What do you get with a tired me, a little bit of an annoying day, topped with an episode of NCIS that annoyed me further? This. And also lazy summaries. I should probably fix that... maybe.
Disclaimer: The TV show NCIS belongs to CBS.
"Tali was found outside the farmhouse? Why wasn't that shared while I was in DC?"
Director Elbaz pressed her lips. "I thought it unnecessary information."
Tony had to physically restrain himself from reaching across the desk and grabbing Elbaz by the throat. Even then, his mouth could not be so easily held back. "Oh, yes I understand that. I mean, who in their right mind would want to be told the truth the first time around? Truth's what you want it to be, right?"
Elbaz tapped her fingers against her office desk, her black hair faintly illuminated by the rising sun from her office window. Had the window been made of glass that couldn't withstand multiple RPGs, Tony would have been squinting.
He'd taken Tali and his father to Paris for a few weeks, stopped a few times along the way. Used all those sick days he'd accumulated at NCIS to pay for most of it. But now he was in Israel, his father and daughter back at their hotel while he got permission from Mossad to visit Ziva's farmhouse so Tali could give her old home a proper goodbye.
At least, that's what he'd been doing up until Elbaz dropped a bomb on him. Figuratively speaking, of course.
An actual bomb wouldn't have hit him so hard.
"I was being truthful with you, Anthony," said Elbaz. "All I was doing was keeping it simple."
"No, you were hiding details. Important details. Tali couldn't have gotten out of that farmhouse without help. Someone took her from her room and brought her safely out. Someone I lo—"
Director Elbaz seemed to look straight into his mind with the look she gave him, interrupting him without saying a word. She leaned forward, arms on her desk, and gave Tony a grave look. "Ziva is dead, Anthony. Please believe me when I say I would have never called Vance with that news if we were not 100% certain."
Even in his emotionally-charged state, Tony couldn't ignore the sincerity in her voice. He took a breath, let it out, then asked, "Then why lie to your media? Why the BS story about Tali being found in her intact room down the hall?"
A little voice in the back of his head had always questioned that. The house had been engulfed in flames when it made the news, and they didn't report on Tali being found until the flames had been put out. He knew the house wasn't big enough for another hallway to have been beyond the flames, not unless Ziva had Mossad build an addition. The initial blast would have destroyed half the house outright, and the rest would have been on fire for minutes by the time the cavalry arrived. Too long for a little girl to have survived.
A mask he'd seen Ziva use all too well appeared on the Director's face—a face that gave too little away. It seemed everyone in Mossad had it. They didn't need to know Tony knew it meant they were hiding something. "It was just what was said in the moment. There was no reason to revise it."
Tony gave his cocky smile. One of his better ones that didn't quite quench the fire in his eyes. A mixture of anger and amusement. It worked like a charm on most criminals. It did nothing to the Director. "Then why are you lying to me?"
The mask stayed on Elbaz's face for a moment, then she let it crack. He saw an odd look in her dark eyes. "Because Ziva did not make Tali put away her toys."
All pain and anger fled from Tony for a moment. "What?"
"The mercenary Kort hired has a soft spot for children."
Elbaz sighed. Not a heavy sigh—more like a soft breath being released. She took out a photo from her desk and showed it to Tony. It was a satellite image of Ziva's house; he recognized the orchard nearby.
"There is a hill right here," Elbaz said, pointing to a part of the image. "That is where we believe Kort's mercenary fired his mortar from."
"'Bout a hundred yards from the house."
"Not a long shot for a mortar."
"No. And definitely close enough for someone to see a child's training bicycle lying in the grass."
"So you're saying the merc went in the house—the house he just mortared—on the slight chance he could save a little girl whose mother he just killed."
"We find it the most likely explanation."
"Then why hide it?"
"That mercenary is hated by the Palestinians even more than he is by us, and given the circumstances, that says much of their anger. An act of kindness on his part cannot, and will not, be celebrated by anyone for any reason."
"And you swear by this theory that Tali was saved by Kort's guy?"
"Anthony, it is not a theory. It is fact."
Tony's gut said otherwise. His mind was supplying him with other inconsistencies. Unanswered questions. Like how the mortar set fire to the farmhouse so quickly. It was an HE round. Made to blow things up. It set fire to things, sure, but not that much. Not so quickly. Something was missing. "Unless Ziva was the one who saved her."
Elbaz sighed again. "Anthony…"
"Don't just dismiss it," Tony said, voice cold. Holding back his anger. "All you've done since you brought Tali to the States has been dismissing anything I say about Ziva."
"Because it's impossible. We have her body, Anthony."
"You haven't shown it to me."
"That is because I want to spare you the… Glory details?"
Tony stilled at the Ziva-like question in the Director's voice. She'd never been able to get idioms right. Maybe it was an Israeli thing. "I investigated crime scenes for twenty years. I can take it."
Tony didn't like the pity in Elbaz's eyes. "It is different when it is someone you love."
Gibbs had said something similar when Tony asked him about the details during one of his calls to DC. Tony didn't care—he needed to know. "Tell me."
The Mossad Director was silent a moment, then nodded. "We found her in her in what remained of her bed. We believe the mortar… Hit her directly. There was not much for us to find. Only bone fragments of someone who stood between five foot six and five foot ten. Ziva was five eight."
"And that range covers a couple billion other people on the planet."
"Anthony. It is her. How can it not be? She never would leave Tali alone and out in the night, and even if she did why has she not made contact since? We have record of the mercenary sending word to Kort well after we were on the scene, and in it he expresses outrage at Kort for not telling him of Tali."
Tony's rational mind came back to him, albeit regretfully. He knew it didn't make sense for Ziva to have lived, but leave Tali behind. Ziva had a steely exterior, but he knew she was gooey when it came to kids. She probably had been an incredible mother to Tali.
He wished he'd been able to see if he was right or not about that.
"I know," he finally said, quietly. "I… I just…"
"You don't need to say it," Elbaz said. "I went through the same with Eli."
Tony really wanted to snort at that. No she hadn't. She and Eli hadn't married. They hadn't had children together. They hadn't been together in years at the time of Eli's death. She knew nothing about what he was going through.
"Do we have permission to head out to the farmhouse?" He asked, doing the best to keep his sudden anger to himself. Best way to do that would be to end this little meeting.
Elbaz nodded. "Of course. We've left it as it was when the fire was put out. Go bring some peace to your daughter."
"Thank you." Tony stood up and walked to the door without another word.
Elbaz said nothing of the impolite exit.
His daughter was so peaceful when she slept.
He watched from the door as Tali held one of her favorite stuffed animal close to her chest, head barely visible in the depths of her pillow. She was exhausted following their visit to the farmhouse. What remained of it.
All that stood of the farmhouse were burned walls. They'd found that kids bicycle Elbaz had talked about. Tali had been so excited to see it again… But it broke his heart to hear her call "Ima!" again and again, as if expecting Ziva to be waiting right around the corner.
But it had been a good trip overall. A few of Tali's toys had survived the fire, and now they would be coming back with them to Paris. Tali had been sad when they couldn't find her favorite toy—what she kept calling Gibbs. Ziva seemed to have named many of Tali's favorite toys after them.
"You made one great-looking kid, Anthony."
Tony turned his head at his father's hushed whisper. Senior was looking into the bedroom with a wide grin, his aged eyes shining in the dim light. He looked happier than Tony ever remembered him being.
"She gets it from her mother," Tony said.
"She does, but her eyes. I still can't get over her eyes. Such beautiful eyes."
"You saying my eyes are a wonder to the world, Dad? Thanks."
Senior chuckled. "You know what I mean, Junior. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and your daughter has a beautiful soul. Innocent to the world's horrors, even after what's happened. When she's all grown up, think back on these times. Think back to when it was just you and her and one day at a time."
Tony planned to.
"Well, I should be getting to bed," Senior said. "When you're my age, your body doesn't appreciate staying up 'til midnight after a long day like we had. Goodnight, Tony."
Tony stood in the doorway for a few more minutes after Senior retired to his own room. Tony couldn't get his gut to stop telling him he was missing something. Something important that, if he saw it, would fill the hole in his heart. The hole in Tali's heart that would become more and more obvious as she grew up.
Even as he stood there, he couldn't escape the horrifying thought of Tali running to him for comfort after having a nightmare. Only for him to be unable to find the right words to sooth her. To be unable to calm her with some song only Ziva had known.
How long would this happiness last before it came crashing down? How long until Tali finally realized her mother wasn't coming back? What would he do when that happened? How could he help her then?
Tony sighed and stepped away from the door. He stepped over to his makeshift bed—the hotel room couch—and started preparing to join the rest of his family in sleep.
The unexpected knock at the door caused him to instinctively go for his gun. But of course, he came up empty; he didn't have a gun anymore. He wasn't an Agent anymore.
The panic that had flooded him faded away at that thought. He wasn't in NCIS anymore. He wasn't on a case. He was in one of the nicest hotels in Tel Aviv, courtesy of Director Elbaz. He wasn't about to be attacked.
But old habits died hard.
Tony let himself relax and tip-toed to the door. Out of habit, he looked through the peephole. One of the staff he'd seen on shift when they came back a couple hours ago. He was holding a package in his hands.
Tony unlocked the door and gave the employee an expecting look.
"Forgive me for disturbing you, Mister DiNozzo," the employee said, his English almost flawless. The hotel staff really was something else. "But this package came for you a few moments ago. Its courier said it was to be delivered as soon as possible."
That sounded suspicious. Tony eyed the small cardboard box in the other man's hands. It had been sealed with tape, but that tape had been cut. "You open it?"
"This is Israel, Mister DiNozzo. We cannot be too careful with small and unusual boxes sent to our guests."
"Fair enough. I owe you a tip or something?"
The man smiled. "Your mysterious financier has taken care of any expenses of yours. As you American's say, this one is on the flat."
Yeah. Definitely an Israeli thing. "It's house. And flat is a British term." Tony graciously took the box from the man. "Thank you."
"Enjoy your night, sir," the man said just as Tony closed the door.
Tony stepped back into the room and sat down on the couch. He opened the box, and was met by the sight of a stuffed lion. It had clearly been homemade, but its quality was impressive.
Part of its face was burned.
Tali came running out from her room, apparently woken from her sleep by him answering the door, and wrapped her little arms around the lion. She started talking to the stuffed animal, Tony's still-limited experience with Hebrew not letting him keep up with his daughter's rapid, excited speech.
He didn't pay attention to it.
In the bottom of the box was a piece of paper. On that paper was a note written in English handwriting that was beautiful and graceful in style. Like it was an echo of the writer.
This is Gibbs. He is Tali's favorite. She loves it when she is told stories about how he is the hero who saves the day. Make sure you tell her at least one story every other day.
There is more that I have yet to end. Until I do, keep her safe. Keep her close. Don't let her out of your sight.
I love you,
Yup, got nothing else. Sorry if it's really not good; it's 3:00 in the morning. I seem to write all my one-shots at three... Huh.
Anyways, thanks for reading.
See you soon.