Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS—and if I did, I'd be writing something much happier than this!
Spoilers: The whole deal with Cote de Pablo's contract, which I doubt you haven't heard of yet. Also, S11 spoilers :P
Notes: I just want to make it clear that this is not a speculation fic. Given the formulaic differences between episode-production and fic-production, the chances of what I write happening are about 0.01%. This is merely, within the confines of characterisation, my answer to a 'What If' scenario :P and I happen to like it, so I hope you do, too!
Also, it's angsty.
Translation: Ani yode'a - Hebrew; masculine version of 'I know'
She heard the front door open just as she was laying down the last shirt. The small folded squares of clothing filled her suitcase; sparing a thought for the comb and the toothbrush she had yet to pack, she closed her suitcase and zipped it shut.
From the doorway, Tony watched her.
"You're leaving," he observed. She brushed the back of her hand under her nose.
"Yes. I am."
"No reason." She smiled weakly at him. "I just think it is time to return to Israel for a visit. I will be back in DC soon enough."
"Will you?" he asked rhetorically, but she jerked her head in the slightest shaking motion anyway. He approached, sinking down onto her bed and resting a forearm on top of her suitcase, as if it would stop her from taking off right then and there. "Why are you leaving, Ziva?" he asked again.
"I told you—"
"Is this about what you said two nights ago?"
She stilled, her heart pounding in her chest as she stared at him. "So, you did hear what I told you," she mumbled.
"I did," he acknowledged, his lips pursed and his expression contrite.
She looked at the floor. "Then how can you still wonder?"
"No, Tony." She knew they both pretended her voice wasn't breaking. "I-… I said what I did in a moment of weakness. It is okay that you don't-… that you don't return my f-f-feelings. I just have been misinterpreting a lot of things these past few months, that's all."
"You haven't been misinterpreting them."
For a moment, her chest swelled with hope.
But then she looked into his pleading green eyes, and the bubble burst painfully in her. "This is impossible, Tony."
"Why?" he questioned, sounding emotional for the first time since he picked the lock on her front door.
"'Why?' Because you have been here for five minutes and you have not even acknowledged what it was that I said to you. You-… You are not ready for this. You are ready to have me, but you are not ready to recognize that as a fact. And it is the other way around for me."
"You're not ready to be with me?" His tone was mortified. "Am I lacking something?"
"No! No, of course not!" She reached out to grasp his hand hard, even though she still couldn't meet his gaze. "It is just that I picture you and me … and I want to laugh at myself. I mean, we're best friends, Tony. We have been for a long time—how could I ever see us as anything else? I imagine you in the role of something m-more, and I end up seeing someone else there as your partner, as the woman you share your life with … and it hurts."
"Ziva, I don't—"
"I know you think you wouldn't want anyone else," she interrupted quietly. "But … this is us. And one thing I know about us is that our relationship is unpredictable. You have no way of saying we would work out."
"We could try," he begged.
"And for what? For the days that I will spend waiting for the other shoe to drop?" She looked at him. "For the unhappiness you will feel, trying to please me—convince me—into trusting that you'll stay? We could do it right now; enter a relationship right now. But you would be with a woman whose constant was the fear of loss."
"I can deal with that," he answered stubbornly. "I can deal with showing you how I'm not leaving."
"I'm not going to ask you to care for a broken woman," she murmured. "I love you too much for that."
"No." She shook her head. "I have to go back to Israel, Tony."
"To be with Adam," he concluded bitterly.
"To be alone," she emphasized. "I cannot deny that Adam was good to sleep with. But it meant nothing—he and I knew that."
"And that means I shouldn't have been pissed over what you said, about feeling alone?"
She heaved a sigh and squeezed his hand lightly. "I would never expect you to get angry over someone like me," she began softly. "You deserve someone better; someone who wouldn't be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Someone who could deal with knowing how lucky she was to have you."
His eyes searched her beseechingly, and she swallowed the thick lump in her throat. "Promise me you will find someone," she said, failing at her resolution to keep her voice from wavering, "okay? I don't know when I will be back or even if things will be different when I come back, so please, don't wait for me. It would be a waste of time."
"You're right, and I wouldn't wait for you," he declared, and she felt her heart plummet despite everything. (Surely he didn't have to admit it so bluntly to her!) And then, he said, "But I can't promise I wouldn't search for you. I can't live without you, remember? I wouldn't rest easy until I knew you were safe, even if you didn't want to be safe with me. And I don't know what you want me to say. I can't say the words, Ziva; I'm trying, but I can't, not any more than you can make yourself ready for a relationship with me. That doesn't mean I don't feel it with every fibre of my being."
She didn't realize she was crying until he reached up with his free hand to brush away her tears, moisture clinging to his thumb.
"Those traits you tell me about, you've had them for eight years," he said quietly. "And I'm still here. I don't think that other shoe will be dropping anytime soon. So, if there's ever someday when you realize that, just let me know. I will be there."
He stood up then—a smile flickering at the edges of his lips as he stuffed his hands into his pockets—and she flung her arms around him on impulse. The kiss to his lips was quick and mingled with salt of her pain.
"I love you," she whispered, sniffling. "I'll miss you."
He smiled sadly. "Ani yode'a," he said.
And then he was gone, and the click of her front door shutting was the only thing she heard echoing around her apartment.