World Won't Let Me Go
Title: World Won't Let Me Go
Summary: And live the rest of our lives, but not together. (No hope no love no glory no happy endingggg) Sorry.
Disclaimers: They aren't mine. It's been years since I've written in this fandom. This could've used another couple days of revision.
Warnings: Language. Necking. Verb tense abuse.
Real AN at end. Title from the Metric song "Blindness."
What it is and where it stops nobody knows
You gave me a life I never chose
I wanna leave the but world won't let me go
Wanna leave but the world won't let me go
Gibbs comes upstairs two hours after Tony's flight was due. The back door stands open and Tony's helped himself to a beer already, sitting on the patio in the last of the sun, even though it's too cold for both those activities. His head's sunk low staring at the ground between his feet, elbows resting on his knees, his whole body dirty and tired. He doesn't move as Gibbs comes outside.
"Sorry I took so long boss," Tony says, voice thick with more than tiredness. "I found her but—"
"I know," Gibbs says. "She called."
Tony nods, and picks at the crud under his nails. "She's not coming back."
"She's been gone before," Gibbs reminds him, because they've been walking away from each other for years, but the routes always prove circuitous. "She'll come back when she's ready."
"It's different this time," Tony disagrees, rolls the bottle between his palms. "She's different. And those other time, it wasn't-, we hadn't-"
He can't actually say it, the habit of plausible deniability too ingrained after all these years. Still, it's not like Gibbs didn't know the moment he saw Tony unable to stop glancing off camera in MTAC, didn't have it confirmed in the way Ziva's voice broke on his name, just hours ago on the phone.
"Didn't think we we're gonna end this way," Tony says, but it doesn't feel like he's addressing Gibbs at all.
"Don't think you've really ended," Gibbs tells him anyway, drawing up a chair and wincing at the chill of the metal, knowing they're in for the long haul. Keep him safe, Ziva had asked him, at the very end before she hung up. Gibbs promised her he'd do his best, but they both knew that she was the one inflicting the most damage, the kind which every man finds himself helpless against.
She touches the tender skin at the base of her throat and the spot below her breast, where the skin is reddened from his beard.
He'd shaved it before he left, leaning over the counter in the tiny bathroom, bare-chested, his pants hanging low and belt-less on his hips.
"You have a twelve hour flight," she said in the doorway, irritated. "You'll just have a ten o'clock shadow when you land again."
"Ziva," he said patiently, catching her eye in the narrow mirror. "It sends a certain message when a man spends several months ping-ponging around various middle eastern cities and comes back with a beard." He tipped his head back to reach under his chin, and his voice came out oddly modulated. "Especially when that man is a federal agent."
"Hmph," Ziva said, and turned away to the closet and the row of his shirts. Months and cities ago he had sleepily observed that she was the type who liked to hang up her man's clothes, so she took a certain perverse pleasure in sliding them all off the rail, folding and stacking, and tucking his socks into his spare shoes. His arms slid around her middle, and a freshly shaven cheek nuzzled the back of her neck.
"It's a five o'clock shadow," he said.
"I know." She slid another shirt off the hanger. He took it and set it aside, turned her around.
"Stop," he said simply, and tipped her back onto the bed, crushed the careful piles she'd made of his laundry.
Now she empties her own clothes from the same closet, sends the naked hangers clacking when she kicks the door closed behind her. There's a safety razor on the lip of the sink still, and she leaves it there when she locks up the house.
Before she departs for the city and a new blank apartment, she drops a stone on top of the spot where they buried her will. It's not quite a grave, but it still marks the ending of a life.
Tim drops a set of keys on Tony's desk.
"You still need a car right?" Tim doesn't meet his eyes.
"She left it with you?"
"I'm the trustworthy one," Tim says, quirking one side of his mouth. "Anyway, I figure if she's not gonna be back for a while, it should still get driven."
Tony closes his fingers over the keys. "You're a good man Tim."
The interior smells like her shampoo, but very faintly, and mostly like a new car still. They'll all have new things now. Ziva gets a new identity, a new life, a new raison d'être. Tony gets a new car.
Doesn't seem a fair trade.
She's not entirely sure where to start, so she begins at the top of the old list. It takes three schools before she finds one where they won't try to enroll her in an inane boutique class with rubber implements. The place is a tiny, shabby studio, run by a Russian émigré with a strong accent, who only accepts her as a pupil after Ziva pays cash for a month of lessons. At first she hates it. Her legs, which propel her so well from her house to the navy yard look, bulky in tights and the other students in the class, all girls half her age, laugh at her awkwardness.
But it is a discipline and she needs a new one. Her childhood lessons slowly return to her, and her limbs bend and flex further each day. Her body trains itself to move with grace as the utmost goal, not pain. She leaves one afternoon with her body exquisitely sore and her mind blank with the tiredness that used to come only after difficult sparring matches. The advanced class is warming up in the small studio, and as she slips on her shoes she watches them gossiping and stretching and carefully taping their toes so blood won't stain their shoes.
There are all kinds of strength, and the kinds that lead to injury or death aren't any stronger than others.
She wants to tell Tony about her revelation. She wants to tell him she's found a way to fulfill the third item on her list, the one about finding a new outlet. She really wants him to make fun of the tights.
The envelope arrives the second month after he's gone, when she's signed on for another set of classes but still hasn't found the right words for him or the right way to send them. Inside is a scrap of paper, square at the top, ragged at the bottom, torn off the top of a page and dusty with clinging dirt. It says I will. She holds it for a very long time, then tucks it dirt and all into the depths of the book she's reading. She cancels the ballet. She buys a plane ticket instead.
He gets angry at her sometimes, when it's very late, or it's far too early, or McGee's been texting Delilah all day, or Abby's thumbed the marks under his eyes with concern and left lipstick on his cheek. He's angry when her desk is empty, when she's not there at Thanksgiving, when Gibbs puts a stack of personnel files in front of him.
Is this supposed to be romantic, them just pining on opposite sides of the world? It's stupid. It's awful. Ziva's getting her eat-pray-love on, and he's living a life that she stands for everything she wants to escape – secrecy and violence and fighting the system as much as the bad guys. It's enough to make a man cynical.
And he hates that most of all, that she's making him doubt this, because Tony has always loved his job.
She actually did visit Iceland in her old life, so she goes to Asia instead. Hostels and food are cheap and plentiful, through Hong Kong, and Taipei, and Bangkok. She hops around cities for a while, just another American tourist filling up a previously blank blue passport. Most people she runs into don't realize the accent doesn't quite fit.
The trip gets stalled in Singapore, because the hostel's comfortable, and people chat around the lounge table in the evenings, and at the stand where she buys her breakfast, the woman understands Ziva's awkwad hand signals and makes her tea just right. It's not like there's a limit to the sights and tastes anyway, and some of the other residents are long term, studying or teaching or just living on the cheap, and they're always ready to volunteer recommendations.
One morning, Miriam, one of the established expats, plucks Ziva's sleeve, asks if she's getting bored in a way that Ziva can sense the agenda behind the question. She's committed to avoiding others' schemes for the foreseeable future, but she truthfully is getting restless. Anyway, it's easier to extricate oneself from the plots of others when they're not related to her by blood, or invoke national security.
Ziva reconsiders the truth of that the next day, because she feels very stuck indeed under the sharp gaze of a roomful of kids, their eyes assessing and their voices a crescendo of plaintive insubordination. Ziva catches insults in half a dozen different languages before she tunes out and rummages under the desk for a pointer stick. Slamming it on the desk buys her a brief instance of silence which she fills with a rapid fire string of instructions, in all the languages she knows, for them to sit down and shut the hell up.
They do neither, but at least she has their curiosity now, which is almost as good as their attention. She turns to the board and starts to write English pronouns.
Miriam slips in two hours later towards the end of lesson and watches, eyes narrowed while Ziva ignores one fight and breaks up another by hooking her foot under the boy's chair and dragging him out of range, all while moving the pointer child to child, making each repeat the garbled string of "I-you-we-he-she-they."
"You thought they'd eat me alive," Ziva accuses after the room empties, flopping down in an empty desk so wobbly it nearly dumps her onto the floor.
"I try not to think anything," Miriam shrugs. "You planning on sticking around another couple weeks? We could use you in the night class."
Tony gets laid. He left a beautiful woman because she had some shit to work out. Also she slept with someone else first. Ziva is probably the love of his fucking life. He realizes this. He's also starting to realize that one fact doesn't negate all the others.
Anyway, he meets a friend of Delilah's who's wicked smart and has hair an unnatural shade of teal and needs a rebound after a bad breakup. They go in on the same page, and they leave the same way, and it actually hurts less than he expected.
He mails Ziva another slip of paper. He doesn't feel guilty for any of it.
Night class turns out to be teaching English to a room full of women, factory girls and sex workers mostly, all of them hoping for better. It's even more crowded than the kids, but at least it's quieter. They're determined and smart, but so dead exhausted that it's hard to get the information to stick. Some know the weirdest phrases already, from the tourists or their johns or the TV. Sometimes Ziva comes out with her head spinning, not sure what language she's thinking in anymore. But when the other volunteers take her along for drinks and trade stories about their classes, it feels a little bit like sitting around the bullpen again.
Adam sends her a package of accumulated mail, and amidst all the long-delayed letters of condolence is another DC postmarked envelope. It's another dirty slip of paper, ragged on both edges, and this one says 1. Travel the world. And not because anyone is chasing anyone else.
He means he's not coming after her again, but she imagines him as a tourist anyway, turning his nose up at dingy dorm furnishing and insisting on a nice place with class. She'd like to show him around the city, the docks and skyscrapers, the awful souvenir shops, her favorite tea place, the old house where they run the English classes. She can't imagine his reaction to her as a teacher, but she thinks Gibbs would approve at least.
That night, she takes a long way home from the bar, waving off a couple of her hostel-mates, fingering the fragment of a list in her pocket. She's not so lost in thought that she misses it when the two toughs come out an alley to block her path. Of course they do, Ziva's the rich, do-gooder, American tourist. It's been a long while since she was this stupid.
She breaks their wrists, maybe a rib or two, and knocks them out, hopes it's enough to keep them off her back. It's not like she can run off to the authorities here. First item on the list, I will let go of the badge. At the very least, it's reassuring to realize a single month of ballet didn't overwrite all her muscle memory. Still, her stomach sinks when she sees shutters flutter open on second and third floors, people peering out now that the racket's over.
The next evening, the room quiets as soon as she walks in, because of course, of course, those toughs, they were the fathers, the brothers, the sons, of these women, and it's not fair she's tried so hard, run so far, and it finds her, in the end, the violence, the pain, that she is once more the center of—
One of the women stands up, points at Ziva. "You'll teach me too?" she asks. Ziva dazedly appreciates the English. Great pronunciation. Probably a credit to their previous teacher, but still.
Another one stands, younger, her normally free-flowing hair already caught up in a practical braid. "Us," she clarifies, because she's one who always excels at pronouns. She also doesn't make it a question. "You'll teach us too."
What would Gibbs say, Ziva thinks wildly, even though she maybe knows already. She folds her hands around the pointer stick, thinks of the ballet girls back in Israel, and their bloody feet. All kinds of strength after all. All kinds of power. She hates her life because it never felt like a choice. It was destiny maybe or obligation or family tradition. But never did she stand up and say, this, I choose this.
She looks over the room, nods once. "Okay," she tells them, in her faltering Malay. "But lesson first."
He gets a weird souvenir postcard one day, all holograms and elaborate watermarks over an unfamiliar skyline. There's a bitly link scrawled on the other side.
So Ziva hasn't found words for him yet, but she's found something else, an image maybe, or a news article that will hint to her present location. He types in the characters carefully, one chicken-peck at a time, and a video loads.
It's five shaky iphone-captured minutes of a group of women moving through methodical blocks and stances, pairing off at the end, to attack and disable each other, and there in the back, crossing the room around the four minute mark, is a dark haired woman, face averted, hands moving in demonstration.
The info box has some blurb about traveling after study abroad and getting to meet so many cool people, including this awesome group running women's self defense classes in Singapore. There's a link to a different video about a women's bike collective in Indonesia, and another to a blog full of agonizingly long text entries, and he quickly realizes this isn't a trail to follow. It's just a cryptic smoke signal from Ziva, proof of life.
He watches it four more times. He mails a third envelope.
Ziva comes back to Tel Aviv in the new year. She's done all she can there, and the questions were starting to build up, about her languages, her accent, her ability to disarm a man ten different ways. It cut too close to a truth she's trying to shed. But she's crossed two more items off her list, feels a fraction more mobile now, like her lungs hold just a few more ounces of air when she breathes deep.
Adam hands over her mail with a familiar smile, and for a moment she almost wishes he'd invite her to stay. After they say goodbye instead, she immediately sits down on his doorstep and opens Tony's message.
2. Forgive others their trespasses
She has her phone out without thinking, typing out playing god much? before she considers that might be a bad idea, might be crossing a line that has held for several long months now.
Fuck it. She hits send.
The reply comes the next day. More like divine inspiration. And then a moment later, how was singapore? She lets her breath out in a gust, all that extra lung capacity expelled in relief. The text feels more like absolution than any religious rite.
She goes back to ballet, and Madame tuts over her posture. Miriam forwards her emails, from a friend in Sao Paulo wanting tips, a peace corps person in Morocco inviting her to visit, a contact from UNHCR who wants to know if she'd be interested in working with refugees. She slowly trades messages with Tony, small ones, friendly ones, team updates. He mocks her tights.
Numbers three and four arrive while she's still in Israel, weighing the options. Tony will 3. sin more, but atone more too. He's stuck on the biblical theme apparently. The other one simply says 4. Do Great Work.
That one comes particularly encrusted in dirt, and half-smudged away.
it works better if you bury it IN something, she tells him over skype.
You bury it in the ground and think of it every night, he writes back immediately, even though it's the early hours of the morning there. That's all. Fancy boxes don't make it work better.
Up late? she asks him.
Working. He adds a little animated frowny face with drooping eyelids. She hovers the cursor over the video button like she always does, but still doesn't click. The text box says he's typing, but then he stops, and it blinks offline instead. Probably Gibbs calling him away.
She enters in her new address. I'm going away for a month, if you have anything more for me. He'll get it when he logs back in.
Tony carefully tears the last section in half. This time he stuffs the remaining fragment in a plastic baggie before he buries it again, because maybe Ziva's right, and the repeated excavations are leaving it the worse for wear. He stuffs the fifth item in the envelope and scrawls a note on the inside flap. He's got dinner with Schmiel tonight. He can mail it on the way.
Ziva has to take off her gloves to fumble open the envelope before the wind yanks it from grasp. She sees his note inside the flap first. But you are irreplaceable. Her stomach sinks, and she fishes out number five with already numb fingers, then laughs, too loud for the cold street outside the post office, too loud for this winter city, the startled laughter of an American tourist far from home and confronting an unexpected piece of it.
5. TORTURE THE NEW PROBIE
Madame's cousin finds her huddled on a nearby bench, still chuckling and wiping her eyes for reasons that aren't entirely due to laughter or cold.
"Ready?" Renata asks her, smiling even though she doesn't know the cause of Ziva's amusement. Her accent's just as strong, but she's far less stern than her cousin.
"Ready," Ziva says, and they pick up their bags to head to the next place, warm wooden floors, and tall mirrors, and girls looking for a new kind of strength. Choosing it.
It's the last she hears from him for a while, because it turns into a busy winter, and she's not online much. The address she gave Tony turns into just the first stop of many. Renata has a friend who begs a favor, and another who knows Madame as well. Ziva's trip gets extended again and again, someone else asking her to stay, or visit, a network of couches and pull-outs and people making space for her around their dinner table, throwing her laundry in with theirs when she's almost out of clean shirts. It's terrifying sometimes, how willing people are to take a stranger into their home, to let a stranger teach their daughters.
She meets up with Miriam in Kiev, and the other woman laughs when Ziva tells her this part. "You're not a stranger," she explains.
"Aren't I?" Ziva asks. She attends classes in the towns she stays in, she cooks dinners as thanks for lodging, she shows women how to defend themselves amid the scent of rosin and the sound of ill-tuned pianos. She's not really what she is anymore.
Miriam chuckles again, shakes her head, already drawing out her phone, her agenda always close at hand. "These days your reputation precedes you. Listen, I've got a friend in Amman, I know it's far, but..."
"It's not," Ziva assures her. It's been months more than she planned now. It'd be nice to see home for a bit. One of them at least.
She gets a text message in the middle of the morning in Amman that says i miss you sofucking much and she realizes that it's a very late Saturday night where he is, and he's drunk. It's odd because in her current world Sunday morning is the start of the week, and she's walking with people on their way to the offices and shops, the streets a whirl of taxis and runners bearing nescafe, her own route pointing to a gym west of downtown that's hers until noon.
But somewhere it's the middle of the night and he's drunk and lonely
She texts back Sofa King, because she doesn't know how to respond, and it's a pun he explained to her once with great delight. She doesn't get a response. It's April when she finally gets home.
After Tony pretends it never happened. He never left a pretty redhead standing next to the pool table to stumble outside next to the trash cans and spend 1.99 in ridiculous international phone rates to text her. But it's been a long winter. Things are finally thawing. New leaves are thinking of budding. All of nature is one big metaphor telling him to get over himself already.
Gibbs comes outside to find him digging in the planter at the edge of the patio. "Still a little early to be planting," he remarks, hands wrapped around his coffee.
"Sorry Gibbs," Tony says blithely, troweling dirt back in place. "Don't have a yard, so I've been borrowing yours."
"Yeah, I can see that." He waits for explanation.
"Ziva, uh, she had a list, her will, and she buried it. Thought I'd give it a shot." He waits for the judgment, carefully smoothing the topsoil. When he finally looks up though, Gibbs is smiling.
"Kelly did something like that," Gibbs says. "She buried all her treasures. Maddie showed me a while back." He's not looking at Tony any more. "Guess it's just something you kids need to do sometimes." He goes back in the house, and Tony's left staring dumfounded after him, a crumpled piece of paper in his hand.
6. see you again.
Ziva knocks on Adam's door, and a woman answers, wiping her hands on a towel and smiling before she recognizes the visitor.
"Ziva," Deena says.
"Hello," Ziva says awkwardly.
Adam appears behind the doctor. "Ziva!"
"I should have called."
"No it's fine, I have your things here." He picks up a grocery bag from next to his coat rack. Deena hasn't looked away from her. Adam gestures at her awkwardly as offers the bag. "I check up on Deena since you came through last year, everyone got so worried..." He trails off, and she doesn't know why he bothers to be evasive. "Anyway, she is cooking for me as thank you." At least he knows better than to invite her in to share the meal. Maybe there is a bond formed between people Ziva leaves in her wake. She doesn't actually care because she's already flipping through the letters, rude as it is to ignore them in the doorway. But there's no letter here. No forty-six cent stamp, no postmark from the navy yard post office. She drops it all back in the bag and forces a smile. "Thank you Adam."
"Did he find you?" Deena breaks in.
Ziva twists her fingers in the bag handles, and considers the question. The obvious answer feels too much like a bad movie line, but in the end she decides that's fitting, all things considered.
"I found myself," she tells them, and Deena nods at her, gaze still sharp, and Adam just smiles sheepishly, and they shut the door.
There's an item on her list about rebuilding families. This is the closest she'll probably get to making things right.
Where's the last one? Ziva asks him. She's taped it all together now. She can tell there's really only space for one more on the page.
You can guess what it says, he types back. I'm going to hand deliver that one. make sure it's true.
Her answer is a long time coming. When?
When you tell me to, he writes back, and shuts the computer, grinds the heels of his hands into his eyes. Blinking away the resulting starbursts, he stares at the last strip of paper. Attaches it to the side of his fridge with a magnet shaped like a banana. Goes to start his day.
He'd kissed her knuckles, standing among olive trees, tears in both their eyes.
"I'm fighting for you," he told her.
"I know," she said. She cupped his face, and her palms prickled from his beard as she studied him. Some decision was reached then, because she took his hand, stamped the dirt between them flat a few times, and led him towards the house.
The bedroom she'd been staying in was at the back. She shut the door behind them, while he stood close, watched, until she tugged him closer.
She leaned up carefully, like he'd startle if she went too fast.
"You're not coming back with me," he whispered.
She shook her head, lips brushing the corner of his mouth. "No."
"Won't this make it harder?"
She nodded this time, her nose bumping his cheek. "Yes. Much harder."
He drew a deep breath that stirred her hair, and she braced for him to pull away, but then he cupped a hand around her neck, another at her waist, and drew her into a kiss too urgent to be gentle. Her hands bit into his waist, bunching his shirt, as she pulled it loose, slid her hands inside to touch his back. "Ok," he murmured into her mouth. "Ok."
"Please," she said, even though he wasn't protesting, was busy kissing down her neck, his bristled chin already raising a mark at the base of her throat. Her head tipped back, lashes a little too dark, too wet. "Tony, please understand."
"Shhh," he stopped for a moment leaned his forehead against hers, one warm hand cradling her face. "I do. I don't like it, but I do. I'll make my own list. I'll sort out my own shit—"
She nodded, dislodging him, already tipping forward to meet his mouth again. "Make a list," she agreed breathlessly, the words nearly lost, their lips catching and parting as they stumbled towards the bed.
"First item," Tony said, laughing, as they fell down together. "First item, last item, always, this right here, this is my whole list."
"I'm sure you can do better than that," she said, mocking him, thank god, just like old times. He rolled her over, hid his face in her neck again, because actually he couldn't do any better, and he was still going to walk away in a few days, because she'd asked him.
"For you, I'll try."
Maybe she's going to be sitting on his stairs when he comes home one day. It'll be June. Or September. There will be a dirty gym bag sitting next to her, bizarrely embroidered with a pair of pointe shoes. Maybe she'll have a scotch-taped list in her hand.
"Decided I'd say you a trip," she'll say. Or she might just arch an eyebrow and say, "This is me telling you to."
He'll wait at the bottom of the steps for a while, just studying her. He'll point at the page in her hand. "Look at that," he'll say finally. "Mine worked."
She'll smile. "Mine too. Mostly."
He'll come up a few steps, "Only mostly?"
She'll lift one shoulder. "I got pulled back to the beginning," she'll say. "Realized that maybe it's not such a bad thing."
"Ok," he'll say, grinning up at her and looking like a fool. He'll come up a few more steps. Maybe she'll meet him halfway.
((AN: I don't even know you guys. I marathoned six episodes of these idiots last week, and I had to get out the feels by listening to Grey's Antomy music and writing awful fic. I'm sorry. I didn't set out to make Ziva into Natasha Romanov it just happened. I definitely didn't mean to actually say anything about women in developing countries and violence and empowerment, only that I think Ziva using her ninja skills to make some people feel safer would be cool. Ziva thinks violence is the option much more than I do. This is written in the Past, Present, and Future tense, because I am a terrible terrible person. Thanks for playing. I'm sorry it's so rubbish.))