Two more days. That's it. We have two more days, and then begins Ziva's exit. Thought I had better finish it before then. Thank you all for your kind words, your encouragement, and your support. I hope you enjoy this final chapter.
Ziva had thought it was a bad idea, unnecessary and uncomfortable, to meet her friends at the bar following work. It had been her hope to say her goodbyes in the office, make a clean break, and get on with things. Meeting for drinks felt like tapering, and Ziva was a proponent for decisiveness, not the killing of dead farm animals, which still made no sense.
Even so, it had turned out to be a lovely evening. Ducky had picked up the tab for the entire party—"Mother left me a tidy sum of money, and there are only so many antique cars one can buy." Even Gibbs had stopped by to throw back a jigger of bourbon, saying, "I've always liked a woman who can hold her liquor." Jimmy and his bride offered places to visit while in Florida, and McGee just kept hugging Ziva. Certainly the multiple and clandestine refills of his beer fueled such demonstrations of his affection, but Ziva welcomed them, nonetheless.
She tried to brush off the disappointment that Tony had not bothered to show up. Probably easier that way, she rationalized. Yes, his words had hurt, but Ziva knew him well enough to know that he often transmuted his pain to anger. She'd taken part in the same kind of emotional alchemy herself a time or two. Still, for one night, could he have not put aside his childish behavior to at least say goodbye? Could she not expect that from him, of all people?
In the end, it didn't matter, she supposed. They had ended their relationship months earlier, or what served as a relationship in their impossible worlds. Too complicated, too many questions. It was better this way.
And so, limbs numb from liquor, yet nerves thrumming with emotion, Ziva offered her final goodbyes and left the gathering to walk home. Once outside, in the warm evening, Ziva dared one last look at her friends, still gathered around a table inside the bar. It was good that they should have each other at a time like this, she thought. The loss of a friend, even as minor as one who moves away, is something to be mourned, and they would need each other, she supposed.
As for her, it was time to move on. Every five or six years, she had decided, it was important to move away, start fresh. This business of permanence was a lark, something people who had it longed to escape. If only, they said, if only I wasn't tied down to this house, or this job, or this marriage… If only.
There it was. She was lucky, she concluded. Lucky that she could just pick up at a moments—
"It's not safe for a pretty woman like you to walk these streets at night."
Of course he is here, she thought. Ziva stopped, glanced over her shoulder, and said, "I like my chances," and then continued walking.
"I'm not worried about you," Tony called back. "I'm worried about the poor schmuck who decides to engage you in conversation."
Maintaining her brisk pace, Ziva said, "Then perhaps you should remain five paces back."
With a laugh, Tony caught up, rounded in front of her, and stopped. Ziva came to a halt, as well, lest she make any unwanted contact. She glared at him, and he thrust out his hand to her.
"Here," he said. "The Miami sun's a lot hotter than in DC. Be good to your skin, and it will be good to you."
In his hand, a bottle of sunblock, cinched with a smart, red bow. "I know something about the sun. After all, I am an Israeli."
"Funny, I thought you were an American," he teased, appraising her through narrowed eyes.
Ziva refused to bite, but asked, "Is this your way of apologizing for being an ass earlier?
"No," he said, "this is." From behind his back, Tony produced a pink beach pail, stuffed full of brightly colored sandcastle-making equipment, rolled up magazines, a floppy hat, and a bottle of water. "You always forget to bring magazines."
Much to her chagrin, Ziva could not help but smile. Still, she would not let him off the hook that easily. "What you said… That was very unkind."
"Yes, I know," Tony offered, setting his jaw, realizing the charade was over, faster than he had expected. "I am sorry, Ziva. Especially the crack I made about Schmiel. I like the old guy."
"And he likes you, too," Ziva said, swiping her foot over nothing in particular. A nervous habit.
"How is he?"
"He is…old, and he is frail," she said, clasping her hands in front of her. "He will most likely pass soon, or he will outlive us all. It is hard to tell."
"But you need to be with him," Tony added.
"Yes," Ziva said, answering back what she believed to be a challenge with her steady, dark eyes. "Yes, I do. He is all I have—"
"Which isn't true."
"And he should not die alone," Ziva continued, choosing to ignore Tony's comment.
"No one should die alone," Tony agreed.
Spinning wheels, Ziva thought. One of the many unspoken reasons she was leaving. Ziva shook her head, and skirted around Tony. "I have packing to do."
Turning to face her retreating form, Tony called out, "We're runners. You and me. Runners."
Ziva stopped. Tony held his breath. She turned, tossed her hands in the air, and said, "What?!"
"We run to danger; we run away from our lives," he said, sauntering toward her. "I thought we came to an agreement in Berlin to stop running."
"Tony," she began, exasperated by his relentless need to chain her to the past, "what happened in Berlin… I was…"
"I know what you were, I was there," he said, setting the pail down between them. "We made some decisions that night, and a few days—hell, a few hours later, everything changed. Next thing I knew, you were running."
"The only running I was doing was after Bodnar," she reminded Tony. "And, I caught him, you might remember."
"Yes, you did," he said.
"And he is dead, because of me."
"If I were running, it was to finish what someone else had begun."
"Someone had to stop Ilan."
"You always get your man."
"Yes, I do."
"Except for this one."
Her breath stopped; her limbs went cold. Mouth agape, she stared at him.
"Ziva," he said, "what happened to us?"
Words would not come to her, at least not the ones she needed him to hear. She dared not speak them herself.
"Ziva, talk to me."
"We are friends," she told him. "That is what we have always been, and always will be."
"We were more in Berlin—"
"…and I can't figure out exactly what happened," he said, coiling his arms over his chest. "It had something to do with the car accident."
Ziva waved her hand between them, as if erasing the memory. "Enough. I have work to do."
He grabbed her hand before she could spin away, and whispered, "Stop running. For god's sake, Ziva, just stop."
Ziva stared at the meeting of their hands, and remembered their hands conjoined before the accident. A chill ran through her, and she shivered. Hardly able to find her voice, Ziva whispered back, "I am not running. I have packing to do."
He would not let go of her hand, desperate to keep Ziva with him. He clasped it in both his, and said, "I started running after my mom died. I slowed down when I met Wendy, but when she broke off our engagement, I took off again. I ran for years, from one woman to the next. Things would get too cozy, too real, time to start running again. Until you came along."
"What do you want from me?" she begged, emotionally exhausted by the day, the weeks, by a lifetime of chronic loss and sorrow.
"I want you to tell me what happened," he demanded, quick hand suddenly grasping her arms. "One minute we're in bed together—"
"Is that what this is about?" she asked, breaking free from his hold. "Is this your juvenile way of getting me in bed?"
"No!" he barked back. "And yes! But not just tonight! Every night, and every morning, for the rest of my life. That's what this is about!"
Ziva threw her head back and roared with laughter. "Dear god, Tony! If you are pitiful enough to ask me to marry, just so I'll go home with you, then you have truly begun to scrape the bottom of the bucket."
"It's barrel," he seethed, coming dangerously close to her. "And nobody said anything about marriage."
"Then what is it you want?" she challenged back, her steely focus shifting from eye to eye.
"I want you to tell me what the hell happened after Berlin," he said, daring her with his set jaw, his dark, brooding eyes. "You owe me that."
"I do not owe you anything." Spinning, Ziva pressed ahead.
"We were good back there," he told her, jogging to keep up with her quick pace. "We were right."
"I do not have time for this," she said, waving him off, a laser beam on the horizon.
"It was good and comfortable, and I'd give about anything to go back."
"We are friends; that is all. Accept it, and move on."
"And you can't convince me you didn't feel the same thing."
"Why is it you need more?"
"You're a good operative, but you're not that good."
"This is why I should have never…WE should never have done what we did in Berlin."
"You were finally opening up to me, letting me in, and I was happy."
"Things never end the way you expect them to."
"I was happy, Ziva, for the first time in as long as I can remember."
"Besides, I was in mourning. I cannot be held responsible for…"
"Because you were with me. And I was with you."
"People in my life—they do not stay. You will not stay."
"And don't try to tell me it was just sex. It was more than just sex."
"Those who are close to me die. Those who are my enemies die."
"Sure, it was good sex. Great sex, actually."
"That car accident. One minute, I was holding your hand. The next, I saw YOU. Bleeding..."
"And you and I both know you don't throw away good."
"And then Ilan… And when I got back to the car…"
"Now, I realize quoting Gibbs in the same breath as having sex with you is not my best move, but…"
"I called out your name—'Tony! Tony!' You did not move. And the blood…"
"Wait a minute. What?"
"And I kept calling out your name, but you would not wake up."
He grabbed her elbow, and she stopped walking. "I had a concussion."
"Your head slung down so low, I thought perhaps your neck was broken."
"I was unconscious." He moved in front of her, but she did not see him.
"I was afraid to touch you. Move you. I did not know what I should do."
"It's all right. Everything turned out fine."
"And then the paramedics and the fire department were there. They were asking me questions, but I could not speak. I could not breathe."
"You thought I was…?"
"Because I was sure you were dead."
Breathless, her heart a snare drum, Ziva halted. And faltered. When did her bones melt? When did her skull seem to perforate? She needed to sit down. Now. She stumbled to a set of brownstone steps and crumpled to a seat. Her shaking hand throttled the metal handrail.
Tony sidled in next to her, wrapped his arm across her shoulders, and drew her toward him. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Her hand still glued to the rail, a desperate need to find some connection, some solidity while the rest of her world seemed to filter away, Ziva found her breath coming in short, syncopated bursts. "I cannot lose another, Tony."
"You could never lose me, Ziva."
"I will," she whispered. "If I stay, I will lose you, just as I have lost all I have loved."
And then she was breathing in the scent of his suit coat, and her hand was clinging to his tie, and her eyes were staring at a void, and her body was threatening to evaporate. It was only his hand smoothing her hair, his hand lips cooling her brow, his arm containing her sorrow that kept her from dissipating, atom-by-atom, into the moonlight.
"I cannot stay and watch you die."
"Ziva," he said, beckoning her to meet his eye, "do you trust me? Hmmm?"
Until the first tear fell, one that betrayed her, Ziva could not speak. Before the second, she said, "Trust is not enough." And then a third.
"I agree, but trust with a whole lot of love, now that's a powerful force." He thumbed away her tears, and found the sight of her oscillating as well. "So, if you do trust me, and you do love me, nothing bad can happen. Not to me. Not to you. But if you leave me, Ziva, if you leave me…"
"If you leave me," he began, but knew that if said what was true—that it would kill him if she left—that those words would be irresponsible to say. "If you leave me," he said, and scooted off his side of the step in order to kneel before her. "If you leave me, I will find you." His warm hands framed her lost expression, and she searched the strong depths of his eyes. "Wherever you go, my Ziva, I will search for you. You can't run from me, not anymore."
Feather-light fingers whispered over his lips; her warm palm cupped his cheek. "How can you love me?"
"How can I not?"
A bone-deep fatigue overcame her, and she surrendered to him. "I am so tired of running."
"Then, stop," he whispered, embracing her from his stoop. "Just stop. Be still with me. Give us a chance to be still together."
She spooled her arms around his neck and lay her weary head down. "Tony, I think maybe it is too late."
"Too late for what?"
She buried her eyes in the cool space where his pulse beat, and wept.
He kissed her then, gently, a kiss that did not ask for anything in return. He kissed her eyes and her hair. He drew her hand away from his hair and kissed her palm. He wrapped an arm around her, pulled her to her feet, and said, "I'll take you home."
The magazines went first. A pair of drunken college students took the pail and shovels. The hat was taken next. And when the sun came up, Tony's mea culpa was gone, and a DC-10 bound for Miami was about to taxi down the runway.
Three days later, Ziva watched the Atlantic surf rush over her feet, only to rush back to the sea. Hypnotic, cathartic, calming. The waves came in, and the waves went out, and Ziva's feet became more and more encased in sand. A permanence. She shielded her eyes and looked to the east. Clouds are clouds are clouds. The same clouds that graced the horizon had probably started over the western coast of Africa, driven by wind from, perhaps, as far away as Israel. And these same clouds might take a notion to travel up the coast, to bring rain to Hilton Head, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and D.C. Ziva smiled at that, and scrunched her toes deeper into the sand. The thought that the water swirling around her feet had circumnavigated the globe millions of times, and in a million combinations brought her an odd comfort. The continuity of it all.
"Well, I'm about done," he said. Ziva glanced over her shoulder and watched Tony loop his towel around his neck. "My father gave me his name and devilishly good looks. My mother gave me her West London skin tone. Think I'll go on in, get cleaned up, and make dinner for Schmiel." With that, he kissed her, and began to pad away.
"Tony," Ziva called out before he could get very far, and he turned. "Thank you."
Tony grinned, and Ziva blushed. "Anything for you, Sweet Cheeks."
One more thing, she thought. "Tony?"
"Later, after we have dinner with Schmiel, I think I would like to go dancing."
One corner of Tony's lip curled up. He yanked the towel from his red neck, gave out an animated grimace, and roped it around Ziva. "Why, Miss David, this is Miami," he said, shimmying closer to her, leading her to him by her hips. "We can dance right here on the beach." He kissed her neck, salty and hot, and she let her hands find their way to his lower back. "My god, we were made to samba…"
Ziva giggled deep in her throat, and said, "If we continue this, we will be arrested for indecency."
Suddenly, he whirled her into a dip, kissed her hard, and said, "Then I'll just have to wait for the privacy of a dark, hot, sweaty dance club." Another kiss, lower on her neck, and then again lower, and then he twirled her back to her feet. "Besides," he said, throwing his towel over his shoulder again, "I got sand in places I don't want to think about. I may need you to use that special cream on me again tonight."
Ziva laughed, and Tony smiled. With one more kiss, he jogged away, leaving her by herself.
The waves came in; the waves went out. Tomorrow would come, and tomorrow would go. The sun would wheel across the sky, and the moon would follow. That's all she could be sure of. For now.
Oh, and one more thing.
The day had begun with Tony, and it would end with Tony. Tomorrow she'd wake up with him, and at night she'd fall asleep with him.
And that, she supposed, was enough.