Picking Up the Pieces - Chapter 7

Tony unlocked his apartment door, and held it open for Ziva to precede him. He followed her, and slammed the door closed behind him. She flinched slightly and he smiled grimly. Not counting his terse “Get in” at the airport, they haven’t spoken. Not in the car on their way here, not on the stairs...Not a word.

He didn’t trust himself to speak. Because he was afraid of what might come out of his mouth. Something along the lines of “I missed you”, “I love you”, “I’m never letting you go”. And he couldn’t afford to be soft right now. He didn’t feel soft right now. He was angry.

No, forget angry. He was fucking pissed off.

At her for appearing out of thin air—okay, it was a plane—for letting him think she was dead. He’d contemplated eating a bullet because of that! Many times. And he was pissed off at Gibbs and Vance. Because those two must have known, she was alive all along. They’ve arranged for him to pick her up, mocking him as to where he might take ‘the package’ after it arrived. He was pissed off at Gibbs for letting him think she was dead, letting him grieve, letting him slowly destroy himself in those first three months.

It’s something you don’t forget. And something you can’t forgive. Not Gibbs. Not Ziva. Despite the words running around his head, wanting to spill out of his mouth.

He wasn’t in a forgiving mood.

He stared hard at her. She hasn’t moved. She was standing in the middle of his living room, back to him, ramrod straight. Quiet and still. With a snarl, he stalked past her into his kitchen, and poured himself a glass of scotch. He gulped it down, relishing the burn, because it washed down all those mushy words, leaving him clear-headed for the first time since the surprise at the airport.

Surprise, his ass. It had been more like a bullet to the gut.

He ground his teeth together as he felt her behind him. He counted to ten, slammed the glass down onto the kitchen counter, and turned.

He wanted to curse seeing that impassive mask on her face. He fucking hated that mask, her beautiful face devoid of all emotion, the eyes empty and cold. Well, two could play this game. Only he preferred playing it with a different mask on.

He leaned back against the counter, crossed his arms over his chest, and smiled mockingly. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Zee-vah.”

She narrowed her eyes slightly and he gave himself a mental pat on the back. She hated it whenever he drew out her name like that. That’s why he did it now. Why should he be the only one angry?

“You look good for someone who’s recently risen from the grave.” He cocked his head, making his lips curl even more. “You must have showered. Not a speck of dirt or a maggot on you.”

She sighed and the mask was suddenly gone. “Tony,” she said softly. “I know you are angry. I know you are...hurt. But I...It had to be done.”

“Oh, you’re right on the angry part, darling,” he drawled mockingly. “Though the word is rather mellow compared to what I’m really feeling right now.”

Another sigh, but she remained silent.

“It had to be done, huh?” he prompted. “What had to be done? You pretend-dying? Letting me believe you really died? Letting everybody laugh behind my back for believing it?!”

The last question was a yell and she flinched again. He didn’t care.

“Nobody laughed behind your back, Tony,” she whispered. “No one knew.”

“Gibbs did.” And that rankled.

She nodded. “Gibbs did.”

“And Vance.”

Another tiny nod. “And Vance. Because of his resources as Director.”

“And Gibbs?” he inquired. “Why did Gibbs know?” Why did Gibbs know and not me?

“I called him. After...” She swallowed. “Asked him to help me.”

She asked Gibbs to help her. She didn’t ask him to help her. She trusted Gibbs. She didn’t trust him.

What he was thinking must have shown on his face, because she hastily continued. “The less people knew about it, the better. I asked Gibbs to help...Gibbs knew, because he would not have been watched as closely as you.”

“Watched for what?” he snapped.

“To determine whether I was really dead.”

“Oh.” He laughed. It was mirthless, though. “And we, lesser mortals, provided the needed proof. Right? We grieved you, because we thought you were actually dead. And we sold it, didn’t we?”

Another nod and he wanted to hurl the glass at the wall. It had all been a ruse and he, idiot that he was, had fallen for it. He’d mourned her, cried for her, almost fell apart for her. And all this time she’d been somewhere laughing her little black heart out, plotting with Gibbs and Vance to...What? Get a new life?

“Well, I’m glad we idiots could help.”

“You are not idiots,” she whispered. “You are not an idiot, Tony. Can you not see why I did it? I know you are hurt, I know you probably hate me right now, but can you not see why I did it?”

“Why don’t you enlighten me, Zee-vah.”

There was no flinch, no narrowing of eyes at the name. Her eyes slowly filled with tears and a fist closed around his heart.

“I thought...” She paused, swallowed loudly, blinked. “After you left, I thought it all might work out, but as I left the airport, they were waiting for me.”

“Who?”

She shrugged. “I do not know. I did not ask them. When I returned to the house, it had been ransacked. And I realized I could not stop it. It would never stop. Not until I was dead.”

A tear spilled down her cheek, but he didn’t move. If he touched her right now, he’d be lost.

She brushed impatiently at her cheek. “For me to have some kind of normal life. For me to...” Her gaze softened even more and he held his breath. “...keep everybody I loved safe, have a normal relationship, have a family of my own...Ziva David had to die.”

He exhaled, disappointed at what she said. And what she didn’t say. “And we had to sell it.”

“You, Tony.”

He nodded, the mocking smile directed at himself this time. “Right. Because I was closely watched.”

“Yes.”

“Oh, please, Ziva. Do you even hear what you’re saying?” He chuckled. “We’ve been partners for eight years, sure, but there has never been anything more between us.”

Her eyes widened and she gasped shakily.

Now he laughed. “You’re thinking about that kiss. Come on, Zee-vah. You decided to stay in Israel.” He shrugged. “I wanted to see what it was like. Curiosity, nothing more.” He shrugged. “And since I boarded that plane it’s obvious it wasn’t anything special.”

Her head snapped up and she looked like he’s just stabbed her in the heart. That’s what he’s been aiming at with that lie—a lie that’s tasted so bitter—and he immediately regretted saying it. What was wrong with him? Lashing out like that. He barely recognized himself. And he certainly didn’t like himself at the moment.

She slowly composed herself, blinking back tears, schooling her features into not betraying any emotion...It took some effort and it was evident.

“I lied,” she whispered. “I said the words on my ‘will’ were meant for Gibbs, that I wanted it to stop for Gibbs...I lied.” Although her eyes weren’t swimming with tears, her heart was in them and that fist around his own heart squeezed even harder. “I wanted to stop it for you.”

He didn’t speak. He stared at her. Hard.

“I am sorry if I hurt you, Tony. I am sorry for everything that I had done wrong.” She blinked furiously again, keeping tears at bay. “But there is one thing I am not sorry for. I will never be sorry for loving you.” She smiled. “It made me see my life for what it truly was and it made me want to change. Loving you made me realize what I was missing. It made me see what I could have, what I should have. You made me want to change, become a different person. And I will always be grateful for that.” Tears once more spilled down her cheeks, but she didn’t brush them away. “I love you, Anthony DiNozzo. And I will never regret it.”

He couldn’t move. He could barely breathe. He just stood there, leaning back against his kitchen counter, watching her turn and walk toward his front door.



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