Disclaimer: Eh ... I don't even want to own NCIS anymore.
Spoilers: 11x02 "Past, Present, Future"; a few references to 7x01 "Truth or Consequences."
Dedication: To Kiera, because.
Notes: Kiera made me write this :P okay, she didn't make me, but she ... subtly encouraged me to write a fic where Ziva was really bagging groceries. It's angst. It's not my favourite, and to be honest, that worries me, because I don't know if I WILL have favourites after this. I still have not updated For a Chance, I know, but I do promise to finish it. After that ... who knows?
"Thank you for shopping!"
The voice stopped him in his tracks. He looked up from the glass jar of pasta sauce towards the far row of cashiers, but failed to find what he was looking for. Troubled, he placed the jar back onto the shelf and pushed his cart down the aisle, towards the cashiers; he turned the corner, and—there she was.
Standing behind the last counter, markedly older but still beautiful in her own unrivalled manner. She must have felt him gazing at her, because she looked up and then froze, her eyes wide.
She wore an expression exactly like the one she had worn more than a year ago, when she had opened the front door of the house she had been born in to see him standing on her stoop.
He pushed his cart forwards now, halting by her counter. His heart was in his throat, but he refused to let that show. "Ziva," he greeted instead.
She gave him a brittle smile—all tears and not a trace of happiness—her eyes darting around. "How can I help you?" she asked with all the casualness of a well-trained Customer Service employee, and he wondered if that was what it felt like for someone to tear a hole right through his gut.
He glanced at his cart. Three packets of pasta, a box of instant soup, and a loaf of plain white bread. All markers of the lonely, uneventful life he led. "Guess I'm not shopping here today," he mumbled. The cart abandoned, he pushed past her and headed to the exit.
"Tony," she called after him, her voice desperate.
He stopped in his tracks.
He wanted to leave, really. He wanted to leave her behind, because she had made him do it a year ago, and yet now here she was, in the U.S.—bagging groceries, out of everything she could have done that would not have felt like a slap in the face to him.
He wanted to leave, because the sheer humiliation was enough to make him want to drop into the hole that he wished the Earth was opening up.
But he had never been able to deny her—not since the day he had risked his life for her— and he turned back to face her. He could see a slight, previously absent shine to her cheeks, as if tears had dampened them. Still, that did not at all lessen the way his stomach felt like lead.
"Do you want-…" she began hesitantly, "I get off at five. Do you want to grab some coffee after that?"
"Do you?" he asked in return, and her eyes grew wet. She shifted on her feet, her lips pursing and her hands clasping nervously together, but it was obvious that she had no answer. He looked away. "Name the place."
"Coffee shop around the corner," she told him.
He nodded. "Fine." Turning on his heel, he left.
The café she had chosen was a quiet, comfortable establishment, with soft cushions and earth-toned walls and light jazz in the background. He spotted her immediately upon entering; she was staring into the ceramic cup before her as if its chocolate-coloured depths held all the secrets she would need to Life.
As he sat down opposite her, she spoke up, "You came."
He wisely refrained from telling her that he almost did not.
"What's good here?" he asked instead, placing his order according to her recommendations. When he turned to her once more, she was staring at him.
"You must be wondering what I am doing back in America."
"Something along those lines, yeah."
She drew in a deep breath. "After you left … I stayed in Israel to take up some short study courses I never had the chance to. They kept me occupied for a while, but when they ended, I found myself wanting to travel; to see the world through the eyes of someone who wasn't an officer or an agent. It worked for a while. Eventually, I found myself wanting to settle, so I came back here."
"That's only half the story," he said grimly. "Why didn't you go back to DC? Why didn't you tell any of us? At least, I assume you didn't tell—"
"Gibbs doesn't know," she assured him. "Neither does anyone else."
"That still doesn't tell me why none of us know. Why LA, of all places? Why not DC?"
She shrugged. "I told you, I wanted to let go of my past."
"So, that's it, huh? You just really weren't going to look us up again, ever?"
"I could not do that to you," she blurted, much to his surprise. "To any of you. I told you that you had to let me go so that I could have a new start; how could I still have the audacity to show up and demand that you let me back into your lives?"
"We would have done it in a heartbeat," he replied quietly.
She turned her face away. Against the sunlight filtering in through the window, he could see her bottom lip quivering. "And where would I go from there?" she asked, her voice breaking. "Your world is still the world I wanted to escape from. Even if I let go of the badge…. I thought about what it would mean to still identify as a member of you, and I realized I that couldn't do it. I couldn't talk about guns and cases and criminals with you, but I could not ask you not to talk about it either. That would not be fair to you, and I would never have you deny who you were. It was better to continue staying out of contact."
"Ziva, I told you. I would change with you."
"That was a year ago," she replied, a hasty hand brushing across her eyes. "And we were different people then."
"We made that list together," he reminded her sharply. "At least, I helped you make it. It wasn't so that I could watch you bury it and forget all about it." Forget all about me.
"And of what significance would that be?" she returned just as sharply, twisting the knife into his heart just a little deeper. "Would you have quit your job for me? Come and bag groceries with me? NCIS is your life, Tony—you chose it. I would not ask you to give up who you were when I did not know myself who I could be. I would not—" she cut herself off, clapping a hand over her mouth and taking a shuddering breath. Her voice softer was softer when she continued, "The people I … l-love—I just want them to be happy."
His eyes felt horribly like they were burning, too.
"It's too late. I already quit my job, y'know," he told her.
She stared at him. "What?" she asked, sounding entirely shocked, as if she had expected him to just be capable of moving on with his life. "Why?"
"Just didn't feel right anymore." It was his turn to shrug. "I tried, for a while. Sat through months of replacements that left within days and one replacement that stuck. Bishop. She's not bad. But she can hold her own against Gibbs, and McGee's more than good enough for senior-field-agent material, and I just decided that it was time for me to move on, because the one person who could've—could've gotten me to stay there; the one person I could've stayed for; she wasn't there."
She sniffled. "I am sorry."
"I'm not asking you to be. I meant what I said when you told me you had to move on: I understood. I may not have liked it, Ziva, but I understood, and that's why I got on the plane without dragging you kicking and screaming with me. But I've spent a year just thinking about you and where you could be, and America, Ziva? This is your home and my home. This is our home, Ziva, and to think that you could come back here and not even want me to know—" He clamped his mouth shut, clenching his jaw. Shaking his head, he muttered, "I just need to ask something."
She nodded without facing him.
"Twice in my life, I have gone looking for you for months," he began. "Twice in my life, I have found you. Twice in your life, you have told me that I should not have gone and found you. So, here's what I want to know: Do you think I shouldn't be here now?"
She said nothing, the white knuckles against the olive skin of her entwined fingers the only indication that she had heard his words at all.
"Because once in my life, I've done a 180° on you," he continued, his voice wavering now. "If you wanted me to walk away now and pretend that I never saw you…"
He did not think he would be able to do it and still escape intact, but he would never tell her that. He had never been able to deny her, after all.
She brushed her hand across her nose before locking her fingers together again. He watched her brow furrow; noticed the stilted rise and fall of her chest in tandem with her breaths; but she kept her eyes on the table still, silent. And then, she answered—through the tiny side-to-side motion of her head, a shake that was barely a shake.
It was enough for him. It had to be enough for him, because he would not give her opportunity to change her mind.
"Good," he breathed immediately, and she laughed shakily. "That's all I needed."
He could sense her eyes following his movements as he reached into the pocket of his jeans for the object he kept there. Her breath caught as the glitter of her chain emerged followed by her Star of David pendant, swinging lightly through the air as he brought it across the table to lay it before her.
The chain tangled with her fingers as she picked it up. The pendant glimmered against her palm. She shot him a look so full of sad confusion that he was certain she had received the wrong message.
"I'm not returning it," he explained. "At least, not the way you think I'm returning it. It's a part of you, and I kept it safe for you, and now … you deserve it back. But only if you're gonna be sticking around enough for me to see it on you, Ziva, because it's—I need to keep it otherwise."
"Thank you," she said thickly. Her fingers closed around the pendant, pressing it into her palm. Eventually, she reached out, unfurling her fingers. "Would you mind terribly if I asked you to put it on for me?" she asked hesitantly.
And she was offering him an olive branch, he knew. Letting him know that she wanted him there. More importantly than that, asking him if he wanted to be there; to be the part of her new life.
He took the chain without a second thought.
Putting it on was hard, because his fingers trembled violently. He could not believe that she was right there after more than a year of his not seeing her. He could not believe that endless days and nights of his dreaming about her, of his thinking about her, of his just plain yearning for her with all his heart led to this. He had not thought that he would see her again—at least, not while he was still able enough to remember her face—and to have her seated before him now….
The closing of the clasp at the end of her necklace had an air of finality to it. He was breathing hard as he smoothened the gold out against the nape of her neck and laid his hands over her shoulders, unable to let go of her just yet.
There was still something he needed to ask: Something he needed to be sure about before he stupidly walked into a living nightmare.
"Ziva?" he called softly to the back of her.
"Yes?" she answered without turning around.
He licked his lips and hoped she could not hear the thudding of his heart. "That list: You wrote that you would still … have children."
She stiffened underneath his hands. "Yes."
"Did you…" His voice wobbled. "Did you ever find … some guy more charming and handsome than yours truly over here—"
He stopped when she slid her fingers in between his and tugged them off her shoulder. The brush of her warm mouth across his palm was electric, and his heart hammered so loudly in his chest that he almost missed her saying, "You were the one I made that list with … were you not?"
It was more than enough for him.
He sank down into her chair, holding onto her tightly. Evidently unfazed, she merely turned in his arms and brought her hands up, one to wrap around his waist and the other to stroke his back as she shushed him gently.
Not once did she mention the sole teardrop that he knew she had seen make its way down his cheek.