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Fanfiction: Blank Sheets

Fandom: NCIS
Summary: Ziva and Tony try to move on with a list of 'wills'
Author's Notes: Tony/Ziva.  Multiple canon pairing mentions, spoilers for season 11 NCIS.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Written for entertainment purposes only.

Blank Sheets

1.
The wood underneath Ziva's palm is warm from the sunlight flooding in through the wide kitchen window that looks out onto the hills and olive groves at the back of the property. She gently places the old sheet of paper face down on the surface of the table, hiding the wishes of her childhood and the ugly black cross and the one thought that she had been able to put to paper the last time it had been unburied.

The blank sheet stares up at her tauntingly.

A blank sheet.

She has a blank sheet. She's not aware she's whispered the words until a wry chuckle breaks the almost reverent silence.

"It's clean slate." Tony murmurs as he sets a mug of tea near to her. She shoots him a look for the correction as he settles in the uncomfortable wooden chair across from her. He doesn't say anything, just takes a sip from his own mug of tea.

Ziva drops her gaze from his knowing green eyes far too quickly for comfort.

His presence – at that table, in the home of her birth – provokes a contradictory storm of emotions that she's not ready to acknowledge. There's the irritation at his disturbing her wallowing, resentment that his being there is forcing her to make choices and decisions she's not sure she's ready to make, and anger that he kept searching until he found her, that he couldn't leave her alone.

But there is far more anger for herself for being entirely too grateful that he's there on her six and watching her back as always; for being happy that he cares enough to find her; for wanting to break down and curl into him, accept his comfort and caring; to give into the temptation that had led her to invite him to Tel Aviv in the first place before her life all went to hell again.

She's known for years that it would be far too easy to let herself lean on Tony's solid strength…known she could not risk the vulnerability if she leaned and trusted and allowed herself Tony's love…known despite her momentary weakness that there will be no happy ending for her.

The thought sets her stomach churning and her fingers anxiously trailing over the empty span of white paper so Ziva does what she always does and shoves it away, shoves Tony away. She's an expert at keeping Tony at a safe distance. She's done it for years; every time she's chosen to turn to Gibbs or McGee or Abby or Ducky or Adam – someone, anyone other than her partner; every time she's called him a friend and denied the evidence or possibility of anything more.

Her eyes on the paper she misses the almost imperceptible flinch through his expressive green eyes; the way he shivers as though he's read her mind. Her mind has already moved on.

"I do not where to start." Ziva admits out loud.

Tony lowers his mug to the table. "Yes, you do." He says gently.

He's right and she hates that he's right. It's why she ran after all. She wants to leave the violence behind.

She'd thought she'd done it after Somalia in joining NCIS and giving up Mossad. But she's realised that she's simply exchanged one theatre of violence for another. The flash of memories behind her eyes – of bodies, of blood, of explosions, of pain – convinces her again even if she doesn't doubt her conclusion. She's been struggling for a long while – Mike Franks' death had rocked her, almost losing Tony to Cole, the explosion at NCIS, her father's death and her subsequent descent into…

Her job requires her to hunt killers and terrorists, to see the depths of their depravity, to meet violence with violence on occasion. But she questions now whether she's any better than some of the people she's helped to imprison and bring to justice. She had pursued Bodnar blind with grief and vengeance. She hadn't killed him (he had fallen over the edge just as the report had said, she hadn't pushed him that hard), but she had cornered him and fought him and she still is responsible for his death. It hasn't helped her find peace in losing her father.

Guilt floods her; a bitter and sharp taste in her mouth.

She had been a good soldier; a better Mossad agent, highly trained with a talent for espionage and covert operations. She likes to think that she was a decent NCIS agent; that she met Gibbs' high standards, even if her sense of justice is too skewed to an eye for an eye, and the blood on her own hands too ingrained.

She was a decent NCIS agent.

The tense she has used in her rambling thought echoes in her head. She remembers the flood of relief that went through her when she placed her badge on Vance's desk and the tiny regret that the weight of it still sat on her heart like an old ghost.

She'd dreamed once of dancing under spotlights, of the frivolity of an audience's adulation and fame, of wearing pretty costumes in soft pastel colours. There had been years of discipline through her early childhood; of mornings and nights in a cold dance studio with Madame Odryinski and the steady beat of her cane as Ziva had executed flawless spins and steps.

And then her mother had died and Ziva had followed her father's dream and not her own.

But she'd only truly given up her dreams and the hope they had falsely promised her when faced with the burying her sister; the best of them. With the illusion broken, she could no longer pretend she didn't see the curtain. Her lips twist at the movie reference and her eyes lift briefly to Tony.

His eyes are calm and accepting and she knows he knows – has probably known since she had confessed her sins to him, of the pain she has caused, of the revulsion she feels at her own actions which has prompted her to hide rather than return to their make-shift NCIS family.

Ziva might not be able to ignore the curtain but she can no longer live with being faced with the harsh reality of what is behind it every day. She knows there is a weight she can't carry any longer.

I will…let go of the badge.

2.

The lined sheet of paper he's begged off the stewardess is blank.

"A blank sheet."

Her words whisper through his head but Tony doesn't dwell on it as he quickly writes 'I WILL' but there his mind stutters and he has to stop, unable to continue. He finds the necklace in his pocket and draws it out, his lips curving into a smile.

It's just like Ziva to give him something for him to hold onto with one hand, even while she pushes him away with the other.

He gently winds the necklace around a finger, the points of the tiny star settling into the skin of his palm, and lets his head fall back against the hard cushion of the uncomfortable seat.

It's always been complicated between him and Ziva. Even their first meeting had had the ghost of Kate lurking in the shadows and the then unknown connection of siblinghood between Ziva and Ari simmering beneath the surface. So despite the instant attraction, Tony had been on guard and that hadn't changed when Ziva had joined the team. Gibbs had been too quick to trust her (and Tony had long ago worked out the why of that negating the need to be told long before he was) so it had been left to him to watch the team's collective six. She'd known it too because she'd played her own power games with Tony. Somehow between all the feints and sparring they'd fallen into a solid field partnership albeit one coloured by the tension of their physical attraction.

Pinning down the moment he'd shifted from like to love is harder. He figures somewhere between accepting that the debacle with Jeanne couldn't have ended any other way and killing Rivkin his affection had slid from one to the other without his noticing. He can acknowledge now that his dislike of Rivkin might have had something to do with his deepening feelings for her, (although he also knows without question shooting Rivkin was all about self-defence and had nothing to do with anything he felt for Ziva regardless of what she and her father had thought at the time).

Tony frowns. It's never pleasant remembering that time, especially the months after when he'd looked across and seen her desk empty of her; when'd he'd lain awake for nights aching with loss and regrets, when he'd struggled to take a breath, to take a step, knowing Ziva was gone and…

His biggest regret when he'd thought she was dead was that he'd never have the opportunity to make it right with her; that she'd died with angry words and so much mistrust and pain between them. Nothing to do with who was right (Tony) and who was wrong (Ziva - although maybe he could have been less confrontational in how he'd approached her about Rivkin, but ultimately Ziva had been the one who had chosen to be loyal to Mossad at the expense of NCIS, and he'll never quite forget the hard punch of the concrete and the gun pointed at him when she'd sent him to the ground in Israel), but just wanting to fix something he regretted had broken.

"I guess I couldn't live without you."

And he'd meant it. He'd mostly meant that he couldn't live without her when whatever partnership they'd had lay so badly in tatters…but looking back perhaps the other simplistic truth of the words was equally true.

He rubs a thumb over the gold chain around his finger, grimaces and wonders again if this thing between him and Ziva is entirely healthy. They've been dancing around each other for years, and with Ziva it's always one step forward and ten steps back. Tony tries to push the thought away but it stays with him and makes him start questioning things – the way he does on the job. In the wake of this latest shuffle they've done, he needs to be honest with himself.

"Yes," Tony murmurs, staring down at the sheet of paper, "let's be honest." And he's not surprised at the edge of bitterness that coats his tone.

So, if he's honest… he doesn't know if the necklace is really message he hopes it is – that she'll come back some day. Maybe it is, but maybe the truth is much simpler; maybe it's a goodbye. Because these last couple of days he's spent with her, she's done nothing but push him away.

Again.

He clenches a fist around the chain and holds it against his heart, a familiar ache creeping over him. He'd all but begged her to come home with him and she had refused. She'd told him he was loved and kissed him back but had watched him walk away, had let him walk away…

Mixed messages.

That particular phrase seems to sum up his relationship with Ziva perfectly.

After Somalia, when he'd worked on his friendship with her and thought they were on the same page, she'd chosen to get involved with Ray. After Dearing, with Ray and EJ finally gone, again he'd thought they were moving forward, only to find out she had slept with Adam and chosen McGee to help her track down Bodnar. After the mess with Parsons, Tony had been gleeful at her invitation to join her in Tel Aviv but then she had chosen to hide rather than come to him for help. And for all her old friend had thought the message on Ziva's piece of paper was for Tony, it had ended up being all about Gibbs.

Tony sighs. He knows Gibbs loves Ziva like a daughter and that Ziva's feelings are all wrapped up in her daddy issues. There isn't a competition, but it hurts every time she turns to Gibbs instead of him. And he can't help wonder if Gibbs knew it would end with Tony on a plane alone; that last call with Gibbs warning Tony he wouldn't find her…to respect her decision. Maybe it had been his boss trying to warn Tony so he wouldn't get hurt.

"Too late, Boss." Tony murmurs.

He does love her. Every time she's pushed him away he's ignored the pain of being pushed in favour of clinging onto the signs that she loves him too; he convinces himself she just needs more time, that she's just not ready. And that right there – the holding on to whatever tenuous hope she keeps giving him – that is what isn't healthy.

If you love something let it go…if it loves you, it'll come back. Wasn't that the way it went? It's time to let Ziva go and if she loves him…well, maybe it's her turn to find him. He tucks the necklace back in his inner pocket and takes out the pen. It's not easy but there's no hesitation this time.

I will…live without her.

3.

"I'm guessing you've ridden a horse." Tony says.

Ziva pauses in sprinkling salt onto the fish she has suggested for dinner. "Many times, Tony." Her voice is dry with irritated amusement.

"You didn't get a chance to ride when you were a kid?" Tony presses, moving to lean on the counter beside where she is working.

Ziva ignores his physical presence, just on the edge of her personal space (they've always stood too close to each other). She wishes she could ignore his words too but something prompts her to reply anyway. "No." She tells him. "Every year for my birthday I would ask for a horse and…"

"Huh." Tony folds his arms and gives her the crooked smile, the one that he uses to tease. "And here I thought you were spoilt rotten."

She had been a lot of the time – materially, yes, but also definitely in the things that Tony had seemingly rarely experienced as a child – affection, love and caring. His vulnerability there never ceases to make her want to hold him and assure him he is loved, loveable. She likes Tony's father and appreciates his new effort to know his son, but sometimes she could throttle him for the loveless childhood he'd forced upon Tony, and she's never been certain Tony's mother was any better given the only thing she truly knows is that the woman liked to escape into movies.

"My parents drew the line at the horse." Ziva replies, wincing internally when her voice comes out curt with the anger she feels at Tony's parents.

Tony ignores the tone the same way he mostly always ignores her sharpness, the same way he always ignores Gibbs' bark. "So no horse." He tilts his head and looks at her inquisitively. "A want? A desire then? Is that what this 'will' is about? Having something you really want?"

Ziva shoots him a look, wondering if there is a hidden meaning to his question, one that borders on the unspoken conversation they've been having for years; does she want him? Does he want her? Do they want each other? But Tony's expression shows nothing other than curiosity and his eyes are measured and assessing. If he'd meant the innuendo he'd be grinning with his eyes alight with mirth.

She returns her attention to the meal. "I was a little girl, Tony." Her tone is dismissive and she hopes he drops it but he simply changes position, folding his arms and humming under his breath.

"OK, but you know your first 'will' was about your job, what you wanted to do with your life and we've covered that. Your second one was about something you wanted. So maybe you need to ask yourself what is it that you really want but don't have now? " Tony thinks out loud.

She knows deep down what that is but it is a secret she's not ready to share. Instead, Ziva slides the fish onto a plate, adds a heap of the prepared salad, and hands it to Tony. He takes it and heads back to the table. She rolls her eyes, prepares a plate for herself and sits across from him. She pours them both glasses of deep red wine before she tucks into her food.

Tony points a knife at her. "So, what do you want that you don't have?"

"Will you just drop this?" Ziva snaps back, her mood shifting immediately as annoyance skitters down her spine again. He's pushing and she doesn't want to talk about this. It's bad enough that he's made her decision not to return to NCIS a reality of ink and words – something she had been avoiding in her time in hiding. She swallows down some fish, chases it with the wine.

Tony glances at her carefully but he shrugs and they eat the rest of the meal without speaking. She half thinks he's accepted her silence on the subject but as she gets up to clear the table he shatters that illusion.

"Why does it bother you so much?" Tony asks. "It's not meant to be a difficult question."

She throws a look over her shoulder and finds him sat back in his chair, swirling his wine around his glass and regarding her with a hooded gaze that she can't read.

"I…I do not have the right to want anything." The words escape her before she can prevent them and she turns away, forcing herself to focus on the minutiae of placing the dishes into hot soapy water. She washes the first plate with a concentration that borders on obsessive.

Tony appears beside her once again, picking up a dishtowel and taking the plate from her as though they've done this a million times before. "You think you don't deserve what you want."

"I do not…" she breathes out, trying to put her jumbled thoughts into words. She starts to wash the next plate. "My father…my father told me that I would get my horse when I had proven that I could bear the responsibility of another's life being in my hands." She hands him a plate. "When I passed my induction at Mossad…"

"He bought you the horse." Tony's words are clipped and angry.

"You see," Ziva says tersely, "I got what I wanted when I proved I could take a life but now…" emotion bubbles up and spills out of her, "you want to know what I want that I cannot have? I want to be forgiven for the pain I have caused! I want to forgive myself…I want…"

Tony drops the dishtowel and pulls her into a hug and she slumps against him, soaks up his warmth and strength, even as she berates herself for the weakness, her wet hands fisting into his shirt.

"You can hold someone's life in your hands and not kill them, Ziva." Tony says quietly.

The way he simply pinpoints her unspoken fear takes her breath away. She wishes she could believe his words as much as he seems to, remembering all too well the fight with Bodnar and what she held in her heart at that moment; her need for vengeance above all else, to take his life as she knew he had taken her father's.

Ziva swipes at her face. "I am not as certain as you are, Tony." But she wants to be.

After a long moment, she pulls away and finds her sheet of paper, scribbling the second line…

I will…trust myself again.

4.

The food is terrible.

Well, what was he expecting from airplane food, Tony muses as he pushes the dry lamb through a pile of sludge that the menu optimistically called spicy couscous. It is food and it satisfies his growling stomach despite the taste which is somewhere between bland and inedible. He thinks back to the meal Ziva had cooked him with wistful longing as he scrapes up the last bit of something orange purporting to be in the pepper family.

The trolley stops beside his row and the stewardess takes his empty tray with a flash of a quick fake smile, disposing of it before straightening and motioning at the beverages. "Coffee, sir?"

"Please." He holds out the tiny cup and gestures for more when she fills it two thirds full. She hesitates as though to argue but he pulls out his most beguiling puppy dog look and she folds like a novice poker player. "Thanks." He says taking the cup back.

She smiles at him again more genuinely, a flash of interest in her eyes that Tony ignores. He's been used to the kind of attention she's offering – all to do with the fact that he's a cute good-looking guy – since he hit puberty and grew out of his admittedly very, very awkward stage.

The stewardess moves on and Tony barely notices it. He sets his cup down and takes out the sheet of paper from his pocket where he'd stored it when the meal was delivered. He unfolds it and flattens it back out.

In essence, his first 'will' is about letting go just as Ziva's first 'will' was about letting go. He remembers the discussion on Ziva's second 'will' and figures he should follow along the same lines: what does he really want that he thinks he can't have? He winces dramatically. It's not easy being on the other side of that question, he realises. He picks up his coffee and sips it.

Less than twenty-four hours ago, he'd have answered with Ziva, Tony muses, smiling wryly even as the realisation unsettles him. He's gotten so used to burying that he wants her over the years that he can't quite believe how much he does when he looks at it in the light of day. On the other hand, he's just spent five months chasing after the woman – maybe that should have been his first clue. He grimaces and takes another sip of coffee.

Well, he's decided to let go of Ziva. Doesn't want to. Has to. His finger strokes over the words on the page. And by the looks of it it's the right thing to do. It's definitely not healthy to have invested himself and his happiness in wanting something so much when he thought he couldn't have it. (Or maybe that was the point – unattainable was safe, after all…)

Tony finishes the coffee, dismissing the last thought from his head as he refocuses; if he's no longer focused on Ziva, what does he want then?

He huffs out a frustrated breath. Hasn't he been here before? He'd spent months in therapy, working on a bucket list which had come to nothing. Isn't this 'will' list just more of the same crap? And OK, even he knows he's deflecting about as well as Ziva did when he forced her to consider what it was she wanted.

His mind drifts to that – to Ziva's want for forgiveness and forgiving. He can relate. The year after Jeanne – and then Jenny – God; all he had wanted was forgiveness back then. There were days afloat where he did nothing but crave forgiveness for his sins; for hurting Jeanne, for allowing Jenny to order him away from her protection. Sometimes he thinks his time afloat counted as penance because the immediate craving to be forgiven had gone away when he'd been brought home.

Gone away but not gone completely – at least not where Jeanne is concerned (he's been forgiven for Jenny by the one person whose forgiveness mattered to him in that regard; Gibbs).

Tony won't lie to himself this time. There are still days when he remembers what he did to Jeanne and hates himself all over again. He'd known on some level that the op wasn't right; that playing her to get to her father was morally and ethically questionable. But he'd argued with himself that undercover work often was and he'd told himself it was just another op; Jeanne was just a way in even if he'd always known that she would be deeply and badly hurt in the aftermath. If someone had romanced him, taken him to bed, and worse encouraged him to fall in love with them all for the sole purpose of getting to his father, he'd be pretty hurt too.

She'd had her revenge when she'd accused him of murdering her father and maybe a large part of Tony figured she was entitled to that. Although in hindsight, he's not certain that telling her everything between them was a lie when it wasn't was the right thing to do.

Tony closes his eyes. He really doesn't want to think about Jeanne. It had taken a long time for him to trust himself with a woman's heart after Jeanne.

The thought arrests him. Ultimately hadn't Ziva's want for forgiveness been rooted in her issues in trusting herself not to cause the same pain again? To find mercy in her heart so the next time she holds someone's life in her hand, she'll ask for justice and not demand vengeance. And maybe his want for forgiveness with Jeanne has more to do with trusting himself not to cause the same pain again; to be honest the next time he falls in love with a woman; to know it is all real.

That's what he wants: what he'd had with Jeanne but for real. Someone who loves him. Someone he loves. Which brings him right back to his original want – Ziva. He frowns. Damn. This is harder than it looks.

Does it bring him back to his original want? Because he loves Ziva, but hasn't he just questioned how honest he's been with himself? How honest Ziva has been with him about her feelings – and the fact that he doesn't even know what she truly feels is hard to acknowledge.

OK. He wants love; a real love. The woman he loves is embarking on her own journey of self-discovery and has made it clear she doesn't want him to be a part of it so he has to let her go. But that doesn't mean his want for something real isn't valid or has to be with Ziva (although the way his heart aches at the thought of it not being Ziva gives him an idea that considering someone else in that picture of something real is going to take time).

He takes out his pen and considers what he is going to write. Somehow the words find their way onto the page.

I will…be honest.

5.

Ziva's not sure that she wants to finish the list of 'wills'; that it is such a good idea. The first two have opened up wounds she'd wrapped heavily in metaphorical bandages and ignored for months. But she originally had five lines in her list and she has a feeling that Tony is determined to have a replacement for all of them.

She rubs a towel over her hair, before discarding it to run a brush through her wet locks as she sits down at the dresser in her bedroom, wrapped in her favourite silk dressing gown.

Tony is down the hall in the guest room. There had been no attempt to join her; no teasing or flirting or half-hearted attempts to inveigle himself into her private space. He had followed her curt statement that she'd show him to his room without a word. He'd carried only the battered army duffle that apparently housed everything that he had needed for the five months he had been in search of her, nodded once at the utilitarian space and thanked her. She'd left him there and retreated.

And it is a retreat.

Tony's arrival has stirred up so many feelings and thoughts and…

Ziva shakes her head.

As much as she would love to blame Tony, she knows his presence is only making her face up to choices and decisions she has procrastinated over during her months of hiding. She smiles sadly. If she had wanted to she could have prevented him turning up at all.

She had known he was searching for her as soon as he had arrived in Israel. Her contacts were extensive in the Middle East, some unknown to Mossad because her father had taught her the value of secrets. She could have sent Tony a message, said something to him to send him back to the States without her months ago, but instead she had waited…waited for him to find her.

Waited to see if he would find her.

If he would give up on her.

She's not sure what she would have done if he had. But it chafes her that she has been waiting for Tony to shove her out of the half-life she has allowed herself to wallow in, mired by her guilt and self-recrimination for the pain she has caused. Or maybe, Ziva considers with a grimace, she has on some subconscious level waited for him to provide the ultimate test of her resolve.

Gibbs would not have tested her resolve for all she loves him fiercely, respects him beyond measure, and misses him every day. No, Gibbs would not have tested her because he has never truly challenged any decision she has made on a personal level, (and the memory of him walking away rather than arguing with her when she had tried to make him choose between her and Tony flashes through her mind). Tony, on the other hand, challenges her on a daily basis about what she has for lunch never mind…

The difference is not one of respect, Ziva thinks hurriedly – she knows despite Gibbs' caution to Tony to respect her decision that Tony will respect her decision, at least he will once he has poked at it enough. No, it is just a difference of relationship. Tony is her friend, her confidante, her partner – her first partner although she has come to view McGee as a partner too. But Gibbs is not someone she considers as such; he's too much a father figure in her mind – even though they have partnered on the job. It is a fine line but Ziva is used to fine lines. (And she takes a moment to reflect that possibly the only one to consider Gibbs a partner is Tony despite the fact he calls him Boss and that perhaps, much less astonishingly than the idea should be, perhaps the only person in their team Gibbs truly considers a partner is Tony.)

She drags her mind back to consider that, yes; she has been waiting for her partner to challenge her decision. And maybe, Ziva concedes, there is also a more personal reason for Tony to test her resolve. She had invited him to Tel Aviv just before…

Ziva sighs.

She reminds herself that the invitation had been a momentary weakness. For a brief second, Ziva had thought they could finally…that she could finally let herself love him. But then her world had been turned upside down again and she couldn't – can't – allow herself Tony.

Partly she thinks because she feels she doesn't deserve him – more penance for her sins. Partly she knows she is leaving her old life behind to rebuild herself and Tony…she can't imagine that he will ever give up the badge; it is too much a fundamental part of him. And if she allows herself to keep hold of Tony, of anything of her old life…will she truly allow herself to change?

So, Ziva determines, if she is to completely move forward, she needs to move forward without Tony; needs to not wait for his challenge and his poking at her decision and act without him. Deciding upon a third 'will' seems a good step in the right direction.

Her gaze drifts to the sheet of paper on the bed. She stands up and picks it up, fingers tracing the third line of the original list. She had wanted to live in a castle.

She smiles sadly knowing most would assume that the line has something to do with finding Prince Charming and living happily ever after but it wasn't. Castles were fortresses; secure and safe. She had wanted to be safe. As children they had known they weren't safe; that they were under constant threat; bombs and guns and violence always on the periphery.

She wants to be safe.

The tears catch her by surprise, flooding her eyes and seeping out at the corners until she brushes them away.

It's grief and horror and comfort and pain all wrapped up in a messy bundle because as soon as she had given internal voice to her thought, the image of safety that had flashed to mind was Gibbs' basement – the basement where she had killed Ari. The contradiction is shocking and horrible and everything that is wrong in her life.

Ziva shakes her head. She needs to find a new safe – a new castle. She needs…

I will…build a home.

6.

Tony splashes water on his face and grimaces at the trickle that spouts from the tiny airplane tap. He hates flying, he really does. He reaches for a paper towel and dabs himself dry. It's pathetic but the meagre wash-up has made him feel a bit refreshed. He regards his face in the mirror.

God, he looks tired. There are more crows' feet around his eyes and the skin underneath appears bruised, a faint hint of black and blue. It brings out the green of his irises, Tony muses dismissively. So, he looks tired. He has been sleeping mostly in hotel rooms for five months. Or airports. Or on one memorable occasion a pavement outside a bus station. It had been kind of freeing although he has missed his bed, his hot water, and his kitchen; his own space. No, a good night's sleep in his own bed and he'll be looking much better.

He runs a hand over his chin and grimaces at the beginning of stubble. He kind of misses the beard he'd worn for a while; it had been camouflage during his travels although the initial reason had been practical and running out of razors. But it had helped him hide, play the role of Tony the Wandering Tourist rather than Tony the Man Looking for Ziva. Ziva had told him to shave the beard, pointing out that he didn't suit the beard any more than Gibbs had suited the moustache.

Tony winces. The moustache had been bad. Very bad. Very, very bad. And a sign that Gibbs wasn't quite, well, Gibbs.

Tony runs another hand with consideration over his chin. He didn't think his beard was that bad. Then again…Ziva had been right. It wasn't really him. Certainly a beard of any kind is not Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo and he needs to slip back into that skin before he gets back to NCIS – he hasn't worn it for a while.

Actually, that thought is a bit daunting because truthfully he's kind of enjoyed just being himself, and possibly he's been more himself during the past five months than he has been at any other time in his life.

He sighs heavily and with a final glance in the mirror heads out of the toilet. There's a queue of people waiting and he gives an apologetic look as he squeezes past them and walks back to his seat. He takes a moment to stretch, checking around the cabin automatically for signs of trouble.

There's nothing but row after row of sleepy people, curled up under thin airplane blankets. Oh, there's the odd hardy soul who has their light switched on; a guy in the back engrossed in the latest Lee Child, an old woman focused on a puzzle book, a mother watching over her two sleeping children in between skimming a gossip rag. Tony settles back into his seat, ignores the blanket and pulls out his sheet of paper.

This whole 'will' thing is a lot harder than it looks, Tony thinks with some amusement that briefly gleams from his eyes.

He twiddles his pen between his fingers.

He's read Ziva's list and he knows her third 'will' is about building a home. He'd been disappointed at the time of reading (that she didn't already think she had a home in the States with him) but also hopeful that perhaps he still had a chance to convince her to come home with him. He'd failed spectacularly but he'd had to try.

Personally, Tony loves his home. The apartment is small but beautiful. He's had it for years and after he'd come back from being afloat, he had refurnished, stripping it back and rebuilding it – appreciating more than ever the sense of security the apartment offered him. More than the apartment, Tony thinks; it was the people in his life.

Gibbs had built shelves for him. There had been a painting week with Abby when she'd followed him home every night and helped him decorate. And plumb in his new dishwasher. And sort out the sound system. And…OK, Abby had helped a lot. Ducky had popped around when it had all been finished and presented him with a bottle of scotch as a house-warming. Jimmy and McGee had even come round one night after the whole thing with Rivkin and watched a Bond marathon with him. Then his father had stayed, of course, and despite the bumps of that particular arrangement, the fact that Tony now has memories of his father in his home is something Tony secretly treasures. And Ziva…he had opened his home to Ziva after her father's death.

He really does consider his home his sanctuary and he's glad to be going back to it. He can't wait to get home. And he's looking forward to seeing Gibbs, getting an Abby hug, sharing a cup of tea with Ducky, taking his boys for a beer…being around the people who are family to him; who are home to him. What he's not looking forward to, on the other hand…

Tony's mind slipped back to the bathroom. What he's not looking forward to is sliding back into his Special Agent persona. Oh, he's not talking about picking up the badge, strapping on the gun, or doing the job. He loves the job. He was meant to be a cop. He knows that down to his soul. Tony is the badge.

(And that right there is probably why Ziva hasn't come home with him. Maybe she wasn't just referring to an actual physical badge when she wrote that line.)

Tony shakes that thought away and focuses on what he is talking about: maybe he doesn't want to play the clown anymore, to be the wisecracking sidekick, to put on the act of Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. He's enjoyed being free of that and he doesn't want to go back to it. Maybe he doesn't need it anymore too.

And there are elements which are him – Tony can't quite picture never cracking a joke in the bullpen again but… maybe, maybe he trusts that the people who love him, the people he considers his home, his family, already know he is more than his Very Special Agent persona – even the Director knows after everything that has gone down in recent years.

Tony considers the sheet of paper and clicks his pen decisively. It's time for him to leave the security of his mask, to not fall back on it when he's insecure and needs to deflect. Yep…it's past time.

I will…be the cop I really am.

7.

She hears Tony well before he takes a seat beside on her the porch.

The night sky twinkles above; stars filling the dark and bringing light to the never ending expanse. Ziva doesn't turn to look at him, doesn't acknowledge him. She knows he'll speak first.

He stays silent for far longer than she expects. It's an uncomfortable sign that Tony has changed in the months since she has last seen him. He's more patient; more at ease in his own skin. She wonders at that; wonders if he has even realised that he has shrugged off the mantle of being Agent DiNozzo and allowed himself to be Tony.

Ziva's all too aware that for a long time she saw nothing but Agent DiNozzo; that she didn't look beyond the surface to see who Tony was behind his work persona. It had only been when he had been in the middle of the Frog op that she had noticed more, and then that had been Tony DiNardo she had noticed, not Tony. It is still disconcerting to her that he had fooled her, and she knows some of her reticence in getting closer to Tony was rooted in the suspicion that if he could fool her so easily, how could she ever know him? She knows it was that distrust of him that led her to erroneously question his word when he'd killed Michael. But the last year has settled that; truly during the last year…she has come to know Tony, and she trusts him now.

His apartment had been a revelation so much like Tony himself. It was all clean lines, elegant and precise, almost coldly so, on the surface, yet a second look revealed that every item was chosen with care and treated well such as the old piano restored to gleaming perfection. And once she had begun to look, there had been well-read dog-eared books that gave away intelligence and curiosity; hundreds of DVDs ranging from the silly to the classic that gave away his passion; discreet photos that gave away who he loved; the gun hidden away that revealed just how seriously Tony took his security…

It had reminded her that she should never take Tony at face value; that she should always take a second look to find the substance of the man.

She huddles into the sweater she has pulled on over her sleep t-shirt; the yoga pants and socks she wears are also in deference to the chill of night. Tony wears something similar; sweats and a sweater jacket that reminds her of the one Jackson Gibbs had loaned him in Stillwater. She frowns; it is the same sweater jacket.

"Couldn't sleep, huh?" Tony finally breaks the silence and she counts it as a victory that for all that it took longer than she had thought, he has not changed that much.

She passes him the folded sheet of paper and waits until he has read the new addition. Tony passes it back to her and there is no commentary which surprises her.

"You've travelled, right?" He asks, and though his tone is one of idle curiosity she knows better.

Ziva takes a moment to consider why Tony is not interrogating her third 'will' before she pulls her mind back to his question which is clearly moving onto number four.

"Rarely on vacation." Ziva admits. "But, yes; I have travelled extensively."

"Me too." Tony admits. "I mean, I travelled as a kid. My Mom and Dad were big on a couple of weeks in Europe before we went to the Hamptons, and there was always a Winter holiday somewhere…sometimes ski-ing, sometimes sun." His fingers worry at a loose thread at the bottom of the jacket. "We stopped when Mom died."

"We went to Europe when I was young." Ziva confesses, touched at his confiding in her about his childhood. "It rained a lot." She and her father had visited Ari during his training to be a doctor. She doesn't tell that to Tony. Every time she mentions Ari, she knows all Tony remembers is the man who had killed his friend and terrorised NCIS for months.

Tony shifts in his seat as though he knows her reminiscence is somehow related to her brother. "Well, you kind of took visiting America to a whole new level getting citizenship." He remarks, his tone gentle and teasing. "Could be dangerous for the next place you list."

Ziva cannot help the small smile that tugs at her lips although there is an ache in her chest at the thought of her adopted country. She doesn't see herself ever returning to the States. Not any time soon. It would be far too easy to fall back on her old life; to give into the comfort of the familiar, her friends who have become family. But she doubts that she can stay in Israel either. She glances at the house behind her. There are too many ghosts here.

"That is if you are going to list a place."

"I do not know." Ziva admits. "It feels…" Too simple. Too easy. There are a lot of places she would like to visit just to visit but…that hadn't been what she had originally intended in her writing her list. "This," she taps her letter, "was mostly about wanting to be somewhere else, a place which was better."

"Land of the free, home of the brave…" Tony murmurs.

She shoots him a disparaging look but there is truth in his words. She doesn't know what it means for her list – if it means anything at all.

"And the rest?" Tony asks quietly.

Ziva's face creases in confusion.

"You said it was mostly about wanting to be somewhere better. What else was there?"

"Just…curiosity, I suppose." Ziva replies eventually. "I thought…there has to be more to learn and know and…I wanted to know what these places were like and experience them for myself." She had wanted to live.

Tony smiles again. "Maybe that's your answer then." He gets to his feet. "Sometimes it doesn't need to be complicated, Ziva." He leaves before she can reply.

She unfolds her list and looks at it again. Ziva frowns. She knows she is hesitating because it is something she wants, something she does not think she deserves after the pain she has caused. But this is a new start and perhaps she will not be able to do this immediately but eventually…

I will…let myself live.

8.

The in-flight movie keeps Tony occupied for a couple of hours when he's finally settled onto the last plane of his trip home. It's one of the blockbusters from the previous Summer; something he'd seen in DC one rainy Sunday afternoon by himself. He goes to the cinema alone more often than he goes with people. He doesn't mind. There's something comforting about hunching down in the uncomfortable folding seat, a big tub of popcorn on his lap and a jumbo sized coke by his elbow that'll have him running for the bathroom the moment the lights come up.

The film is easy to follow; lots of action, a pretty heroine who can kick some ass, a standard hero who saves the day, and the usual happy ending. It leaves him somewhat grumpy and dissatisfied when it ends. He sets the headphones down and switches the screen off, uninterested in looking at where the plane is on its journey or any of the other media options the in-flight system offers him.

He takes out the sheet of paper and reads over his three terse statements. It's a start, a beginning; living without the woman he loves, being honest, showing people he's a good cop and not just a clown. With the exception of the first item, he knows it's probably a good summary of what every therapist he's had in recent years has tried to tell him.

He needs to stop pretending.

He needs to just be himself.

He needs to lose the deflections and masks that he wears to keep people from getting too close, because he doesn't trust them not to hurt or abandon him thanks to his crappy childhood.

Of course none of that has ever prevented someone leaving him. Wendy had dumped him without any explanation. Hell, even Gibbs hadn't given Tony a second look when he'd taken his Mexican vacation. And Jeanne…well, that was complicated.

But, hey – yay! It looks like he won't be needing therapy for a while. He's finally gotten the message. He just needed someone else – Ziva – abandoning him to do it.

Tony gets to his feet, shoving the paper back into his jacket pocket. He needs to move. He takes a walk through the plane, assessing as he goes. A harried looking mother is trying to cajole her brat of a daughter into sitting down and not kicking the seat in front while the father next to them sits bored, staring at the screen. An old man is glaring at them across the aisle.

He reaches the back of the plane and the little kitchen area. The steward sends him a sympathetic look and offers him a drink. He asks for a cup of herbal tea and he's not sure who's more surprised; the steward or himself. But a minute later, the hot wafting sense of chamomile steals over him and he knows it's exactly what he needs.

He takes it back to his seat.

Really, he's being a drama queen, he muses. Ziva hasn't abandoned him. She's made a decision to rebuild her life, rebuild herself. He can't help but respect that. He might wish he could be part of the process but he won't deny that she has a right to change her life and to choose who she needs to let go of to do it.

Letting go…that's the first 'will' in both their lists…he's letting go of her, she's letting go of the badge.

And the second will is all about forgiving the past and trying to do better next time.

And the third will is rebuilding, remaking; in his case, his workplace reputation and in her case, her home.

Good foundations for change. In line with his therapy. He sips his tea.

Ziva's fourth will…that had been about looking forward, hope, embracing a future.

So, Tony considers seriously, maybe he should follow her example again. What does he want out of a future?

He remembers standing in Gibbs' basement and talking about cups – about how he couldn't fill both. He has a job he loves (and for a while there it had looked like he was going to have to give it up but luckily Parsons had stopped being an ass). His career may look like it has stalled at the Senior Agent level, but he knows he does more as Gibbs' Senior Agent than most of the NCIS team leads in any of the offices. He's happy professionally.

Just personally…he's never been able to make it work.

A happy ending.

The thought pops into his head immediately. Isn't that what he's thinking of when he thinks about having something like he had with Jeanne but something real? Isn't that what he wanted with Wendy? With Ziva?

He wants to fill both cups. He wants balance. He wants…he wants what Jimmy has; the great job, and the wife, and the possibility of a family (although that thought is more than a little scary). It's all he's ever wanted; family, belonging, love.

He's found some sense of that professionally but he wants it when he goes home too. He wants to do more than spend time with his movies…or at least have someone who can curl up with him on a rainy day and watch movies with. Maybe with some hot chocolate, with the little marshmallows, and popcorn…and maybe sneaking kisses as they watched…

The picture is so clear in his head. Yeah, what he wants is to balance his cups. For all he admires and loves Gibbs, he has no real desire to end up like the Boss…and he's pretty sure even the Boss is trying not to end up alone in his basement – would have moved on with Doctor Ryan if she hadn't freaked about her ex.

He drains the last of the chamomile, takes out the paper and writes his fourth 'will' with a surprising amount of determination to make it happen.

I will…find balance.

9.

The dawn brings with it a sense of loss. Tony will be leaving. He's booked on a flight later that evening. (She knows he's booked her a seat too but neither of them have mentioned that). They'll travel to Tel Aviv together. Tony had eschewed her offer to accompany him at first, pointing out that she's been hiding for a reason. But Ziva figures that if someone really wanted her dead, they would have found her already – Tony did. Besides, she can disappear again very easily.

But if the dawn brings with it loss, it also brings with it a sense of renewal. It doesn't take her long to write her fifth 'will.' It needs no discussion. She is certain of it already. She takes out a box of keepsakes; a photo of the team taken after her return from Somalia to celebrate her becoming a Probationary Agent, a photo of her, Ari and Tali as children, one of her father and mother.

She buries her past today; all of it.

Ziva is not surprised to find Tony up and about, waiting for her. She doesn't think he has slept; her own sleep has been fitful. She leads Tony out to the olive grove as the sun finally peeks over the horizon.

"My family chose this place because of the olive trees here. We have planted more every year. It is a tradition." Ziva tells him. "My father loved this place and he loved the tradition."

Tony remains silent, but his compassionate gaze tells her that he has listened and understood just how much this place, this olive grove, means to her.

"So every year when I was a child, I remember coming here and planting an olive tree." Ziva tells him as they walk through the gnarled trees. She smiles sadly. "Josef, the caretaker, he tells me my father kept the tradition every year. He would come without us and plant a tree…" her voice cuts out as her throat closes on a wave of emotion.

Tony places a hand on her shoulder – the same way he did when she had confided about the opera and Tali. Ziva takes a moment to regroup, swiping at her tears until her face is dry and leading him towards the place where she intends to bury her list.

The ground is hard and dry and it takes more time than she has anticipated for her to dig a hole big enough. Tony holds the box and keeps watch of the perimeter; not helping her, understanding she needs to be the one to do this. She pulls the list from her back pocket and gestures for Tony to give her the box.

"Can I read it?" Tony asks, insatiably curious as always.

She's tempted to tell him no but instead gives a sharp nod and hands him the paper, taking the box in exchange. He reads the last 'will' and nods slowly. He hands the list back to her and she places it inside the box reverently.

She sets the box deep into the hole and places a hand on top of it. Inside is her past but also what she hopes to make of her future. She remembers the day she had buried the original list; so full of childish hope and wonder. There is none of that inside of her this day. Only a burning need for her future to be different; that she will be stronger this time.

Ziva carefully covers the box with dirt.

When Tony asks her to come with him; when he begs her and tells her he's fighting for her, her heart breaks in an all new way. She wishes…she so wishes…

Ziva kisses him gently. "I cannot." She says, her free hand still stroking his cheek, her nose bumping his. "I have to…I have to do this by myself."

Tony rests his forehead on hers. "I can help. You don't have to…"

"I know that if I asked you would be beside me," Ziva admits, closing her eyes, "but I have to know I can do this without you," she opens her eyes to meet his fiercely, "without anyone else."

Tony sighs. He kisses her fingers again and smiles at her, a little sad and a little rueful. "I had to ask."

Ziva nods. "Will you do something for me?" She asks, as they remain standing together, holding onto each other.

"Anything." Tony says softly.

Ziva pulls away and frames his face again with her hands. "Please," she says, aiming for a teasing tone, "please shave. It is like Gibbs' moustache and…I cannot bear it."

He laughs then before pulling her into a hug and promising her he'll shave. Their walk out of the olive grove is silent. Tony is a comforting presence at her back, and it hurts to know that within hours he will no longer be there.

It hurts more when she watches him walk on the plane without her, knowing it is her decision he is honouring; her decision he is respecting that he goes home alone.

She calls Gibbs. How can she not having admitted to Tony that she is doing this, changing herself, to be someone worthy of Gibbs and his parental affection and love; to follow her heart as Gibbs has taught her. Gibbs tells her he is proud of her; tells her she has to do what she has to do; that he and everyone will always be there if she needs them. But his final words echo in her ears all the way back to the olive grove.

She digs up the box and rereads the last line. "I will do it for him." She reads aloud. Only Gibbs has finally challenged her…

"Hey, don't do it for me." Gibbs says gruffly. "You want to change, you want to do things differently…none of it's going to take if you don't do it for the right person."

"If you mean Tony…" Ziva begins heatedly.

"I mean you, Ziva." Gibbs breaks in. "The only person you should be doing this for is you."

And he is right. As always. Ziva changes the last line and reburies the box. She watches the sunrise and then she leaves the olive grove and her old life behind. It is time for her new beginning.

I will…do it for me.

10.

Somehow Tony isn't surprised to find Tim waiting for him in the arrivals area, looking slightly uncomfortable in among the mass of taxi drivers holding up signs. Ziva had called Gibbs then, Tony deduces, hefting his duffle bag and making his way to greet him.

Tim greets him with a nod and gestures at the bag. "Don't expect me to carry that."

Tony huffs a laugh as they turn simultaneously for the exit. "Good to see you too, Probie."

"You lost the beard." Tim notes.

"Wasn't really me." Tony says easily.

They're half-way back to Tony's apartment when Tim finally brings up the topic of Ziva. "Gibbs told us Ziva isn't coming back."

Good. It saves Tony a job.

Tim clears his throat. "He didn't really explain why?"

And of course Gibbs didn't explain why. Because that's Tony's job. Apparently.

"She wants to change her life." Tony says seriously. "She says she can't do that if she keeps holding onto the past which, you know, includes us."

Tim nods slowly and darts a look at him. "You OK?"

Tony shoots him a look. "I'm touched by your concern, Probie," he begins before he realises his flippancy is his usual deflection and hadn't he promised himself he wasn't doing that anymore? He sighs. "I'm…respecting her decision."

He knows Tim gets it – that Tony isn't OK that Ziva hasn't come back but is working on accepting it – because Tim's face gets the same wide-eyed flash it gets when Tim gets something on a case.

Tim drops him at his apartment and eschews the invitation to come inside. Tony trudges up to his door. There's probably a whole list of repair jobs to do thanks to the sniper fire. He braces himself before he opens the door and freezes…the lights are on and the place looks immaculate.

"Tony!" Abby comes flying out of the kitchen and Tony has just enough reaction time to drop the duffle before he has an armful of the Goth.

An hour later, he's finished the jambalaya Abby had cooked for him, guzzled down a beer that had been a welcome home gift from Ducky and Jimmy, and spilled all the details to an attentive Abby.

"It's good for Ziva though, right?" Abby says with blunt insight. "That she's doing this?"

If she's doing it for the right reasons. Or the right person. Because it's Therapy 101 that someone needs to change for themselves for it to work. So as much as he understands why Ziva's focused on Gibbs – her fifth 'will' was all about it although he'd still been guessing at the 'him' when he'd read it – Tony thinks that's a mistake. He hadn't challenged her on it at the time, knowing the moment was too important to push the issue right there and then (and maybe the hope that he was the 'him' in question had played into his decision not to push it).

"Yeah, it's good for her." Tony agrees out loud. He searches for another topic and waves a hand around his living room. "So…what happened? Everything was still a mess when I left."

"Oh, Gibbs oversaw everything." Abby's eyes twinkle. "He got you bullet-resistant glass, Tony."

And that's actually very comforting. Not only because it reduces the likelihood of getting shot by a sniper in his own apartment, but because it's a visible sign of Gibbs' caring. It's late when he hugs Abby goodbye but not too late.

He makes for his car, knowing intuitively where he's going to end up; where he always ends up.

Gibbs is in his basement, working on something. He looks rough, his face a multi-coloured hue of bruising – the worst still an angry purple-y red.

"Wow." Tony says, because he can't not comment.

Gibbs grunts, tips nails out of a mason jar, fills it with a shot of bourbon and hands it over to Tony. "You ready to come back to work?"

Tony nods as he takes the proffered drink, taking a swallow. "I haven't…I'm not giving up on her." The words are out, defensive and angry, before he can stop them.

Gibbs raises one eyebrow – which has to hurt given the state of his face. "I know that, DiNozzo. Never thought you would."

Of course, Gibbs knows and his certainty that Tony won't give up reassures Tony deep down that he isn't giving up on her just because he is letting her go. It's a fine line but he can walk it; support her decision but get on with his own life. He drains the jar and sets it down.

"Her decision." Gibbs says as though to underscore Tony's thinking. But it's said with enough gruffness that Tony knows the subject of Ziva leaving is painful for Gibbs and therefore, closed.

Tony nods and heads for the stairs, he's almost at the top when Gibbs stops him with a call.

"You did good, Tony." Gibbs offers kindly.

The praise sustains him as he drives home, tumbles into his own bed for the first time in months.

The next day finds him at the Navy Yard bright and early, dressed in his best suit. He glances at the empty desk across from him and can't help the ache that appears at the reality of Ziva's decision. He places the necklace safely inside his desk. She's here in spirit if not in person.

He opens the bottom drawer, takes out the lockbox he has of Gibbs' medals and places his list of 'wills' inside. The final 'will' was easy in the end. He relocks the box and sets it back in its place before turning his attention to starting a brand new day.

I will…never give up.

The End

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