Disclaimer: Why do I even try?
Spoilers: 11x02 "Past, Present, Future." Vague reference to 9x21 "Rekindled."
Time Setting: Starts with the evening after the grove; ends with the morning before the airport.
Notes: I felt the need to fill in the gaps concerning what happened after Tony and Ziva returned from the grove. I felt that there was a difference in their behaviour between the grove scene and the airport scene, and this is my explanation of it. As usual, it's not an overwhelmingly happy fic, but it does end on a (slightly) hopeful note. Enjoy!
Eight Years and Four Continents
"'Be a ballerina,'" she quoted softly.
He sank down onto his haunches, watching as she poked gently at the wooden logs in the fireplace. "Yeah," he said, and she gave a soft, sad chuckle.
"Can you believe I was once that innocent?"
"We were younger then. All children are innocent."
She shot him a glance. "All children are that innocent," she agreed, "but in adulthood…"
"You're not a bad person, you know."
She shrugged. "It does not matter whether I am or am not. All that matters is there are people who suffered at my hands."
"It's part of the job," he said, just like he had too many hours ago. She gave a soft sigh and laid down the fire iron.
Propping her head onto the arm which rested across her knees, she remarked, "You keep saying so. But it would not have been if I had chosen to be a ballerina."
"Well, I wanted to be an athlete," he returned. "Things change."
"You became a cop to save." She paused. "I became Mossad to destroy. There is a difference."
"There is no difference." His knees protested as he lowered himself even farther to sit instead of squat. He persisted anyway, before reaching out to grasp the hand now freed from the fire iron. Squeezing it gently, he continued, "I don't think you ever went into Mossad hoping to do as much damage as you could."
She shook her head slowly. "No, but I did."
"Ziva," he breathed in tired sadness.
"What do you want me to say?" she challenged, her eyebrows furrowed. "There was some point in my life that I thought it was right to do what I did, yes—there was some point when I knew I had to do it; when I thought I would gladly pay the penance for it—but my father thought so too. He had a country to protect, and he gladly sacrificed his family for it. And I—I did not have a country to protect, but I sacrificed my best friend and my brother and God knows who else. I wanted to be a noble person, a protector of my country, but in the end … it just meant I had nothing to return to."
He stared into the fire for a beat, and then two. "There's me."
Her breath caught audibly. "And I wish that was enough."
"But it's not."
"It is not that you are not enough."
"But it is that I can't undo the past for you."
She was silent.
He nodded, pursing his lips. "I do get it, you know."
But he still had to rise and leave the room, anyway.
He had been among the trees, by his estimation of the chill in his shirt and the goose bumps on his skin, for a very long while before she found him.
She squatted down beside him just like he had her previously and watched him smoothening out the mound of earth they had dug earlier in the day.
"What are you doing?" she asked eventually, so quietly that her words were almost indiscernible against the backdrop of the crickets hidden amongst the leaves.
It took him a while to find his own voice. "Mourning," he said roughly.
"Why?" she asked, sounding hurt and confused.
"Because I knew this woman." He blinked furiously and swallowed hard. "I know you, Ziva." Once I leave, you're gonna leave this place too. And once you leave, you're gonna try to be a different woman…. A-am I gonna see you again?"
"I don't know," she replied, her voice low.
"Not even gonna call an old friend up, huh?"
"I don't know," she repeated. "That would defeat the purpose of trying to find a new start to life, I think."
He nodded curtly. "I love you," he said before he added, as an afterthought, "you know."
"I know," she answered thickly. "That is why I did not want you to find me."
He blew a breath out through his lips. "Well. Well, I guess I shouldn't have—"
"It will be hard for you to let me go."
He laughed bitterly. "Took you eight years to figure that out? I thought you were smarter—"
"You know I want you."
He fell silent.
"But I need to do this," she continued, her voice breaking, "and I cannot take you along because it is not you who needs to rediscover their identity. I need to do this alone, Tony. Only when I can be sure of who I am, can I be sure of who I am capable of being for you."
He looked up at her. "You know I never need you to be anybody."
"But I need to be somebody."
"Except this 'somebody' … I'm not gonna get to meet her, am I?"
She smiled sadly. "I am going to try my best to give you that opportunity," she promised.
They made dinner together that night.
Her kitchen was small and they had to shift around each other, but despite everything that had happened, they were still good partners. They moved around each other with ease, sometimes bumping an arm or brushing against the other deliberately—just for the memory of it.
Dinner was quiet, as was after dinner.
At bedtime, he went into her room.
She sat brushing her hair at the head of her bed. He went and sat down beside her.
When she looked questioningly at him, he said, "I'm not giving up on you."
She rolled her eyes. "Tony—"
"Listen," he stressed. "I'm not saying you have to come home with me. I know you want to spread your wings and explore the horizon; see the world; all of that. I know you don't want me to go with you—and believe me, I would love for nothing more than to go with you—but when you're ready … come home, Ziva. Please."
"You're gonna tell me you have to consider it, aren't you?"
"You may not like the woman I will become."
"That's impossible. I don't know how to do that."
She pressed her lips into a thin line, turning her face to gaze out of the window at the moonlit sky. He could see the stars reflected in her brown orbs; the thoughts carvings lines into her visage. Eventually, she spoke, "Are you sure?"
"Yes," he answered without pausing to doubt.
She did not reply but, in the shadows, sought his hand. She found it and entwined their fingers.
There they sat, her eyes watching the night sky and his eyes eventually doing so too, until she grew sleepy and nodded off against his shoulder.
She was lying with her back to him, tucked into the crook in between his shoulders and forward-bend of his legs, when he woke up. The first thing he noticed was that she held one of his arms around the dip of her waist and to the curve of her neck. She was awake: She was looking out of the same window that they had the night before.
He buried his nose into her hair and she shifted against him, but said nothing. Clearing his throat, he greeted her, "Morning."
"Good morning," she returned.
"You been up long?"
She lifted and dropped a shoulder. "Perhaps a few hours."
"And you have been lying here the whole time?" he asked, surprised.
Her only response was the brush of her lips across his knuckles. His heart skipped a loud beat.
"We have to get up soon," she told him.
"I know." The dull ache settled once more inside him. "I have to book a plane ticket, right?"
"Yes." She sounded contrite.
He exhaled deeply. "Tell me today, at least, belongs to me?"
"Today belongs to you," she whispered.
"And then, we part." She turned onto her back, her legs tangling with his and a hand pressing against his chest, just above his heart. "But I will go home eventually."
"To me?" he questioned softly.
She smiled crookedly. "It depends on where Fate takes us, but I would like to think that … this … will never change."
"It won't," he promised.
"You are so sure of that."
"Eight years and four continents—we're still here." He gave her a tiny smile. "We're inseparable, David."
It made her laugh low in her throat and press even closer to him. "I think so too," she said softly.
And for the first time since he had knocked on her front door, Tony DiNozzo hoped.