Title: A Temporary Goodbye
Pairing: a bit of McGee/Ziva
Rating: K+
Genre: mostly Gen
Cat: Drama, Episode Tag, Friendship
Spoilers: Tag to 11x02 Past, Present and Future
Warnings: None.
Summary: He knows she's not coming back; Tony's face told him that. The question was: Why hadn't she told him herself?
Author's Note: I was very upset that there was no mention of McGee at all during Tony & Ziva's goodbye (Tony mentioned Abby and Gibbs, but no McGee? Lame.), so I had to resolve things. Of course. I was kinda bawling while writing part of this, so I hope that translated into writing. :)

He hadn't even needed Tony to say anything when he returned to NCIS – his demeanor screamed everything for him. He found Ziva. Something had happened, McGee wasn't sure exactly what, but he knew all he needed to know. She wasn't coming back.

Tony had pretended to be fine, putting on a show of disappointment that he hadn't been able to find Ziva, but McGee knew better. He was fairly sure it was Ziva's doing, that she hadn't wanted Tony to tell them where she was, especially since she didn't seem to have any intention of coming back, but the idea that Tony knew where she was, had talked to her, and hadn't told them? That hurt.

But even that hurt couldn't overtake the empty feeling in his chest at the thought that Ziva wasn't coming back. He didn't know her story, not yet, but she wasn't here and that was the only thing he could focus on right now.

"Hey, McGee." McGee slowly blinked and turned his head toward Tony, who was busy trying to look casual. "You wanna get a drink, catch up?"

McGee pretended to think about it for a moment, then shook his head slightly. "Nah, I have something important I need to do."

Tony narrowed his eyes at him, as if trying to read his mind, then nodded. "Okay. Tomorrow?"

McGee gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Maybe." He smiled a little, to show it was still an option, though it really depended entirely on what happened tonight when he went home, got on his computer, opened up his Skype window. . .

"It's good to be back," Tony said, almost as if he was talking to himself, and he may as well have been, because McGee was only half listening. He stood up from his desk, tossing his backpack over one shoulder and paused for a moment. "Have a good night, Tim."

McGee looked up at him then, the use of his first name capturing his full attention. Tony left before he could say anything, not that he knew what he would have said, except maybe good night, an automated response to end an automated day.

He blinked a few times and tried to bring himself back to the present before he left, knowing he needed to at least be aware for the drive home. Maybe he'd listen to some music, talk radio, something with a lot of emotion, since he wasn't able to conjure any from himself. Or maybe he'd pull a Gibbs and get home as fast as possible, doing his best to avoid the state guys on the way. That didn't sound like him, though. But then again, he'd had some time to think while Tony was away, while he was off finding Ziva and doing who knows what with her, and he'd changed. He had found himself growing more confident in his abilities as an agent when Tony had led the team, but lately he'd found himself lost in the senior agent's shadow again. Funny how that happened. With Tony gone and it just being himself and Gibbs, he'd had the time he needed to prove himself to the boss, and time to think about who he'd become. He wasn't afraid to tell people how it was anymore, and that included Ziva. He was sure she had a good reason and he respected whatever decision she made, but the fact that she had left without saying a word to him didn't sit well with him, and he was going to tell her that.

He blinked again and was surprised to find he had made it almost halfway home already, a thought that was mildly disconcerting, but he shrugged it off. He hadn't ran his car off the road, so he supposed that was all that really mattered. The drive had him feeling antsy, though. He wanted to be home, off the road, away from the crazy thought that maybe he should just drive to the airport and buy a ticket to Israel. Not that he'd even have half a clue where to start looking once he got there, but the itch was so great he nearly took the exit for the airport rather than driving past it.

The rest of the drive went slower than the first half, but he arrived home at last, and as he stepped out of his car and headed up to his apartment, his keys felt heavy in his hand. Everything seemed out of focus. Maybe he just needed to eat something. When was the last time he'd eaten? Had he eaten today? Yeah, he had. Tony bought lunch. Beltway Burgers. McGee figured he was feeling guilty. Sorry for lying to you about Ziva. She made me do it. You know how she is.

He opened his refrigerator and stared inside for close to a minute before shutting it with a sigh. Leftover Chinese food and an almost empty bottle of ketchup wasn't going to do it tonight. His stomach grumbled at him and he turned to his pantry, pulling out a box of cereal. He hoped his milk hadn't gone bad, but then remembered he'd just bought a half gallon a couple days ago, right before Tony got back. The apartment remained silent as he opened the box and dumped some of the sugary cereal he loved into a bowl, topping it with the milk and stabbing a spoon into the mix. He didn't even bother to sit to eat, instead leaning against the refrigerator and spooning the cereal into his mouth.

The more he thought about Ziva, the less sure he was of what to say to her when he finally got a chance to talk to her. He almost thought if, but he knew better than that. He was determined to get her to talk to him, no matter how long it took.

It wasn't long before he finished his cereal, and he let the spoon clink into the empty bowl as he set it on the counter. He'd deal with washing it later; he had more pressing issues than dirty dishes right now.

He left the kitchen behind as he walked to his computer station, plopping down and powering up the laptop sitting there. The closer he got to opening his Skype window and dialing Ziva's number, the more nervous he felt. He was anxious to talk to her, to get an explanation, but he mainly just wanted to see her face. Was she safe? What was keeping her in Israel, leaving Tony with that defeated look on his face? He was upset with the situation, but he was more worried than anything. Ziva wasn't the type to ask for help, and who knew what she was trying to deal with on her own.

He opened his Skype window and stared at the calming blue background, which didn't feel very calming right now. Ziva's profile picture smiled at him and he couldn't help but smile back. He'd always found her so beautiful, especially when she laughed or smiled, and he'd always considered himself very lucky to have someone like her in his life. She was an amazing person. He knew she didn't always see that in herself, and it was something that seemed to plague all of the members of Gibbs' team, but it didn't change his opinion of her.

He hesitated for a moment, his hand hovering over the touchpad on the laptop, before he clicked on her name, then on the button to call her computer. He felt himself holding his breath as he waited for her to answer, though he was sure she wouldn't, at least not right away . . . and he was right. The call ended without an answer, and he let out the breath he'd been holding. That would have been too easy, to have her answer his call on the first try. He then turned his attention to the instant messaging part of the program.

Tim: I know you probably don't want to talk to me, but I need to talk to you, Ziva. I'm going to keep calling you until you pick up. I need to see your face.

He sent the message and waited, watching the cursor blink on the screen. There was no guarantee that she was even there right then; she could have been sleeping, as it was only 5 AM there, maybe she was out for an early morning run, or didn't have her computer on, or was making breakfast or taking a shower, folding laundry. . .

But he got lucky. He soon saw, "Ziva is typing," on the screen and found himself sitting up straighter, felt his heart speed up a bit. He didn't know what she would say, but just the fact that she was there, that nothing that happened to keep her from communicating with him, was enough to relieve a bit of his worry.

Ziva: It is not that I do not want to talk to you, Tim. I am . . . There are things I need to do right now.

Tim: Will you pick up if I call?

A long pause, then. . .

Ziva: Yes.

McGee quickly pressed the call button, before he could lose the courage to do so, and before Ziva could change her mind. She did pick up, too, and he waited as her webcam came into focus and she appeared on screen, illuminated by the early morning sun, and he found himself holding his breath again. Seeing her on the screen only reminded him of how much he missed her.

Ziva took in his expression and laughed softly. "You look like you have seen a ghost, McGee."

He blinked and shook his head. "Not a ghost. Don't say that. I, uh. . ." He cleared his throat and tried again. "I know Tony found you." Ziva opened her mouth to respond, but he kept talking before she could say anything. "He didn't say he did or suggest it or anything, but I just knew. I think Gibbs did, too, but Gibbs knows everything. And I don't know if you talked to Gibbs yet, but I guess I just wanted to know why you didn't say anything about leaving." Even as he said the words, he mentally kicked himself. He wanted to let her know just how upset he was, but he just ended up sounding weak.

"It was not an easy decision to make," Ziva said, and he focused his attention back on her. "But I care about you all so very much and I have realized that everything that has happened," he could see the tears building up in her eyes and longed to be there to give her a hug, "has been because of me. Or maybe not because of me, but it cannot be a coincidence that everyone I love dies, everything I have goes away. The one thing I have wanted my entire life is something permanent. I have come to realize I may never have that, not unless I do something to change the circumstances."

"What are you saying, Ziva?" McGee whispered, scared of what she might say. "You are coming back, aren't you?"

She smiled through her tears. "Maybe one day. I need to figure out who I am first, and only then can I be the person you all need me to be."

McGee shook his head, unbelieving of what he was hearing, and scooted closer to his desk, as if he could reach her by that small motion. "Ziva, you can do that here. Even if you need time away from NCIS, you can still be here. We don't care what you do!"

Ziva's smile grew. "That is what Tony said." She could see the desperation in McGee's eyes and continued. "I have lost so much. I do not want to lose all of you, too. Do you understand that?"

"Yes." He shook his head just as quickly. "No. No! I mean, whatever has happened in the past, that's not because of you. You do know that, right?" She didn't answer and he sighed. "Your past doesn't have to define who you are. I can't pretend to know what it's like to have lived your life, but I do know that we all have the ability to change our lives."

Ziva nodded, reaching up to wipe away some tears as she did so. "That is what I am trying to do. It is not easy, but it is necessary." Her voice dropped to a loud whisper. "I just need some space."

McGee closed his eyes and let his chin drop to his chest for a moment. He knew there was no talking her out of this. If Tony hadn't succeeded, there was no way he would, either. He took a couple of deep breaths and looked up. Ziva had composed herself, but she still looked emotional. He didn't blame her. They'd been together as a team for so long, and more than that, they'd become a family. This wasn't easy for any of them.

"I respect your decision," he finally said, and he saw Ziva let out a breath. "It doesn't mean I won't miss you like crazy, though." Ziva laughed and a tear rolled down her cheek. He managed a shaky smile. "I wish I could be there, to give you a hug or something."

Ziva's smile grew wider. "Or something? What are you suggesting, McGee?"

He shook his head, blushing. He was in a relationship with Delilah, and he was pretty close to positive that Tony and Ziva hadn't just talked while Tony was there, so he wouldn't. . . But it didn't mean he hadn't thought about it. "Ziva. . ."

She laughed again. "Relax. I know you have a girlfriend. How is Delilah, by the way?"

"She's fine." He frowned. "Don't change the subject."

Ziva sobered, but remained smiling. "Promise me you and Tony will look out for each other?"

He scoffed. "I can't promise Tony will look out for me."

"Timothy. . ."

He had to smile at that. "I promise, Ziva. You know it won't be the same without you."

"You have done it before," she said, and he cursed her logic. She had a point. Didn't mean he had to like it, though. "Though I will miss it, as well. And you. All of you."

McGee could sense their conversation coming to an end, but he wasn't done yet. He hesitated a moment, then asked, "Why didn't you tell me? I know Tony found you, and I'm sure you called Gibbs, but did you have any intention of saying goodbye to me, or did that not even cross your mind?" Even as he asked, he felt selfish, but he needed to know.

Ziva moved closer to her screen, so he could really see her face. "Do you want to know why? I knew Tony would not leave it alone until he found me. And he told me to call Gibbs. But I knew . . . it would be the most difficult to say goodbye to you. Out of everyone – and not just everyone on the team, at NCIS, but most people I have met – you have never questioned why I have done what I have. You may have wondered about my methods, but you always respected why I did the things I did, and you always accepted me." She was openly crying now, and McGee found himself reaching toward the screen, as if he could wipe away her tears. "Saying goodbye would mean losing that, and losing you. You are one of my best friends, Tim. I will never forget that."

McGee felt a tear roll down his cheek at her words, and when he went to speak, his voice cracked. "You'll come back. I know you will. But just in case you need some motivation. . ."

Ziva shook her head, knowing what was coming. "No, Tim, don't. . ."

"I love you," he whispered. "It might not be the way Tony does, or the way you need, but I do, and you can't stop that."

Ziva didn't respond with words, instead pressed two fingers to her lips, then held them to the screen, a sign that he should do the same. He did, and the action made them both smile, then laugh. It felt silly and juvenile, something teenagers might do, but it also felt right. She knew how he felt about her, and it was different from her relationship with Tony, but it was just as important. She couldn't imagine her life without either of them, which was why she had made the decisions she had. It didn't seem to make sense, but then, nothing that happened in her life did.

"Give me time," she finally said to break the silence, and reluctantly removed her fingers from the screen. "I will let you know when I am ready."

McGee gazed at her for a few moments, then nodded. "Okay. I can do that. As long as I know this isn't a permanent goodbye." His expression turned serious. "Stay safe, Ziva. This Parsa guy, he's looking for you. All of us, really, but I worry about you being alone."

Ziva shook her head. "You shouldn't. I am used to being alone, and I can take care of myself. But I appreciate the concern. And if Parsa or anybody else does anything to hurt you. . ."

"You'll kick their ass."

Ziva smiled. "I will kick their ass." She let out a breath. "Do not be sad, Tim. This is a good thing. Everything will be fine. And. . ." her voice dropped to a whisper, "I love you, too." McGee's face lit up at her words, but it was overshadowed by the loss he would feel when their call ended. "Goodbye, Tim."

"Goodbye, Ziva," he whispered in return, and then . . . she was gone. The call disconnected. He held his fingers to the screen as he had a few moments prior, then dropped his hand back to the keyboard.

It hadn't been easy, saying goodbye, but he felt better getting an explanation, and knowing there was a chance she could come back. For now, he would have to content himself with the memories he had of her, with her, and the knowledge that she was out there, somewhere, maybe thinking of him, too.