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Descent (Five Holidays Ziva Spends with NCIS, the One She Didn't mix)

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It's just a burrito, but it burns down her throat like a hot coal. She coughs; she can't help it.

Around a mouthful of his own lunch, Tony asks: "Ziva, are you all right?"

"Yes, Tony. I'm quite fine."

She doesn't intend to lie, but she does anyway. It's truth-telling that takes deliberate effort, or rather it's honesty that does; to say that this is the first time she's ever eaten hametz during Pesach would be equally untrue, but it would be honest. She'd eaten hametz – the very office coffee is hametz – but she had never eaten outright fermented flour dough.

Tony mumbles something and continues eating. He doesn't know what week it is. Of course he doesn't. She doesn't expect any of her team to know. With the exception of Ducky, they all still think that avoidance of pork and seafood constitutes kosher-keeping. She had never bothered to correct them, and she isn't about to start now.

It would be untrue to say that she has lost the right to do so, but it wouldn't be dishonest.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

It takes a split second to lift her eyes from her meal and consider Tony, and it's long enough for her to remember –

She'd had a brother once, and she'd given him a Purim basket for the first holiday they'd known each other. Ari had looked at it like it was a bomb…. It didn't matter; Tony was more of a brother than Ari had ever been, so she threw him a packet of M&Ms and watched his smile take over his entire face.

"Yes," she says. She's irritated and thus tempted to add, I told you already, but then Tony would know she's being dishonest.

"It's just that you look kinda –" Tony waves his hand.

"Heartburn," she says.

Tony mouths Ah, and lets it go.

It isn't letting go of her, though. There's a part of her that seems to think that going to a Seder would have exorcised it out of her head. That part of her is irrational, just like the other part of her that had kept her from a Seder the night before. She had spent Pesach Eve without her blood family or outside of Israel many times before, but like the burrito, her foregoing the Seder is a first. There are two dozen families who would have gladly had her – some of whom had had her in the years before – but this year she had declined. Not this year. She can't.

This year. Hashata avdei. The phrase explodes in her head and others follow, like so many landmines, and Ziva puts down the burrito and at the very last moment presses that palm against her mouth, not against her forehead.

"I think I'm going to be sick," she announces, and takes leave.

Hashata avdei, leshana haba'a be'eretz yisrael. She washes her face but it doesn't wash the shrapnel out from the inside of her skull. She's certain enough that she doesn't remember it quite right, but she's even surer she won't be going to Israel the year after. Mieretz mitzrayim mibeit avadim, but she doesn't know which is the land of bondage, anymore.

They don't understand, Americans. Their religion and their nationality are separate things. The Jews among them know what they are missing, or at least some of them do; the goyim, they cannot understand.

The bathroom door squeaks open. In the mirror she sees Gibbs standing in the doorway.

"You shouldn't have had that burrito," he says. "Your god doesn't seem to agree with it."

"My God," she spits out, "made his absence known seventy years ago. We're saving ourselves, now."

She doesn't notice Gibbs' expression as he does the math because the word Yoredet is bright in her mind like the explosion that had killed Tali and spared her, loud like the bullet she'd put in Ari. Ziva is yoredet now.

"What's this about, Ziva? You don't usually get all worked up about your faith."

"It's not about faith," she snaps, thinks Fucking Americans and then turns to the sink and leans her palms down on the cool stone because her becoming – her choosing to become – an American is what this is about, and Gibbs will not get it.

He walks over and, moving slowly, making sure she sees him first, places the palm of his left hand between her shoulder blades, lightly, fingers splayed.

"You haven't betrayed anyone."

"Don't you think I know that?"

"Then what are you doing in here?"

"Washing out the taste of a bad burrito."

"Even you aren't that good a liar, Ziva."

"What more do you want of me, Gibbs?"

"Of you? I don't want anything of you. I'm in here because Tony and Tim are freaking out, and I didn't want either of them startling you into killing him by accident."

She chuckles, because it's their very oldest running gag, and it's the closest Gibbs comes to saying Because I love you all, you morons.

The thought makes the chuckle turn into something else.

Maybe Gibbs turns her around; maybe she turns. Either way, he says "Come here," as he pulls her trembling, rigid body in.

"I'd tell you that it's not too late to change your mind," he says, "but if you regretted anything this is not how you'd go about fixing it."

"I regret many things," she says into his shoulder, "but I would not do any of them differently."

"Not one?"

I wouldn't have loved – but the memory of her own words speeds past the thought, cuts it off and slams down on the brakes: Tali was the best of us. She had compassion. Tali had been the best of them. Tali wouldn't have grown up a killer and a liar. Tali had believed in Better to have loved and lost.

"Yes," she tells Gibbs. "Not one."

Hashata hacha, leshana haba'a be'arha yisrael. Hashata avdei, leshana haba'a benei chorin.

Next year, she just might be free.