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NCIS Fanfiction: Refuge, Part 1/2

September 20th, 2009 (08:27 pm)

Title: Refuge
Author: Ygrawn
Part: 1/2
Fandom: NCIS
Pairing/Characters: Tony/Ziva, Gibbs
Spoilers: Everything up to the very last second of Aliyah.
Rating: M-15
Summary: There is light, and then there is Trent Kort and that is how Ziva knows Gibbs has come for her. Then there is pain.
Author’s Notes: So, here is the long-promised post-S6 fic. It was supposed to be a drabble for thedevilsheart. Uh, oops? Have just managed to get this posted before the powers that be give us their version.



PART ONE

********

There is light, and then there is Trent Kort and that is how Ziva knows Gibbs has come for her. Then there is pain.

********

There are these things: above her is the whirr of a helicopter. Near her is the sound of gunfire. Within her is disbelief.

********

When Kort unties her wrists from the back of the chair, Ziva’s shoulders drop forward and she discovers her left shoulder is dislocated. She begins to scream, but Kort covers her mouth with his gloved hand and the noise is swallowed by the leather.

Her body is not hers, anymore.

When Kort lifts her out of the chair she faints.

********

Kort isn’t gentle with her as he runs to the waiting helicopter and the pain – hot and chaotic – chases her in and out of consciousness as they take off.

********

It took them nine days to break her.

In that way, the operation unfolded the way Ziva, Vance and her father planned, even Ziva’s beatings, because she’d planned and prepared for that torture.

Ziva has held out longer under worse torture, but she judged her captors well: they believed her breakdown was real, because they didn’t believe she could withstand any more pain. They believed the information she gave them about NCIS was genuine, but not before they did some significant damage.

It’s not the worst price Ziva has paid with her body, but it comes close.

*******

There are medics on the helicopter, two of them, working from each end of her body, slicing through her clothes, lifting her limbs with cold, gloved hands, shining lights at her, yelling to her as though she is capable of responding. There is more light, and air, rushing, racing through the open door.

And Kort, so Gibbs.

The swirling, freezing air whips the tears out of her eyes almost as they form.

********

Over the whirr of the blades and the frantic work of the medics, Kort talks to her.

Ziva tries hard to hear him, knowing he’s telling the tale of his involvement. He says Gibbs pulled strings to access chatter out of Africa and when he realised what was going on he confronted Vance. The Director was forced to tell him about Ziva’s role in the joint NCIS-Mossad mission to shut down the terrorist camp, a mission hatched in secret, consecrated by betrayal, carried out in silence.

Kort tells her Gibbs just about burned the intelligence community down to locate him, find the camp and get Kort on his way to rescue her. Ziva remembers that part because it’s the last thing she hears just before she loses consciousness for good, but also because it makes her smile.

********

The plan was for Ziva to be extracted by Mossad as soon as they had confirmation that the terror cell’s attack against NCIS was in play. Given the scale of the attack the cell was likely to mount against NCIS with the falsely planted intel – and the real possibility that the attackers would kill themselves before they could be questioned about the location of the training camp – Ziva hadn’t expected the wait between her confession and rescue to be short.

Vance and her father had not said anything, but it was clear they wouldn't rescue her until they were sure they had achieved their endgame. Nor had they said anything about the likelihood that Ziva would be killed as soon as she’d outlived her usefulness to the terrorists.

Perhaps because it was too obvious to be spoken.

********

Kort gets her to Tel Aviv, then disappears, the way CIA agents do.

********

Ziva knows she is in hospital because there is morphine running through her, cool and tempting. When she kicks to the surface she sees her father’s face, her aunts, a handful of old friends and a small army of doctors and nurses. She knows she isn’t dying because their faces are worried but not panicked, so she lets the darkness take her every time it wants to, because she knows it won’t hold her forever.

********

When enough time has passed, Ziva orders her doctor to cut the morphine completely. Dr Ohlmert has treated Ziva before and he knows how she feels about heavy medication, so he doesn’t argue with her.

The pain is as close to obliteration as Ziva has come, but the clear-headedness that finally triumphs is worth it.

********

It’s the sixth day since she arrived, a nurse tells her. Ziva cranes her head, looking around the room.

“He’s gone,” the nurse says. “Your husband.”

Kort is not my husband, Ziva thinks, but she chooses not to correct his lie. She realises he probably saw her naked when the paramedics were doing their work, but if Kort had wanted her that way he would have had her by now. He’s not the sort of man who waits for what he wants.

“He was very good looking,” the nurse adds.

********

Dr Ohlmert visits her before lunch and catalogues her injuries: detached retina repaired by surgery, four fractured ribs, a fractured collarbone, three broken fingers, a dislocated shoulder, a torn medial collateral ligament in her right knee, a spleen so swollen they removed it on the verge of rupturing, a bruised kidney that has become infected, bruising and contusions spread across her body, and lacerations to her back and arms that her father ordered repaired by plastic surgery so they wouldn’t scar. She’s dehydrated and is suffering from starvation and severe blood loss. She’s on a course of intravenous antibiotics for the kidney infection, and although she’s no longer on morphine, they’ve left her on a lower-level painkiller.

The doctor’s tone remains steady throughout his lengthy recitation. He’s treated Mossad agents for years and is obviously no longer surprised by the agony the human body can withstand. Behind his head, Ziva can see an enormous arrangement of long-stemmed yellow roses and when he has finished dissecting a week’s worth of torture, Ziva asks Dr. Ohlmert to bring her the card propped beside the flowers.

It’s from Ducky: I am an old man, Ziva – please do not frighten me like this again, Ducky.

********

Her father visits that night. Ziva pretends to be asleep.

********

Four days later, Ziva is able to sit up, although doing so brings new injuries to her attention and she has to breathe deeply with her eyes closed for nearly ten minutes before the nausea subsides.

She orders the nurse to find her a laptop and a cell phone. She text messages McGee her location and waits. Seven and a half minutes later, a window opens on her screen and McGee and Abby appear in Abby’s lab, peering forward into the webcam, talking over the top of each other. Ziva doesn’t want to think about what channels McGee has hacked to get to her.

“Ziva! There you are!” Abby cries.

“Hello,” Ziva says, startled by the longing in her voice. Their faces are so close but they’re so far away from her and she wants them with her, a feeling both foreign and fragile. “Hello,” she says again.

Abby squints, then horror begins to spread across her face. “Oh my God, Ziva. Your eye…”

“It is okay, Abby,” Ziva hurriedly assures. She’s glad Abby can’t see the bruises under the patch. They’re still midnight blue.

“No, it’s not,” Abby begins, but her voice cracks and she turns away from the webcam and presses her face into McGee’s shoulder.

“We’re just glad to see you, Ziva,” McGee says, and even his voice isn’t entirely steady. “All of us. Gibbs is out of the office and, well…Tony…”

“I am glad to see you, both of you,” Ziva interrupts. “You have cut your hair, Abby.”

“So have you,” Abby replies. Her eyes are wet, but she has managed to compose herself.

Ziva frowns; she has not cut her hair. Then she remembers one of her captors hacking at it with his knife, laughing. For a moment Ziva can’t breathe. She hopes Abby cannot see the jagged, nasty ends.

“Is your eye really okay?” Abby asks tentatively. She reaches out unconsciously to touch the corner of her own eye.

“The surgery went well. The doctors assure me I have not lost any vision. Really, Abby, I am fine.”

“We can’t stay on this connection for long, Ziva,” McGee interjects. “I’ll sort something out for tomorrow.”

“We love you,” Abby says quickly, before they disappear.

Ziva isn’t sure she’d have said it back to them; but maybe she would.

*******

Later, she asks for a hand mirror and discovers that somebody – presumably a nurse – has neatened the ends of her hair, unevenly and with little finesse, but she’s sure it looks better than it did. She has lost maybe four inches.

Her neck looks bare. It feels bare.

********

After lunch, Ziva checks her phone and methodically goes through the voice messages. The second most recent message is from Gibbs. “It’s Gibbs. Call me when you get this.” He left it shortly after Ziva was rescued.

The last message is from Kort, left two days after he delivered her to the hospital. It’s brief. “Your father got his Le Grenouille. Tell Gibbs he owes me.”

She had not thought of the leader of the training camp as her father’s Le Grenouille, but Kort is right. Her father has been obsessed with capturing him for years now, even before he killed a Mossad agent, but Ziva didn’t notice this particular fixation, unremarkable amongst his other, many obsessions.

********

McGee tells her that the hospital’s network security is excellent, including a firewall that has to be Mossad. The workaround he found the first time was plugged within minutes so instead of direct communication, Ziva finds a video in her email inbox every morning.

Abby and McGee record them overnight and send them before going home. Abby even manages – once – to drag Ducky into frame for a few minutes. He grumbles about the deterioration of interpersonal communication but assures Ziva he’s spoken to her doctor and is satisfied with her treatment. Ziva doubts that Dr Ohlmert – one of the foremost experts in trauma medicine in the Middle East – appreciated being second guessed by a Scottish pathologist.

She usually watches the videos after the nurses spend close to an hour in the mornings redressing her eye, checking her stitches, rubbing creams on her bruises, changing her various bandages and taking her vitals. The chore of attending to her body only reminds Ziva how each of her injuries was inflicted.

Watching Abby and McGee afterwards is a good distraction.

********

Her father comes for short visits in the late afternoons. They talk of the weather or the hospital food, or her injuries, but only in general terms. Her father hasn’t asked for specifics of her mission, only reminded her she will have to file a report as soon as she feels able. He asks if she needs anything and tells her he’ll send his assistant if she does. Ziva doubts Lilah can provide what she needs from her father.

********

By the time the bruises on Ziva’s torso are fading to the shade of an eggplant, Abby and McGee send a video telling her about their latest case. They finish up by telling her they’re trying to get leave together to visit her. “You can show us around your home town,” McGee cheerily signs off.

They obviously assume Ziva won’t return to D.C. but will remain in Tel Aviv. She looks out her hospital window to a city that holds secrets, lies and death and wonders if that is what home feels like for everybody.

********

Her father misses his visit that afternoon and comes earlier the next day, a Thursday. After they exhaust the weather he tells her he’s made arrangements for her to be moved to his home after the weekend – she can stay there until she’s well enough to find a place of her own.

Ziva nods, then half-yawns. Her father hastens to his feet. “I will come again tomorrow.”

When he is halfway through the door, Ziva asks, “Do you miss Ari?”

“Why would you ask that?” He isn’t faking his bewilderment.

“You have never asked me about his death.”

“You wrote a report. I read it.”

She shakes her head. “That is not what I mean.”

“Why would I ask about it?”

“Because I assassinated my brother. Because I killed your only son.”

“Ari was a danger…”

“To you?” she interrupts. “To your power? Or was he too close to the truth about his mother?”

“Ziva!” Eli snaps in a tone that terrified Ari and Tali as children. It never scared her.

“And if I too become a liability?” she continues, breathless as she releases words held tight within for years. “Who will you send? Tali is gone, there are no other siblings to dispatch me.”

“How can you…”

“What if I had died at that camp? Would you have mourned me? Or would you have read the report?”

“We do not put our lives above our work, Ziva. You are Mossad. You know the sacrifices we make. If you have lost your edge…”

“I have lost more than you will ever know,” Ziva spits.

He steps back towards the bed, furious. “As have I.”

“What have you lost? Your perfect operatives, trained from birth?”

His outrage swells through the room. “I’m to be blamed for giving you the skills to survive this world? For teaching you to fight? I’m to be blamed for serving my country?”

“I know men who have served their country. You have served only yourself. All of this, all of this bloodshed and death, not for the glory of God, but the glory of you! You could not have killed Ari, just as you did not have the courage to kill his mother yourself. You send others to do your work for you. Your daughter…”

“You are not my daughter when you’re on a mission. I’m not your father. I cannot afford such a weakness.” He loads the last word with all the scorn he can muster.

Ziva waits a long, hard moment before she says, “Have you never thought that being my father could be a strength?”

Her father’s pause is equally as long and hard, and eventually he does what he has always done: terminate the argument by pretending it has not happened. He leans over her and drops a kiss on her forehead. “I will come tomorrow, when you are not so…overwrought.”

It is not until her father’s footsteps have ceased to echo down the hall that Ziva realises he did not answer her original question about Ari.

********

That night she waits until the nurse has done her midnight rounds, then slips out of bed and staggers down the hall to the doctor’s lounge. She shouldn’t be weight-bearing on the right leg at all, and the pain tells her so. It takes only a moment to pick a lock and find a cell phone. Her new cell phone is no doubt tapped, and although Mossad will be monitoring all calls in and out of the hospital, using somebody else’s phone will buy her some time.

She keys in Gibbs’ cell number from memory and waits through the long, disjointed silence for the ring.

“Gibbs.”

“It’s Ziva.”

Gibbs’ pause is long, but it isn’t hard, only measured. “Hello, Ziva.”

“I would like to come home. Back – I would like to come back. If that is possible.”

“It’s always possible to go home, Ziva. But it might not be the same.”

It took her a long time to hear it, that kindness and love in his voice that only a handful of people have ever heard.

“So I have discovered,” Ziva says, her eyes burning hot with tears that she has not shed until now.

“I’ll see you soon,” Gibbs signs off.

She sleeps well.

********

Ziva expected Gibbs to organise the paperwork. She definitely didn’t expect him to come and get her.

********

He arrives maybe fourteen hours after their conversation, walking into her room shortly before lunch with a cup of coffee and small overnight bag. “Hello.” Ziva just stares at him. “You were talking yesterday.”

He tosses the overnight bag on the chair, deposits his coffee on the window sill and bends to kiss her on the cheek. This time Ziva doesn’t pull back the way she did at the airport. This time, she presses her forehead into his shoulder and exhales.

“You are here.”

Gibbs rubs the top of her head with his chin, once, then retrieves his coffee.

“Does my father know you are here?”

“He’s the Director of Mossad, Ziva.” He turns to look out the window although she doubts he’s enjoying the view. “Ducky spoke to your doctor. He’s cleared you to fly tomorrow. If you still want to.”

“Yes. Tomorrow? We can go?”

“I’ll get McGee to arrange the flights.” He heads for the door.

“Gibbs, are you…” but Ziva stops herself, embarrassed.

His tone stays mild, but his eyes soften. “I’m just going down the hall. I’ll be back.”

********

When her father visits that afternoon, she and Gibbs are playing poker and Gibbs is winning. In the intervening four hours, Gibbs has drunk three cups of coffee and irritated the nurses by refusing to leave when they come to do their hourly observations. Ziva offered to share her lunch but Gibbs declined, saying she was the patient, not him. Then he demanded she eat every damn bite and watched her to make sure.

Her father is not surprised to see Gibbs, but is clearly surprised when – after they exchange terse greetings – Gibbs does not leave. “It’s good of you to come and see my daughter, Agent Gibbs,” Eli says, dismissal evident in his tone and expression. “It’s a long trip, after all.”

“I was in the neighbourhood,” Gibbs replies.

Eli turns to Ziva, as though Gibbs will disappear if he can’t see him. “Dr. Ohlmert says you have asked to be discharged tomorrow. I will come and get you myself.”

Ziva places her cards facedown in her lap. “I am returning to D.C. with Gibbs tomorrow.”

Her father’s expression doesn’t change, doesn’t move one millimetre while he considers this new development. It’s a trick he taught her well. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“I wish to return to my work with NCIS. The liaison position remains open, does it not?”

“Yes, but I have to approve the secondment.”

Ziva looks with her one good eye at her hands, at her bandaged, splinted fingers, at the coiled bangles of bruises around her wrists: the marks of what she withstood for her father. She takes a moment to control herself, then looks up at him. “I have the most relevant field experience, I have the most useful contacts, and I have worked effectively with NCIS for more than two years. I am the most qualified Mossad officer for the liaison position. You cannot allow our relationship to cloud your judgement.”

Effectively checkmated on that front – and subtly reminded of their furious exchange from yesterday – her father changes tactics. He softens his voice, letting affection show. “Perhaps my judgement is compromised. But after what has happened to you, I want to be sure you’re safe. I want you near.”

Gibbs – who has taken to being ignored the same way he takes to being focused on: with complete indifference – shifts in his seat. “Ziva was not kidnapped and tortured while working at NCIS,” he offers mildly.

“I'm no safer here than I am there,” Ziva concurs, her voice still resolute. “There is important work to be done at NCIS. You must let me do it. And I will be safe.” On the last word, she shifts her gaze from her father to Gibbs.

Her father has never been a man to waste his time. It’s too valuable, and he’s too proud to continue fighting when it’s clear he has lost. He rests his hand lightly on her shoulder and bends to kiss her forehead. “At least let me arrange for proper medical transport.”

“Thank you. I would appreciate that.” Ziva presses her cheek to his longer than she intended to. She might not trust him, but she loves him. “I will stay safe, I promise.”

Eli straightens and fixes his gaze on Gibbs. “I suspect you are the one, Agent Gibbs, who should promise that my daughter will be safe.”

“Ziva can take care of herself.” Gibbs doesn’t stand or hold out his hand.

“A father always worries,” Eli returns. “But you do not have children, do you?”

“Not anymore,” Gibbs confirms. But he slides a gaze to Ziva for a moment, giving her father a clear message. “Until next time, Director.”

“Make sure to call your aunts when you arrive in Washington, Ziva, or they will force me to issue a warrant through Interpol.”

“I will.”

“And when you have time…”

“I will forward you my report shortly.”

“L’Hitraot.”

Ziva watches her father go, upright and tall, his stride purposeful, his mind no doubt ticking over as he fits her quiet rebellion into his plans, as he considers what further usefulness she can serve in returning to NCIS. When she was younger she loved the serious, grave expression he wore when cogitating deeply, mistaking it for noble thought. Now, she knows what his mind is capable of.

Gibbs fans out his hand on the bed, letting his cards land beside her hip. “Aces over queens.”

“You win.”

He half-smiles, pleased, no doubt, but still mostly enigmatic.

********

Gibbs goes to sleep in an empty room across the hall not long after the nurses complete their eight o’clock rounds. But when Ziva wakes near dawn, he is sitting beside her bed, watching her.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he offers in a rusty voice.

It doesn’t explain why he’s wrapped his hand lightly around her wrist. But then again, he can’t hold her hand for the broken fingers.

********

Dr. Ohlmert insists that Ziva be sedated for the flight, and accompanies her and Gibbs to the airport. It takes him nearly thirty minutes to brief the medical transport team and handover her scans and test results to be given to her doctor in D.C.. He sedates her himself, and as the drugs begin to swim through her, he says, kindly, “I do not want to see you in my hospital ever again, Ziva.”

The last thing she sees is Gibbs placing his bags in the overhead locker. She must say something – maybe his name – because he turns and holds her gaze until her eyes close over.

********

The medical transport team obviously sedate her again during the flight, because when Ziva wakes up she is in a different hospital room. It’s graced with the same colour scheme though, and another bunch of yellow roses. And Gibbs, asleep in the chair beside her bed.

“Gibbs?”

He opens his eyes immediately and begins to get out of the chair. “I’ll tell the nurse you’re awake.”

“Did you tell the others that I’m here?”

“I didn’t tell them when we’d arrive.”

“I don’t think Abby should see me in hospital. I know it upsets her. I think it would be better if she saw me when I go…” Ziva trails off.

“When you go where?” Gibbs asks, settling back into the chair.

“I just remembered I don't have an apartment anymore.” Gibbs keeps quiet while she thinks. “I will have to arrange a hotel room, at least temporarily.”

“Abby would make an exception to see you.”

“I know, but I will only be here one night for observation, maybe two, and then they should be able to treat me as an outpatient. Perhaps if we tell a grey lie, and make her believe I arrived tomorrow, or the day after and went straight to the hotel.”

“We could,” Gibbs agrees. “Or she could see you at my house.”

Ziva shakes her head. “I do not think I can travel, Gibbs, at least not far.”

“Why would you be travelling?”

“I do not…” But then she realises. “Oh, I see.” Ziva swallows, hard. “It is a kind offer, Gibbs, but I do not wish to be a burden to you.”

“I don’t intend to carry you around everywhere, Ziva. I’m pointing out that it would be easier to stay with me while you recuperate.”

“I am not sure it would be appropriate. You are my superior officer…”

“You haven’t been officially reinstated to NCIS. I’m not your superior anything.”

“But…”

“It’s not a suggestion, Ziva. You don’t have anywhere else. And you’re not staying at a hotel.”

“That is…” She makes a face and sighs with resignation. “You have won this argument. But as soon as I am well enough, I will make other arrangements.”

Gibbs stands and heads for the door. “I’ll get the nurse now. And you meant white lie, before.”

Ziva frowns: a lie is never white, only grey or black.

********

The next morning, when she is discharged, she and Gibbs have an argument about the wheelchair, which Gibbs also wins, by deferring to the doctor who insists she should stay off her right knee. Gibbs has to push her out to his car because her dislocated shoulder is still strapped and she’s wearing a sling.

When they reach the car though, Gibbs lets her manoeuvre into the front seat without assistance and doesn’t comment when she begins to tremble from the effort. Dr. Ohlmert told her she would need months of physical therapy to recover from the sustained torture inflicted on her body. Ziva didn’t want to believe him, but she’s beginning to suspect he’s right.

They have removed her patch, satisfied that her left eye has recovered from the surgery. The light hurts, though, and she keeps her eyes closed as they travel out of the city to Gibbs’ house. Gibbs retrieves the chair from the trunk when they get there. Ziva doesn’t argue with him this time, letting him pull the chair up his front steps, wincing with every jolt. She is familiar with the layout of the main areas of Gibbs’ house, but he wheels her past the basement stairs to a bedroom at the end of the hall.

There are two boxes stacked in the far corner, and when Ziva throws Gibbs a look he says, “Your father sent some things over from Israel. Clothes, his assistant said.”

“I did not have much there,” she comment, then adds, “And nothing here.” Ziva plants her hands on the bed to lift herself out of the chair, and this time Gibbs does help her, reaching out to steady her when she begins to list. “I am…”

“Nobody ever got better by pretending they were fine, Ziva,” Gibbs says lightly, his hands resting impersonally on her waist. It is Ziva realises, the only safe place to hold her, every other part of her too damaged.

“You did.”

“I’m different.” Gibbs helps her turn on the spot and sit on the bed.

“Oh?”

“According to Ducky, I’m an idiot.”

“Well, he is a doctor,” Ziva murmurs. She lies down, easing her shoulder into a comfortable position. “I think I’ll just…”

********

The sound of hurried footfall wakes her. It’s dark when she opens her eyes and she can’t move, and she is back in the room, the heavy tread of boots promising only pain and she begins to panic. The door flies open, letting in light, revealing the ceiling and the windows, and the curtains that are closed because she’s in Gibbs’ guest room and she is safe. She exhales unsteadily.

“Ziva!”

It is Abby, of course, running down the hall in her boots, flinging the door open and closing in on the bed to throw her arms around Ziva. But she stops right at the edge of the mattress, holding herself back with effort. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she declares anxiously.

“You won’t,” Ziva says, pushing a blue blanket off with her good hand. Gibbs must have covered her while she slept. She wriggles into a sitting position. “Just be careful of my shoulder.”

Abby sits on the bed and wraps her arms around Ziva’s waist, tentative and careful. Ziva understands what Abby wants though, so she leans against Abby and tightens her own grip. “I am okay, Abby.”

Abby releases her breath in a hot huff against Ziva’s neck. “Oh, Ziva, we thought you were dead.”

Ziva keeps her tone light. “No, not this time.”

Abby squeezes tighter, and Ziva’s ribs begin to complain, but she doesn’t say a word. “There should never be another time. You can never get hurt again.”

“I will try not to be kidnapped again,” Ziva solemnly promises, because she can’t promise anything else. McGee appears in the doorway. “Hello McGee.”

“Hi Ziva. Abby, maybe you should…”

“I’ll let go in a minute, McGee!” Abby insists. “Wait your turn.”

When Abby eventually lets go she scoots to the other side of the bed and climbs up next to Ziva. McGee takes up the spot Abby vacated and reaches out to touch Ziva’s wrist. “It’s good to see you.”

“McGee! Ziva nearly died – hug her!”

Ziva and McGee exchange a look, but McGee leans forward to hug Ziva briefly.

Abby burrows under the blanket, leaning against Ziva’s good shoulder. “Gibbs said we should wait until tomorrow, but we weren’t going to wait, were we, Timmy? Even Palmer wanted to come with us, but he and Ducky had to finish an autopsy, so they’ll probably come by later.”

McGee squeezes her wrist. “We won’t stay for long. I’m sure you’re tired.”

“I am,” Ziva admits. “But I'm very glad to see you both.”

They talk about Abby’s bowling league, and Ziva asks McGee about Sarah. Abby tells her about a disastrous date she went on last week, which causes McGee to go quiet, although Abby doesn’t notice. McGee and Abby do most of the talking, and just when she begins to flag Gibbs materialises in his out-of-work uniform of jeans and a faded T-shirt.

“Go on, you two,” he says, fixing Abby with a pointed look. “You can visit tomorrow. After work.”

“But Gibbs…”

“Tomorrow. She’s not going anywhere.”

Abby gives Ziva another squeeze before bouncing off the bed and shooting Gibbs a glare. McGee hesitates a moment, waiting until Gibbs has followed Abby down the hall. He bends and drops a kiss on Ziva’s cheek. “I don’t think Abby could cope if you got hurt again, Ziva.”

Ziva understands what McGee is saying, and not for the first time she wonders how he has survived so long with such an open heart. But she would not change him, and she’s sorry to have scared him so badly. “I know.” She offers a small smile. “I did not set out to cause so much anxiety.”

“I’ll let you rest,” McGee, giving her wrist a final squeeze before following Abby and Gibbs down the hall.

When Gibbs comes back in, Ziva is struggling to climb under the covers. Her ribs ache miserably, her knee is a black hole of pain and she can’t grip the covers properly with her bandaged fingers.

“Here.” Gibbs slides her to the far side of the bed, deals with the covers and slides her back across with minimal fuss. He doesn’t quite tuck her in, but it’s close. “Yell if you need anything. I’ll be downstairs.”

“Could you leave the door open?” Ziva asks as she pulls the covers up to her chin. Gibbs props the door open without comment.

She’s tired of sleeping, but her eyes flutter closed uncontrollably and she feels herself go under again.

********

For dinner, Gibbs makes scrambled eggs with cheese. They’re surprisingly good. He serves the meal to her in bed, and settles in the chair by the window to eat with her. He has a beer with his meal, but gives Ziva a glass of milk, which makes her smile.

“You don’t get to eat in bed again,” he tells her as he collects her plate. Ziva pokes out her tongue to his retreating back. “Don’t poke your tongue out at me.”

It had not occurred to her she might be swapping the hospital for a stricter regime.

********

Later, when it is properly dark, Gibbs brings Ziva a glass of water, a handful of colourful pills and a knife. “You can’t have a gun,” he tells her flatly.

“But…”

He lets the pills rain from his palm into her upturned hands. “I saw before. With Abby. No gun.”

Ziva swallows her pills, finishes the water, and tucks the knife under her pillow. It’s a good knife, well-balanced, well-used, clearly one of Gibbs’. Annoyingly, he’s right about the gun: she wouldn’t let a probable PTSD sufferer have a gun either.

When she lies down, she tucks her hand under the pillow so she can feel the cool, hard handle against her fingertips. The knife doesn’t make her feel safe, because feeling unsafe isn’t an emotion Ziva has ever indulged in, but it does make her feel stronger.

********

Ducky comes by the next day with Palmer and another bunch of yellow roses. Both men are good company; they stay long enough for her to enjoy their presence, but leave just before she’s had enough. It must be something about being a doctor, Ziva decides.

They bring with them a most welcome gift: a stack of books and DVDs. McGee might be the writer, but Ziva’s tastes are more akin to Ducky’s. He brings her le Carre, Zais Rufon’s latest novel, a pastiche by Akunin and a set of reissued Penguin classics. Palmer is clearly responsible for the DVDs. He’s made excellent choices, exactly the sort of thing she watches, and Ziva is both surprised and touched that he knows her so well.

Ducky tells her he’s making arrangements for a physiotherapist to visit tomorrow and he’ll return on Friday to take her to the first of her outpatient appointments with Dr. Carver.

After they go, Gibbs forces her out of bed to the table for lunch. He has made sandwiches with basic fillings, but they taste fresher than anything she ate in hospital. He serves her another tall glass of milk.

“Shouldn’t you be at work?” Ziva asks as he clears the table.

“I have leave until next week.” Gibbs drops a banana in her lap. “Ducky says they’re good for you.”

“You hate taking leave.”

“He says they’re full of potassium.”

Ziva begins to peel the banana. “Fine, I will eat the banana. I am sorry you have been forced to take leave for me.”

Gibbs pauses as he passes behind her. He leans over her shoulder and says, succinctly, “You are not allowed to apologise to me again.”

Rather than answer, Ziva takes a large mouthful of banana and nearly chokes when it sticks to the roof of her mouth.

********

She sleeps for hours.

She dreams in snatches when she sleeps, but mostly she disappears into nothingness for hours, reeling out of sleep and staring at the ceiling for long minutes before putting the fragments of the last month back together.

Her world has moved so quickly in the last few weeks, but now she can’t imagine anything more active than the slow hobble from her room to the dining table or the bathroom.

She limps to and from the table for meals, exchanging short conversations with Gibbs. The books and DVDs sit untouched for now. If she didn’t know better she’d think Gibbs was lacing her food with sedatives. He obviously tells the team to keep their distance, although she imagines holding Abby back is a twice-daily battle.

Gibbs is unfazed by her quietness, or the hours devoted to sleep, and whatever he’s doing, he’s quiet about it. In some ways, Ziva thinks Gibbs is the best person she could be with right now. She’s never been able to ask for reassurance, but Gibbs manages to provide it without offering it, taking away her ability to reject it.

When she wakes in the night, she often hears him down in the basement, and the soft, soughing noises of sawing or sanding lull her back to sleep.

Ziva isn’t afraid of being kidnapped again. She’s not afraid of torture or pain, or even the memories of being beaten and cut and degraded, because she knows they’re only memories. Instead, she’s afraid of the changes to the topography of her world, the growing sense that she has alienated her father and Mossad forever, that she has made her choice without knowing she was making it. She is afraid of what Vance wants from her, of what her father will demand of her. She is afraid there is no solid ground beneath her anymore and that her own convictions are not enough.

Gibbs’ presence reassures her that not everything has changed.

There is one fragment she places but doesn’t look at too closely. The fragment of Michael is too sore to contemplate, except that it’s not really Michael at all, but where the thought of Michael leads her: to a fragment she doesn’t even put into place.

Ziva does not know what to think about Tony, or how to begin.

********

The physical therapist, an impossibly tanned blonde called Kimmy gives her a set of exercises to do three times a day. Gibbs watches from the doorway as Kimmy takes her through them. When she leaves, Kimmy tells Ziva that she’s lucky to have such a supportive father. It hurts to laugh, but Ziva doesn’t stop until long after Gibbs has seen Kimmy out.

Ziva does her exercises, aware that the pain is proof of the healing. But by the third time, late in the afternoon, everything hurts like it won’t ever stop again, and she hates Gibbs, the physio, her father, Vance, her body, the world.

********

Ducky takes Ziva to her outpatient appointment, conducting a quick examination before they leave. He seems satisfied and Dr. Carver comes to the same conclusion. They’re obviously pleased with her progress, but Ziva is quivering with exhaustion when they return to Gibbs’ house, and Gibbs has to help her to bed again. It doesn’t feel like progress at all.

When she wakes, it’s late afternoon. Gibbs – his sixth sense obviously tells him when she’s awake – emerges in the doorway. “Time for your exercises,” he says. Ziva doesn’t move. “C’mon, Ziva.”

“I think I got more than enough exercise this morning.” He keeps staring at her. “Really, Gibbs.”

“Really, Ziva.” He steps up to the foot of the bed.

She makes a face and says, like a petulant child, “I am not going to do them.”

“Yes you are.”

Gibbs is so certain – his default setting, Ziva knows, having butted up against it enough times to know she’ll lose. He won’t leave her alone until she does her exercises. She throws the covers off with a huff and begins. By the halfway mark tears are burning her eyes, and by the time she finishes they’re making steady tracks down her cheeks.

“I hate this,” she says, pressing her palms to her face, covering her eyes, hiding herself, hiding her weakness.

“You’re supposed to,” Gibbs observes.

Ziva hears him walk away and she cries properly then, hot, angry tears flooding out, her shoulders wracked and shaking, her throat tight, her breath jerking and catching. She cries with grief and pain, with betrayal and anger, with misery, and with the euphoric, overwhelming relief that she is alive. She doesn’t realise Gibbs has returned until the bed dips. He doesn’t gather her in his arms but he pulls her hands away from her face and forces her to look at him.

“They took your body from you,” he says quietly. “They took away your power and your strength. That’s what torture is – you know this, Ziva.” He releases her hands, and pushes her hair away from her damp face. It’s a gentle gesture, and Ziva is startled by it.

“Gibbs…”

“You’re the bravest person I know. Now take your pills and go to sleep.”

Ziva does exactly that.

********

In the evening, he brings her dinner to her. He doesn’t mention her breakdown, and neither does she. McGee bought a television and set it up the other day, and Gibbs turns on the football without consultation. In between bites of chicken, Ziva peppers Gibbs with questions about the game. He’s knowledgeable about it, offering concise explanations for the plays and tactics. After some prompting, he tells her he played a little in the Corps. By “a little”, Ziva guesses he was very good at it.

By the end of the game, she’s sleepy again. “Thank you,” she says, when Gibbs turns the TV off. She hopes he realises she’s not thanking him for dinner. Or the game.

********

On Saturday, Abby and McGee show up unannounced. Gibbs disappears for a few hours and retreats to his basement when he returns, content to let Abby and McGee entertain her.

Abby insists on doing Ziva’s exercises with her, lying on the bed in her tartan skirt and leather boots, lifting and flexing and chattering the whole time so that Ziva barely notices her pain. McGee produces a copy of Star Wars, Abby makes popcorn, and the two of them act out their favourite scenes. Abby does a surprisingly good Darth Vader impersonation. By the time they leave it’s nearly dark, but Ziva barely notices the passage of time.

Abby is more tactile than usual – if that’s actually possible – and McGee is anxiously attendant to all of Ziva’s needs, and Ziva lets them.

********

After dinner, Gibbs tells her it’s about time she did the dishes. It’s difficult with one functioning arm, and her torso aches viciously from the effort of standing upright when she’s finished. The injuries on her torso continue to linger, blooming and breeding pain. Between her ribs, her collarbone, her shoulder, the infected kidney, and the surgery to remove her spleen, it hurts to breathe most of the day and she can’t stand up straight without something black and freezing passing through her body.

Gibbs leaves her alone to do the dishes, doesn’t offer any assistance, and doesn’t say anything when she clings to the wall on the long walk back to her bed. It would be easy to hate him for forcing her to tackle a new task every day, for forcing her just past the limits of her endurance on purpose, but he’s right to keep counterbalancing the others’ softness. Ziva will not get better by being cosseted, only by being pushed.

********

When Gibbs returns to work, summer truly arrives.

Ziva wakes early to eat her breakfast with Gibbs, does her exercises, then spends the morning out on the porch. Gibbs has a two-seater porch swing set up in the west corner of the porch that runs the rear of his house. Ziva drags pillows out there and enjoys the shade during the morning. The garden is fairly well-maintained and pretty enough. Birds congregate in the willows at the rear of garden, and Ziva listens to them chatter and nag. She reads in the mornings, when she can concentrate best. Ducky brings her new books every three days when he escorts her to Dr Carver’s. Every Friday he brings her a fresh bunch of yellows roses to adorn the dresser in her room.

Before lunch, Ziva usually talks to McGee or Abby, sometimes both of them if they’re working together in Abby’s lab. After lunch, Ziva does her physio exercises again, then sleeps.

In the late afternoon she retreats to DVDs, curling up in bed and enjoying the comedies and adventures Palmer has supplied. They prove to be the perfect fare, light enough that she can follows them, entertaining and amusing, and welcome distraction from the continued battle she wages with her body.

Gibbs usually arrives home by six o’clock. She can tell he’s leaving work earlier than usual for her benefit, but by the time her movie finishes she wants his company, taciturn as he might be.

She still can’t manage dinner, too tired and sore by the end of the day, so they continue to eat Gibbs’ basic meals. After dinner, he sometimes watches television with her, but mostly he works on his boat. Some evenings, Abby, McGee, Ducky or Palmer visit, although they don’t visit in groups on weeknights.

The repeated pattern of the days breeds a certain element of restless ennui, but the collapse of her body at the end of every day reminds Ziva that she’s not idling, she’s healing.

********

The next week is better. Ziva manages to make lasagne one morning, thrilled when Gibbs goes back for a second serve that night. On Tuesday afternoon she hobbles to the mailbox and back, a positive victory. On Wednesday, she changes her bedsheets but is too exhausted to wash and hang them when she’s done.

That weekend is the Fourth of July. On the Saturday, Abby, McGee, Palmer and Ducky arrive, bearing food, alcohol, and in Abby’s case, a hat, sunblock and a red sundress.

“What is that?” Ziva asks when Abby thrusts it at her.

“It’s a dress, Ziva.”

“I can see that. They did not hit me in the head that hard, Abby.”

The face Abby makes tells Ziva that she is not ready for jokes. Neither is Ziva really, but it’s a convenient way to distance herself from what happened – what was done to her – beyond the obvious distance of time.

“What does that dress have to do with me?” Ziva asks, sliding around her earlier remark.

“It’s summer and we’re having a barbecue. Besides, you’ve been wearing sweats for over a month.” Abby bats her eyelashes. “Don’t you want to feel like a girl?”

“Stop making that face,” Ziva scowls. “I am not going to wear that dress. Or any dress.”

“C’mon, Ziva. It’ll make you feel better.” Abby skips around the bed to corner Ziva near the mirror. “The boys will all look at you.”

“Ducky and Gibbs are the same age as my father, McGee thinks of me as his sister, and Palmer…” Ziva shakes her head. “No.”

“But Ziva, I bought it especially for you. You love red!”

“Absolutely not, Abby.”

********

Ten minutes later, she’s looking at her reflection in the mirror and wincing at the brightness of the vermillion. Abby is gripping her waist to stop her fleeing, and is smiling encouragingly over Ziva’s shoulder.

“See? You look great!”

“Abby...” She looks past the immediacy of the colour, and sees at least five good reasons why she can’t wear the dress. “Abby, look at me.”

“I am.”

Ziva has never considered herself a particularly vain woman, but this isn’t really a matter of vanity. “No, Abby. Look at me. Here.” She points to her upper arm, which is currently sporting a nasty laceration. It’s healing – it’s itchy, and it’s less red than it was, and it probably won’t scar after her father’s imprimatur, but it still looks awful. “And here.” This time she gestures to her knee, which is swollen and misshapen. “And my hair, Abby…”

Abby squeezes Ziva’s waist. “I don’t care. None of us care, Ziva. And we can tie your hair up.”

“I do not…”

“Ziva.” Abby hooks her chin over Ziva’s shoulder and fixes at her with a gaze she has clearly stolen from Gibbs. “This is part of getting better.”

Ziva looks at herself again, seeing only the blemishes and wounds, and she knows that Abby’s right. When she hobbles down the steps to the lawn, she feels utterly exposed. Abby hovers behind her, clearing her throat as they appear at the top of the steps.

“Ziva, I have a seat for you,” McGee says, meeting her at the bottom and giving her his arm. “Just over here. Do you want something to drink?”

“No alcohol,” Ducky admonishes. “I’ll make you a Virgin Mary instead, Ziva. And might I say you look lovely?”

“Thank you, Ducky,” she says weakly. She doesn’t want McGee’s arm, but she knows he needs to give it to her, so she leans on him.

“Ducky’s right,” McGee agrees, as he helps her settle. “You look good in red.”

Palmer is fussing with salads at a trestle table that has been set up near the barbecue. “A bold colour for a bold woman,” he says, flashing Ziva a lovely smile. She forgets that Palmer is capable of such gallantry.

Gibbs is cooking at the barbecue, already drinking bourbon. Ziva suspects he didn’t invite the team around, but was told – Abby being the most likely candidate – that they would be coming over for a barbecue. As they fuss around her, bringing drinks and food, finding a chair to prop her bad leg on, talking brightly about work, about the weather, about their families and former Independence Day celebrations, Ziva can tell they’ve put the barbecue together for her sake. And Gibbs has let them.

She’s getting almost tired of it: the communal effort her co-workers are undertaking to help her heal, both physically and emotionally. She has always healed alone, with nothing but her pain for company, and it feels like bleeding all over again to have them standing so close to her, brimming with help and love.

*******

The afternoon stretches, and there seems to be an endless parade of food, most of it made by Palmer. Surprisingly, it’s all very good. Gibbs proves to be an excellent barbecue chef, and Ducky keeps all of them – bar Ziva – well-lubricated, so that even Gibbs relaxes and smiles.

All of them being together – for the first time since Ziva’s return – highlights Tony’s absence so much that Ziva can’t ignore it. Palmer proves more than able to take on the role of the joker without Tony hogging the limelight, and McGee clearly enjoys being Gibbs’ right-hand man at the barbecue. But Ziva also knows the mood would be more festive and sociable if Tony was with them. He’d cajole Gibbs into laughing and tease Palmer into revealing the secret ingredient of his coleslaw. He’d flirt with Abby until McGee got cross, and he’d probably have made a series of inappropriate comments about Ziva’s dress, all of which she would secretly have loved.

********

McGee and Palmer set off fireworks in the first dark of the evening, and Abby grabs Ziva’s hand and makes noises of child-like joy. Gibbs laconically tells them that if they set fire to his lawn they’ll be keel-hauled. Ducky looks on indulgently.

The sparks and bangs set Ziva’s teeth on edge, and the heat and the dark don’t help, but she concentrates on her breathing until the moment passes.

It’s long after ten o’clock when everybody departs, Abby telling Ziva to keep the dress. Ziva tentatively makes her way across the lawn to the steps, then stares at them with a sinking heart. They seem insurmountable, an impossible challenge to defeat her at the end of a good day.

“Need some help?” Gibbs asks softly from the behind.

“Yes,” Ziva admits.

Gibbs helps her up the steps and to her room – half-carries her in fact – then disappears to retrieve her pills and some water as usual. Ziva strips out of the dress and pulls on a T-shirt. She gulps the water down, and Gibbs refills it.

He pauses in her doorway after he flicks off the light and says, “I liked the dress.”

********

On a return journey from the doctor the following Wednesday, Ducky waits until they’re out of the District before he asks, “How often are you taking your painkillers?”

“Often enough.”

“This is the first afternoon appointment I’ve taken you to. Before we even arrived at the clinic you were grimacing in pain.”

“Hardly surprising,” Ziva comments.

“How often, Ziva?”

“In the evenings, when I go to sleep.”

“Once a day? It’s not enough.”

“It is.”

“Ziva, there’s no award for being brave and stupid.”

“It is not a matter of bravery.”

Ducky stops at a red light and fixes her with a look that leaks sympathy and kindness. “Pain isn’t a necessity, Ziva.”

“I have seen what happens when people become addicted…” She shakes her head. “I don't like the pills.”

Ducky heeds the short beep from the SUV behind him and accelerates through the intersection. They pass through another two intersections before Ducky says, “Your mother?”

“How did you know?”

“You almost never speak of her.”

Ziva waits through three intersections and a left-hand turn before she feels composed enough to say, “She always said she needed them. Her magic pills. Actually, that is not the literal translation, but I have heard…” She pulls up abruptly, wishing she would stop running into Tony’s name so regularly in her daily conversations. It’s a remainder of how dominant a presence he’s been in life these last years.

“Tony,” Ducky supplies. “His mother apparently went through NA multiple times, but it never lasted.”

“NA?”

“Narcotics Anonymous.”

“Oh.”

“Remarkable, really.” Ducky waits, glancing at her in his periphery. “Tony’s childhood. All that money. And all that unhappiness.”

“Poor people are unhappy too, Ducky.”

“Of course. Only, I wonder sometimes if Tony’s aversion to emotional honesty is a result of a childhood that required him to pretend that nothing was wrong.”

“I don't care why Tony does anything.” Ziva looks out the window, as though Ducky will stop because she refuses to look at him.

“You aren’t your mother, Ziva,” Ducky says softly, drawing back from Tony. “I suspect your mother was in a lot of pain, but not for the reasons you are.”

He walks her inside and makes them a pot of tea, locating a plain white teapot with an air of familiarity. Ziva didn’t think Gibbs knew tea even existed. It would be just like Gibbs though, to have a teapot for when Ducky visits.

When he’s leaving, Ziva asks, without quite knowing why, “What happened to Tony’s mother?”

Ducky’s pauses with his hat halfway to his head. “She died.”

“I know that. How?”

“That’s a question better addressed to Tony, I think.”

“Ducky…”

He settles his hat. “She died of an overdose when he was eleven. Whether it was accidental or self-inflicted was never concluded. Tony’s father remarried seven weeks after the funeral.”

“The first of his step-monsters,” Ziva says, employing Tony’s word for his father’s second and third wives.

“Mm. And your mother? What happened to her?”

“Ovarian cancer.”

“How old you were you?”

Ziva briefly considers lying, but says, “Eleven.”

********

It’s been over a decade since Ziva last lived with another person for any length of time, and she’s surprised by how easily she and Gibbs fit together.

Gibbs’ house is a reflection of his personality. When she’s steadier on her legs Ziva takes the opportunity to look around. The rooms are all painted white with curtains that were clearly chosen by a woman, so they probably date to the last of Gibbs’ wives. The furniture is simple but obviously handcrafted, the rich tones of the wood and the clean, straight lines giving it all a timeless quality. There’s little clutter, no photographs, almost no art adorning the walls, and little by way of technology.

He has an ancient record player in the basement, and after a few weeks, Ziva knows the five songs that Gibbs listens to. He would never admit it, but Ziva suspects he’s enjoying having a TV in the house, if only because he can watch the football. There are things that surprise her. The bookcase is full of interesting entries, the kitchen is well-stocked (although Ziva guesses that has something to do with her presence), and the closets are all organised with military precision.

There are things about Gibbs himself that surprise her. He always puts out linen napkins with the evening meals. He brings her ice-cream on hot days. When Ducky comes for dinner, he manages to draw out fascinating stories of Gibbs’ travels or his time in the Marines. Although he doesn’t divulge a lot, the tales remind Ziva that Gibbs is more than an obsessive investigator and boat builder. On Saturday mornings, Gibbs does laundry, vacuums, cleans the bathrooms, and even dusts the house. He laughs out loud at some of the inane football commentary, and some evenings when they sit on the porch swing, he points to birds in the trees and tells her their names.

Gibbs’ role as Ziva’s boss has always involved a personal element, but Ziva likes seeing him in this different context. Mostly though, Ziva is surprised by how much she wants – and needs – to see Gibbs at the end of each day.

********

Her aunts ring in regular rotation.

They are good women, her mother’s older sisters, full of affection and passion, strong and wild in their own ways. Because they are good women they cook Eli meals and invite him for family celebrations. And because they are clever – actually crafty, because all the Leimbach women are crafty – are not above using Eli’s influence to their advantage. But because they are good aunts, they have long been angry with Eli over the burdens he’s placed on Ziva.

On Sunday afternoon, Miriam rings. Miriam is Ziva’s favourite aunt, the one most like her mother. After a lengthy interrogation involving Ziva’s medical progress, Miriam says, almost quietly, “I saw Michael’s mother yesterday.” Ziva does not reply, waiting Miriam out. “She sends her regards, and hopes you are getting better.”

Ziva met Michael’s mother at Michael’s funeral, the day after Gibbs left, the day before she departed on her mission. She was a tiny woman, struck silent and aimless by aninut, clinging to her nephews, Michael’s cousins. She’d been widowed early, and Michael had been her only child. She wailed as she rent her coat after the funeral, and could barely sit upright when Ziva joined the other mourners in observing shiva at the family home. As she sat there with her father in the cold, empty silence, Ziva could not help but think that Michael had been a meshumad, a soul lost to his faith. He would have been unmoved by the rituals his family were practising. Then she’d realised he would never care about anything ever again, and she’d bitten the inside of her cheek to stop from crying.

“Thank her for me when you see her next.”

“Zi-Zi, I know you loved him…” Miriam begins carefully.

“I do not know what I felt for Michael,” Ziva replies, just as carefully.

“Michael was a good man, he…”

“Michael was Mossad,” she interrupts, her tone hard, hurtful. “I know better than anybody what that means, and it has nothing to do with being good.”

“Don't do this, Zi-Zi. Don't be so hard and brittle. Don't deny your heart.”

“Miri, I am not sure Michael was a good man. I am not sure what he wanted from me, or whether he really wanted me at all.”

“You cannot believe your father…”

“We both know my father is capable of almost anything.”

“Whatever you believe, Michael was not a stranger to you. You should mourn his passing. Do not let your anger rule you.” Miriam uses the voice she used when Ziva was a little girl, when her parents would throw their hands up at Ziva’s temper and admit defeat. It was Miriam who taught her to use her anger, to fashion it into a tool, to be clever with it.

“I will try,” Ziva says, then changes the topic.

After Miriam has rung off, promising to call again in a few days, Ziva climbs out of bed and makes creeping progress down the hall to the basement door. Gibbs is sanding, making music out of the constant rhythm. Ziva cracks the door and limps to the edge of the landing.

“Everything okay?” Gibbs asks without turning to look at her.

“Yes.” It times some effort, and a lot of hope, but she manages to sit on the landing. “You have started another boat.”

“Looks like.” Gibbs tosses his sanding block onto the workbench, then crosses to the stairs. He hooks his wrists over the rail. “To what do I owe the honour?”

It’s an overly formal, funny thing to say and Ziva smiles. “Cannot a girl visit a man building a boat?”

Gibbs rests his chin on his left wrist. “That loses something in translation.”

“It’s something that Tony…” she breaks off. “Well. I am sure he would be laughing at me if he was here.”

“But he’s not,” Gibbs says, flat, but with meaning.

“No, it’s too quiet.”

Now it’s Gibbs turn to smile. “Was that your aunt on the phone?”

“How can you tell?”

“You use a particular tone when you talk to them. It’s something like the tone I used when my wives called me.”

“My Zayde told me once, when I was little, that nagging is the way women express affection.”

“Really? I’m pretty sure it’s the way women express irritation.”

Ziva looks at her knees. “My aunt thinks I’m angry with Michael. Because he betrayed me.”

“Are you?”

“No. Yes.” She keeps staring at her knees. “I never quite trusted Michael.”

“Why not?”

Ziva presses her palms to her shins and curls her body over her legs. Her hair swings lose and tickles her knees. At this angle, her eyes are inches from Gibbs, and she likes that he doesn’t look away from her.

“Michael was my father’s man. My father recruited him to Mossad, promoted him. I was never sure if Michael was with me for himself, or on my father’s orders. And either way, he was unstable. I knew he was a danger. I authorised Mossad to extract him.”

“Before he killed somebody else?” She nods. “Michael would have killed Tony. You know that.”

“Yes.” It’s a painful answer. “It does not justify what Tony did.”

“Kill or be killed, Ziva. It’s never about what’s right, or just. You understand that better than most. But you’re too angry at Tony to admit it.”

She makes a face, but pauses too long, giving herself away in the silence. “This is not about Tony.”

Gibbs steps away from the railing. “Next time you come down here, I’ll conscript you for hard labour.”

Ziva knows Gibbs’ techniques by now. He has not replied to her comment about Tony because he considers it to be so patently untrue that it’s not worth continuing the conversation.

Ziva has no defence to that, because Gibbs is right.

********

The following Thursday, Ducky is late getting her for her appointment, knocking on Gibbs’ front door a good fifteen minutes after he’s due.

“Where have you been?” Ziva asks, pulling back the door.

Ducky isn’t late. Tony is.

********

End of Part One

Part Two

Comments

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:28 am (UTC)

Oh, oh, I LOVE all those pictures from the TV Guide shoot. I think I sort of half-ship Michael/Cote as a separate thing to Tony/Ziva now!

Am glad you're enjoying this, Part 2 should go up within the next day!

Posted by: yahalomay (yahalomay)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC)

This is beautiful, it's a brilliant exploration of Ziva, and her relationship with everyone in NCIS, especially Gibbs. I think what a lot of Tony/Ziva stories lack is how people who aren't Tony affect Ziva - and you do that so well.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)

Thanks so much. I really love the Ziva/Gibbs dynamic and have enjoyed exploring it (in depth!) in this fic. Thanks for the feedback - am glad you're enjoying this!

Posted by: kyra_gm (kyra_gm)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)

You can't stop there! That's just EVIL!!! Seriously! AMAZING! Please, PLEASE, do not wait too long for the next chapter! If I have to, I will even beg you on my knees! :D

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:31 am (UTC)

Yes, yes, I am VERY evil! Am glad you're enjoying this - thanks for the feedback. And begging won't be necessary!

Posted by: Megan (returnofpiper)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
NCIS Sad Ziva

Oh, what a killer way to end this. I can't wait for the next part! This is just beautiful. I love how the others react, and I love that you make Tony's absence obvious without making it obvious. Lovely work.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)

Yeah, I couldn't really end this part any other way! It was quit a challenge trying to maintain Tony's absence without losing his presence entirely, so I'm glad it worked for you! Am glad you're enjoying this - thanks for the feedback.

Posted by: Lovable droll geek. (onlyonechoice)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC)
NCIS - Tony

This is such good stuff - looking forward to more!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)

Thanks so much!

Posted by: everybody__lies (everybody__lies)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
ncis .# tony and ziva

Oh wow, this is great. You write Ziva perfectly. You've really got her relationships with everyone else down too. It's all so in-character. I love how Gibbs is taking care of Ziva in a very Gibbs-way too. And Abby and McGee have been great (LOL Abby is so Abby). Can't wait for more. ♥

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)

Thank you! Am glad you're enjoying this. Sustaining character over a long piece can get challenging, so it's nice to know this rings true for me. I LOVE writing Abby - she's got such a positive presence.

More coming soon, promise!

Posted by: Mona (monack)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)

This is really... really good. You have captured Ziva's voice perfectly - and Gibbs as well. It's as if the characters are speaking to me in my ear as I read this fic. I am very much looking forward to the next part!

Thanks for writing this :)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)

Well, thank *you* for reading it!

And thanks for the feedback - I'm glad you enjoying this. Next part coming soon, I promise!

Posted by: tabaqui (tabaqui)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)

Oh, this was lovely. This is *just* what i need and want from an NCIS fic. No over-the-top romance and porn but clear, perfect windows into a character's heart and soul.

Pitch-perfect voices, and utterly believable chain of events and *yay* for taking the injuries seriously, the physical and mental trauma, without going crazy with it.

Awesomely wonderful, can't wait for the rest. :)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)

Oh, you always leave such shiny, pretty feedback for me. I do love it!

I didn't set out to write such a long piece in response to S6, but once I started, I found it just kept growing, becasue *I* wanted to explore the complex ramifications of what happened. The show has far different time constraints (and Ziva will probably be healed of her injuries within two episodes!) but I had the space and time to really explore what happened to Ziva.

So I'm glad you're enjoying it too!

Posted by: tabaqui (tabaqui)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 06:21 am (UTC)

Yes, i do wish the shows could be a little more believable in their time frames, but we know they can't. Fortunately, there's you!
:)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)

Aw, I'm blushing!

Posted by: lavoz (delsilencio)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)

WOW! Amazing!! Such good characterization! Of everyone! I specially like this portrayal of Gibbs and Ziva's relationship! I hope this S7 unfolds half the way this story goes! I hope! >.< I wish Ziva and Tony's relationship gets fixed, but I hope this story remains Ziva/Gibbs focus :) You're doing so great writing it!

I love it! And to leave there! WOW! Evil.. lol!

Update soon!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:41 am (UTC)

Thanks so much! I really love writing the Ziva/Gibbs dynamic, so don't worry, it's definitely there in part two. As for Ziva and Tony's relationship...well, you'll just have to keep reading...

I really am evil, aren't I!

Posted by: viggofest (viggofest)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)

I'm not the hugest Ziva fan, but you've really brought her alive for me. I also like the use of tenses and the pacing. This is really good writing and I look forward to the second part!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)

Thank you for this feedback - it's quite a compliment that you've read this even though you aren't a big Ziva fan! Second part coming soon, promise!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)

LOL! Your feedback makes me laugh so damn hard. And yay for your Firefly icon. Sigh. I miss Firefly.

And that line is *totally* meant to define Ziva's view of lying/truth etc - the way she's so confused about small "white" lies, because in her mind either you're lying or you're not.

When your prompt came through all those months ago, I'd just seen the season finale and I knew I was going to write about it, but your prompt of 'trust' really got me thinking. I didn't set out to write something so goddamn long, though. My bad!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)

Well, I haven't watched FF in years - am feeling very nostalgic just thinking about it.

Long might be good, but good God does it kill my editing skills. I've just edited and posted part two and I feel incapable of thinking or writing properly ever again. And I'm sure I've got a couple of errors in it, but I will cry if I have to look at it again.

Am going to go to bed now! Goodnight!

Posted by: sinkwriter (sinkwriter)
Posted at: September 20th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
Snoopy - Writing

This is fantastic.

In fact, it deserves much deeper feedback, but tonight I'm afraid I don't have time to type it up, so in the meantime, I wanted to pop in to at least let you know how much I'm enjoying your story. It even brought tears to my eyes. (But more on that when I find the time to send you proper feedback.)

Thanks for writing and sharing it with us. :)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:46 am (UTC)

I look to forward to hearing about how I made you cry. (I apologise in advance, too!)

But thank you for *this* feedback and thank you for reading!

Posted by: sinkwriter (sinkwriter)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:50 am (UTC)

Oh, absolutely no worries. It was the good kind of tearing up. *GRIN*

I promise I'll write proper feedback as soon as I can! And I look forward to the next part in this story. *applauds*

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)

The good kind? Oh, well, I totally take my apology back. *grins back*

Posted by: Jenny (eveningflares)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)
NCIS:tony ziva ust

Oh you had to end it there, didn't you? ;)
Can't wait for part two! Such good writing and perfectly in character!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)

Yes, I absolutely, totally, one hundred percent had to end it there, because really, what better cliffhanger was there?

Part two coming soon! Thanks for the feedback!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 02:47 am (UTC)
fan of tiva

I was so happy to see this fic! You are such a talented writer and depict the NCIS world so well. You capture their unique voices down to perfection.

Throughout the whole first part I'm thinking "Where's Tony"? And of course you end it at the most exciting place! I hope you're going to post part 2 very soon. Only two more days to the season premier and I'm anxious to see how TPTB resolve the damage they caused to Ziva and to Tiva.

I'll be waiting eagerly for part 2! I have a feeling I'm going to like your version better.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: fan of tiva

Wow - thank you very much! Your feedback is very kind! As for the ending of this part - I always knew I was going to end it on that moment. Having withheld Tony all of that time, what else could I do but introduce him and leave everybody hanging.

I'm definitely getting part two up before the season premiere - I'll be interested to see waht they do too!

Posted by: AudreyPuppy (audreypuppy)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)
Flirty Ino

Oooh, very lovely! Wonderfully in character (I can just hear the character's voices in my head) and, while I love Tony/Ziva, I actually like that Tony hasn't been present for this first part. And you left off at such a great spot! Wonderful cliffhanger. Very much looking forward to part two! :D

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)

Thanks so much! It's always good to know the dialogue sounds vaguely in character! I'm glad you're enjoying this.

Posted by: ditte3 (ditte3)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 07:05 am (UTC)

This story is great.I really don't find the right word to tell you how much i like it.The whole story is amazing.Everybody is so in character.I like that she loves her father even if she doesn't trust him.It's wonderfully written.I hope she makes peace with Tony.A special thank you for the beautifully written Ziva Gibbs scenes.They have a uniq relationship whatever kind that may be.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)

Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying this. Writing Ziva and Gibbs' relationship is something I really enjoy - partly because it is so unique.

Posted by: fredsmith518 (fredsmith518)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)

who has taken to being ignored the same he takes to being focused on: with complete indifference I liked this and so very many more of your words deserve quoting, on Ziva's dad's motives, on Palmer, all such plausible deductions - beautifully written, but painful as it should be, especially the dress and all the comments and thoughts - I should be working but cannot resist part 2! I figure I can work later.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)

Thank you! Writing Gibbs - or other people's perceptions of Gibbs - can be challenging. He's such a restrained man.

One of the most interesting and difficult parts of writing this story was dealing with all of the complex motivations of the characters. Everybody had an agenda at the end of S6 and I write this story without dealing with it.

I'm glad you enjoyed this (and Part 2 as well!)

Now get back to work!

Posted by: fredsmith518 (fredsmith518)
Posted at: November 25th, 2012 07:22 pm (UTC)
Ebrill

followed a link from ncisfind and couldn't resist re reading, very much enjoying this again second time around

Posted by: azami2011 (azami2011)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)

Amazing!! I like how you described Ziva's pain, the pain of her childhood, and explored all of her relationships with members NCIS. The Ziva/Gibbs thing is cool too. I can't wait for more!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:46 am (UTC)

I really like Ziva - I find her very interesting to write, and I really enjoyed delving into her relationships. Am glad you enjoyed this - and part 2 as well.

Posted by: Kerrison (kerrison)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)

I just... but... ACGH! I just read this whole thing (when I should be in bed sleeeeeping) with a grin. Off for part two and damned the alarm clock tomorrow!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 09:24 am (UTC)

Just blame me when you're tired tomorrow. "Oh, this girl, she wrote some fic, and then I couldn't go to bed..."

Posted by: ksc5ice (ksc5ice)
Posted at: October 5th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)

What a beautiful start!
I found this story through the NCIS newsletter, I hope you don't mind me commenting.
It is so refreshing to find someone who sees Ziva the way I do, she's flawed and broken. Its the team that helps her heal.
I love how you are piecing Ziva back together.
The relationship between Ziva and Gibbs is what she never got from her own father. It's brilliant the way you have made Ziva reconnect with people from scratch, I'm excited to read the next part with Tony!
Thank you!

Posted by: The girl they'd never suspect... (tinkerbell99)
Posted at: November 26th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure I have the words to appreciate this properly, but I'll try :-)

Your characterizations are just outstanding. You've captured something about them that...yeah...I have no words. You've somehow gone BEYOND in-character here - opening up new doors and windows of insight. I'm particularly impressed with what you've done with Gibbs and the dynamic between Gibbs and Ziva. It's beautiful, really.

The one line that let me know this was going to be amazing was

“Your father got his Le Grenouille. Tell Gibbs he owes me.”

You nailed Trent Kort, but even more so, you nailed Eli David's motivations in a way that maybe never occured to me before. (Plus, I'm a sucker for any reference to The Frog :-)

Off to part two...Thank you so much for sharing this!

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