In the end, she does what's she's been engrained to do, because she's never known any other way.

"Where do we go from here?"

His heart is pounding, and he doesn't like the way her face becomes so carefully guarded.

Ziva smiles sadly, reaching out a hand to run over the stubble of his jaw. He leans into her, memorizing the warmth of her touch, the careful path of her fingertips.

"Tony," she murmurs quietly, and he can hardly make out her tears through the blur of his own.

"How can you be prepared to try and be apart, when we've never tried to be together?" His voice cracks under the weight of the sentence, and it causes her control to slip.

"I have to go." She breathes shakily, and it only makes him grip her tighter. She allows this, and he swears that she moves against him even closer.

"If I do not, I will lose you in more ways than one." Her hand travels to the back of his neck, dragging her fingers through the hairs at his nape. He looks down at her as she tilts her head up sadly, and a harsh noise escapes the back of his throat.

"If I leave, at least you are safe." She brushes his tears away with her thumb softly, "And not staying- that is something I am prepared to live with."

He's shaking his head vehemently before she's finished speaking, even as she pulls him down desperately, crushing his mouth to hers.

He lets her overwhelm him, because she needs a reprieve from the pain as much as he does.

They cling to one another; slipping into oblivion.

Tears mingle, mouths war, and clothes fall as their restraint at long last crumbles.

In the end, he does what he's been engrained to do, because his path and hers were predestined to intertwine, fated to remain connected.

She leaves before dawn, and the space beside him had long gone cold when he finally wakes. He lays tangled in the sheets as the sunlight slowly fills his room, eradicating the darkness that's heavy and oppressive with the memory of her touch, her taste, her warmth.

He knows she believes she must leave in order to save them. Save him.

She doesn't understand that it would be the very thing to kill them both.

She's convinced herself this is how their story must end.

Fate has other plans.

In the end, she runs.

He follows blindly after.

He's quickly running out of time to convince her that this life they're meant for is still attainable. He feels the resonance still of what fate has set in stone for them and knows that hope isn't lost; it's tangible with every touch, every look, every move she makes.

The trouble is, she's been slipping away, slowly, under the radar of his detection.

She leads him to a home she once knew, along the white, sandy beaches the Mediterranean laps.

He can see why she has come here; the allure of the salty air and quiet shore fills him with an overwhelming calm, even now. And he can see how the ocean affects her; there's a peace that has washed over, however temporarily, her he doesn't think he's ever seen. She allows her guard to fall in the face of the sea, her suspicion to retreat, as if she doesn't need to hide what she is or hold onto what she must let go, and he thinks to himself, this is what inner peace might look like; she wears it well, and he's never seen her look so beautiful.

He's scrambling to make her see that she hasn't yet lost her chance at everything life promises. She struggles deep within her soul; no longer sure of what she deserves and what she doesn't. Life has taken from her, yes, but she's taken much from the world, too. She has eradicated souls from this earth; followed orders blindly without question. She's carried out the very crimes she's charged with punishing others for. And though that life is a part of the past she desperately seeks to break free of, she's never been able to escape the guilt that lingers. It terrifies her; to be in the mercy of whatever external force that will ultimately condemn her.

She stands facing the ocean, her curls blowing wild in the breeze that drifts from the sea. As he approaches, she makes no movement until the sound of his feet meeting the water pull her from her reverie. She turns to look at him, and the weight of his presence affects her dramatically.

Her eyes are dark and her shoulders are heavy, as if all the sorrows of the universe bare down on her with insurmountable force. She never has been able to fight off the weight of the world on her shoulders, not for long, and he's realized it's because she had been carrying the weight of two for as long as he had known her.

Her native country had long ago buried her under the tragedies of life too early on; the utter emptiness that only death can make one feel, betrayal of the fiercest kind, and missions that would take and take from her, never replacing what was lost.

She left that world to pursue one anew; yet the life she's built for herself in the world they share hasn't been any kinder to her heart.

She's learned that where one is doesn't make a difference, and that nothing is black and white as she'd always believed; death is death, killing is killing, and loss is as hollow and all consuming whether she blindly takes orders or is sanctioned by the highest powers.

He used to often wonder how she had found her way to him; despite the obstacles that were thrown at her time after time. She'd been thrown off course in more ways than one. He knows now it was fate that brought her to him; that had guided her heart through the dark. Despite it all, she had still managed to stumble into his world, indefinitely knocking it straight off it's axis.

It's why he must go after her. Time and time again.

He knows if she were to leave, to deviate from what destiny had devised for them, his universe would shift once more, and it wouldn't be able to handle the loss of it's most crucial element.

He's not quite sure just when their journey began.

But he knows how it's supposed to end.

He's chased her before, and so he chases her now, even though she thinks leaving is what she must do. Her first instinct is to run from the good.

She believes she only deserves the bad.

She doesn't believe she's fulfilled her penance; though she would never dare tell him. She knows many wonder about the summer she spent in that dry, unmerciful desert. How she can have so readily accepted and distanced herself from it. The truth is, she hasn't forgotten, the memories to this day still haunt her; the suffocating feel of omnipresent dust and sand, and the limits to which her mind and body were tested.

It was the closest she's ever come to oblivion.

It doesn't fulfill her penance, but it's a start, at least in her eyes. And that's why she never dwelled.

She had a God, once upon a time. She's not so sure anymore. But whether it's Him, or Karma, or the laws of the universe that will inevitably collect from her, she won't allow herself to move forward until she understands how her sins will be answered for.

It's both the beauty and the curse of her; this quality she has. She denies herself everything that could set her free, selfless as he is broken, because she refuses to take from this life what she may not deserve.

But he has to make her see.

Life is a journey for everyone, and love doesn't have to be the cost.

"I never had a choice, you know."

Her eyes convey the exhaustion of this long fought battle, and how very close she is to letting go of all the hope she's ever clinged to. She watches him warily as he approaches her, his movements slow and careful.

The sea crashes behind her, and she feels the waves lap at her feet as the tide makes it's way in.

"We were never a choice," he continues, a smile pulling at his mouth. The tide continues to splash under his feet as he approaches her space. She doesn't make a move, but she tenses when he stops within a foot of her. His face is honest and open, full of promise and certainty, so sure of his words. It's something she's always envied of him.

He comes to stand before her, and the ocean and surrounding beach fade around them as his proximity overwhelms her.

"You and me, we are going to stay together." He gestures between them wildly, and his voice has taken on a desperate edge. "I know what you're doing, Ziva. Leave this part of yourself here. And come home with me where you belong."

A loud roar of a wave pulls them both from the intensity of their conversation, and Ziva blinks in surprise as water lashes at her calves. She turns away from the intensity of Tony's gaze, and continues a path along the shore of the beach with him trailing after her.

"Many things were never a choice, Tony." Ziva finally replies, and he's caught up to her now, falling into synch naturally with her every step. "I do not get the freedom to choose what I want, no matter how much I may want it."

He pulls at her hand, and she freezes immediately as he tries to draw her back, and she sees the full force of the fight he's willing to unleash in his eyes.

"How can you say that?" He lashes out harshly, and she buckles under his intensity, but her eyes flash dangerously. They get lost in each others gaze once again, and the sound of approaching laughter reminds them to step back and check themselves. They both turn to the source of the interruption, relaxing when two children splash by them, throwing themselves into the surf with cries of delight under the watchful eyes of their parents yards away.

He watches her as she looks almost longingly in the children's direction, the anger in her eyes gone as rapidly as it appeared, and the tone of his voice becomes almost hushed as the fire in his voice dissipates.

"You can't tell me you don't want that, Ziva." He murmurs, following her gaze. "You deserve that more than anyone I know." And what he doesn't say is just as loud as what he does say.

We deserve that.

He turns back to look at her, and he sees her wipe the ghost of a tear at the corner of her eye. When he reaches out to brush her hair from her face, she flinches, but he doesn't pause. She doesn't move away from his touch, and slowly he sees her melt under the warmth of his palm.

"How could I bring life into this world, or even have one of my own, after all that I have taken?"

The confession is uttered softly, and if his heart wasn't already close to shattering, that would have been the blow to cause the splinters.

He finally moves into her space, then, fighting through the distance that she's always kept between them. He wraps his arms tightly around her, burrowing his hands into her hair, and her arms come up instinctively to cling to him.

"You need to let it go, Ziva. You have to let it go."

She crumbles against him, and he hopes it's the last of her resistance that's failing.

"Why are you so sure I deserve all of this with you?"

Tony sighs against her hair, his hand slowly tracing up and down her spine.

"If there's anything I've learned about us, Ziva," says softly, "It's that we always come back to each other for a reason."

He repeats his words from earlier.

"We were never a choice."

They remain pressed to each other, feeling the resonance of a long fought battle falling at the feet of a hard won love.

Silence settles as the sea roars on and breeze continues to blow.

In the middle of the white sand beach in a world she knew so long ago, she prepares to let one life go and at long last let another begin to grow.