"On a September day in New York, I'm looking out my balcony, and I still miss my family," says Cote de Pablo, on not being on the NCIS set. "But they're with me all the time, every day. That won't change."
The departing NCIS star spoke with TV Guide Magazine exclusively after her abrupt decision not to renew her contract prior to the start of NCIS Season 11, which premiered Tuesday (see our NCIS review).
As for the fan outpouring, she says, "I was incredibly moved by the blind support people had without ever getting reasons as to why I left. People trusted that what I was doing was what I needed to do."
"That's unconditional love from people who don't even know me," she adds of NCIS nation and the positive farewell messages she received. "That's been the most beautiful thing out of this process."
That being said, fans were largely disappointed and shocked at her departure, which has yet to play out on screen. Next week's NCIS promo teases what may be the show's most anticipated episode yet.
"As far as the 'Tiva' fans, they'll get a resolution they've awaited for years," she says. "There is a level of confession. And if it takes a big change like this to stir things up, it's all for the better. I'm a fan of the show!"
Cote says she relishes "getting to close things off with my partner in crime, Michael [Weatherly]. My first scene ever in the bullpen was with Michael, and my goodbye scene was with Michael."
"I feel like that was a beautiful way of ending - for now, certainly - a beautiful chapter between these two."
Such strong, positive feelings may only deepen the mystery of why de Pablo left.
"As far as my decision to leave, that's a personal thing, and I'd rather leave it at that," she says. "The idea of leaving was not something I toyed around with for a long time. It was an overwhelmingly hard thing."
She has no grand scheme for doing a sitcom or movies, nor was it about money.
"Leaving NCIS was not planned, so there is no plan. If I were panicking now, it would defeat the purpose. I need to get really excited about something. For eight years I was really excited about this character."
"I don't want to start anything unless it's like that. Did I want to leave under those circumstances? That's another story. But I'm not of the belief that you just take off and leave fans hanging."
"A lot of people don't get the privilege of going back to a set and being able to say goodbye to people. I left under my terms, and that was wonderful," she adds, and her boss echoed that sentiment.
"We wanted to give her the most graceful, emotional payoff we could," says Gary Glasberg. "It was a pretty magical moment. Cote took it and ran with it, and the emotion you'll see on screen is very real."
As for whether she might return one day, that door is clearly being left ajar.
"The greatest thing about this last episode is that Ziva doesn't die," she says.
"As long as a character doesn't die, the character can always come back. Not that it would actually matter, because we bring back characters from the dead all the time on NCIS!"