulls the cover closer around her and tries to get comfortable despite the protests her body puts up. She's stiff and she's finding new spots that are sore nearly every time she moves. When she finally settles in, she closes her eyes and tries to relax.
Now, instead of seeing the faces of her team that she betrayed, she sees the faces of the men in the camp. The ones that overpowered her, the ones that hurt her, the ones that violated her.
She's home, in a manner of speaking. Most of those men are dead. She should, by all purposes, be "fine".
Except she isn't.
Those scars only begin to cover the brutality of what she experienced, the pain she endured, the suffering she went through. There's more cuts, burns, and bruises that are hidden. Even worse, there's hurt and pain that isn't physical at all, so much worse than any damage a sharpened knife could do.
She doesn't even get through two hours of the first night before the nightmares start.