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NCIS Fanfiction: Refuge, Part 2/2

September 21st, 2009 (11:59 pm)

Title: Refuge
Author: Ygrawn
Part: 2/2
Fandom: NCIS
Pairing/Characters: Tony/Ziva, Gibbs
Rating: M-15
Timeline/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.



PART TWO

“Ducky has been unavoidably detained,” Tony says in his best prep school voice. “I’m it.”

They stare at each other long enough for Ziva to start at least four different sentences in her head. “I’ll get my things.”

Tony strides across the lawn to his car to open his passenger door for her. He has to wait as she makes slow progress from the house to the car. If he’s surprised by the extent of her injuries, it doesn’t show. He doesn’t say anything as he navigates back into the city, the midday traffic sparse and Ziva decides that if Tony wants silence she’s happy to oblige.

He circles the underground car park at the hospital twice, waiting for a spot to open up closer to the entrance, and he hustles around again to get the door for her. He slows his stride to match hers as they make their way to Dr. Carver’s consulting rooms. In the waiting room, he squeezes into a chair and dives on the magazines. He reads a ten-year-old issue of The Economist as though it’s revealing the secret to eternal youth. Ziva pretends to look out the window.

Ziva's never been so happy to hear Dr. Carver call her name, but he has her back out in the waiting room before she's quite ready to see Tony again. From the look on his face, he feels the same. They stare at each other again for a long moment, the silence swollen with everything they’re not saying. For two people who have almost never stopped talking – arguing, teasing, flirting – the whole time they’ve known each other, the silence feels like a foreign country.

When Tony parks in Gibbs’ driveway, he doesn’t make to get out, but waits until she’s at the front door before he reverses out of the drive. Ziva leans against the door and exhales with relief and with regret, too.

“Hello, Tony,” she says to the empty house.

********

Ziva has the rest of the day to think about it and she’s furious by the time Gibbs arrives home. “Where have you been?” she asks, ambushing him at the front door.

Gibbs stares at her for a long moment, then slides past her. “Hello Ziva.”

“You could have sent Palmer!”

“We were called out on a case. Tony was the only person available.”

“I’ll catch a cab if it happens again.” Gibbs heads for his room. “I will!” Ziva yells at his retreating back.

********

They eat in a silence that fulminates from Ziva’s side of the table, and is indifferent from Gibbs’. It’s been scorching hot all day, so Ziva sweats, and fumes and stabs at her steak.

“It’s dead. I promise,” Gibbs observes. Ziva stills and narrows her eyes. He half-smiles. “My second wife used to throw cutlery at me. Fortunately, she had a terrible aim.”

I do not.”

“I didn’t send him on purpose,” he says mildly, which is how Ziva knows he did.

********

The next week – they are closing in on the end of July – Tony comes again to take her to Dr. Carver.

“Ducky must be very busy,” Ziva comments. Tony doesn’t respond. She gets her bag and follows him to the car. This time they get stuck in traffic. After three blocks of crawling, Tony turns the radio on but the silence continues to make its presence felt. In the waiting room, Tony digs through the pile of magazines to find the issue of The Economist he was reading last week.

There’s a young girl seated opposite Ziva with a cast on her arm. It takes Ziva some time to realise the girl is staring at her. Ziva stares back. An adult would look away but the girl doesn’t. Eventually, she tugs her mother’s sleeve, and says, in a voice she probably imagines is discreet, “Mommy, what’s wrong with that lady?”

Tony looks up from his magazine.

The mother – tall, with a bob sharp enough to cut ice and a suit that screams money – glances over at Ziva. Her eyes widen, but she frowns at her daughter and says, “Amy, don’t stare.”

“But Mommy, her hair looks strange. And she has cuts on her face and her arms!”

“That’s not our business,” the mother instructs, in a tone that suggests that whatever happened to Ziva it’s clearly a result of her inferior status.

Ziva can’t help it – she sweeps her hair behind her shoulders in an effort to hide the straggly ends. The girl’s surprise and the mother’s response make Ziva uncomfortably conscious of how unkempt and odd she must look. Again, Dr. Carver’s summons is a welcome relief.

When they leave the hospital, Tony turns in the opposite direction to Gibbs’ house, and she’s forced to say, “Where are you going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

His tone carries no lilt or levity, so Ziva watches the passing scenery instead of pursuing the matter. She trusts that wherever he’s taking her she can always call a cab to go home. Or better yet, call Gibbs and ask him to come and get her. Tony weaves through traffic, heading for Georgetown, finally parallel parking on Wisconsin.

“There.” He points across the street to a salon. “You have an appointment.”

“What?”

Tony keeps his eyes on the dashboard. “For your hair. I’ll wait here.”

Ziva’s choices are to stay in the car and talk to Tony, or get out of the car and away from Tony. She has to hustle to cross the street, and by the time she pushes the door of the salon open, her knee is reminding her that she hasn’t done that for a while. The salon is ridiculously trendy, with odd-shaped mirrors, bright red walls, and staff who look like walking advertisements for every coloured hair dye under the sun.

“Uh…hello?”

The receptionist takes one look at her and says, “You must be Ziva. Come right this way.”

“Actually…”

“You’re Tony’s friend, right? He called before, said he’d be bringing you over.”

“I am not sure what Tony told you…”

The receptionist heads for the rear of the salon. “Not much. But he’s one of our regulars, so we’re happy to fit you in. He said we weren’t allowed to ask about your hair. So I won’t. Now, take a seat. I’ll wash your hair.”

The girl does more than wash her hair – she gives Ziva a scalp massage that practically puts her to sleep. She deposits Ziva in a chair near the front window, and a few minutes later, a tall, long-limbed young man appears in the mirror and introduces himself as Lloyd. He has twisted, messy blonde hair, legs that go forever, and beneath his T-shirt, he’s sporting a fine physique.

“I usually cut Tony’s hair – it’s been a while since I cut a woman’s hair.” Lloyd smiles reassuringly at her. “You just want it trimmed? And maybe I’ll tidy up the fringe?”

Aside from the damage inflicted by her torturers – and the repair job the nurse in Tel Aviv performed – it’s been months since Ziva had her hair cut. “That would be good.”

Lloyd begins combing her hair. “So, how do you know Tony?”

“We work together.”

“He’s a funny guy, Tony. And all the girls here just love him.”

“I can imagine.”

When Ziva looks at her reflection, she sees the fading marks and cuts on her face and neck. But Lloyd seems to see only her hair. He’s efficient, and clearly good at what he does. When he’s finished he straightens her hair, then says, “That was fun – I forgot how nice it is to cut long hair. Do you like?”

Ziva considers the straight, tidy ends of her hair, and the sweeping fringe he’s given her. “I like.” She nods more decisively. “It looks much better.”

Lloyd hesitates a moment, before saying, “I don’t know what happened to you, and I don’t need to know. But I’m sorry.”

It is the silliest thing in the world, to well up in a salon in Georgetown because a twenty-something hairdresser in a pair of straight leg jeans has been sweet to her. But that’s exactly what happens.

********

She manoeuvres into Tony’s car gingerly, aware that her body will punish her for the extra activity she’s inflicted upon it today. Tony pulls out into traffic without even looking at her hair, driving them back to Gibbs’ in the silence that feels like it won’t end unless one of them is brave. Ziva doesn’t feel particularly brave.

When Tony parks in Gibbs’ driveway, he doesn’t make to get out. “I should get back,” he says.

Ziva realises he’s taken more time away from work than he should have because of the haircut. “Of course.”

This time Tony doesn’t wait for her to make it to the door. Ziva eats a sandwich and a tub of yoghurt for lunch, then stands in front of the bathroom mirror for a long time, seeing a different person than the woman who left this morning with ruined hair.

She wishes she’d said thank you, but she still hasn’t said hello.

********

“Your hair looks nice,” Gibbs comments that night over dinner.

“It does not,” Ziva bristles. He simply arches an eyebrow. “Don’t make that face. I am well aware that I am being childish.”

“As long as you know it. Pass the salt.”

********

“You again,” Ziva says, when she opens the front door the following Wednesday.

Tony lifts his eyebrows, but the expression is missing the roguish element that so defines him. “Me again. Let me guess – you’ll go get your things?”

Ziva brandishes her bag. “I have them already.”

“You never have been predictable,” Tony observes.

“It’s one of the first lessons in spy school.”

“Right after lying to everybody you know?”

Ziva waits a beat so Tony can feel how nasty he’s been, then says, “Yes.”

During the drive, Ziva calculates they’ve exchanged more words this time than the last two weeks. Progress, she supposes. But today instead of being struck dumb by surprise, she feels silenced by anger, filled with it until she’s sure it must be creating its own atmosphere. Who is Tony to accuse her of lying?

They let silence lead them to the waiting room, and Ziva keeps a chair between her and Tony when she sits. Tony reclaims The Economist. When Ziva’s visit is concluded and they retrace their steps to the elevator, they are greeted by a large sign that reads, OUT OF ORDER.

“Of course,” Ziva mutters.

“There are elevators in the next block,” Tony says, pointing in that direction.

“Jeanne worked here did she not? Did she teach you that? While you were busy lying to everyone you knew?”

Tony makes her feel her cruelty, then says, “Yes.”

“It is three flights of stairs. I will manage.”

Ziva doesn’t wait for a reply but heads for the staircase. She regrets the decision before she’s even gone one flight. Tony trails two steps behind her, wordlessly slowing his pace when she does. By the second flight, Ziva’s ribs are adding to her knee’s rowdy protest, but to rest a moment on the landing would be admitting defeat, so she carries on.

On the last flight, she stumbles and she knows she’s a fool. But Tony grabs her around the waist before she falls, pulling her back against him to steady her. He keeps his grip on her body and asks, “Are you alright?”

“You do not get to help me,” Ziva snaps, glaring at Tony over her shoulder.

He releases her and shows her his palms in the universal symbol of surrender. “Okay.”

Ziva grips the banister until her equilibrium returns. She makes it to the car without further incident. They make it back to Gibbs’ house without adding to their tally of words.

********

Ziva knows Gibbs will keep sending Tony to take her to her medical appointments, the same way he forces her to undertake a new task each day.

********

Slowly, Ziva’s body returns to her.

Her pain becomes an ache. It’s steady, and some days the constancy of it seems worse than the intermittent, burning pain, but she knows it’s an improvement. Colour returns to her skin, she recovers the weight she lost, and the cavernous bruises around her eyes fade.

She begins to walk every day, in the early morning, when it's still reasonably cool. Gibbs’ neighbourhood is mostly flat, and every day she increases the distance she covers. Her knee protests vehemently for the first week, but after that accepts its fate.

Her recovery is hard-fought and it’s fragile. All the while Ziva knows that the repair of her body is a small task in comparison to the repair of her fractured, damaged relationships.

********

Ziva’s father calls her on the third Tuesday in August – his second phone call since she left Israel. They talk about Ziva’s aunts, the local Tel Aviv elections, the renovations her father has commenced at the family home. Before he rings off, Eli says, “Have you looked through the things I sent you?’

Ziva glances at the boxes in the corner of her room. “Oh…no, not yet. My doctors have forbidden me from lifting things.”

“Maybe Gibbs could help you.”

She refuses to be drawn by the thread of derision slithering through her father’s voice. “Maybe,” she agrees lightly. “I will let you go now.”

“L’Hitraot,” he signs off and Ziva echoes him.

She swelters through the afternoon, her various wounds irritated by the heat and her sweat. She resorts to a bath during the hottest part of the day, reading The Professor + The Housekeeper in the tub for over an hour.

Gibbs is late, bringing the dark home with him, and his weariness is palpable. “Marine and his son were killed,” he says, by way of explanation, and Ziva understands.

********

Ziva has a Thursday afternoon appointment with Dr. Carver. She and Tony forgo the usual greetings and don’t communicate until they’re halfway to the hospital. “I’m surprised you can spare the time,” Ziva opens.

“Oh?”

“With the investigation?”

Tony checks his rear view mirror. “McGee’s doing some techno thing, and Abby is working her magic. I don’t need to be there at the moment.”

The car park is full, and after three circuits, Tony drops her at the car park elevator and says, “I’ll meet you up there.”

While she’s waiting, she receives a text message: Hospital car park a bust. Will meet you out front when yr done.

She texts back, Okay.

Her phone buzzes two minutes later. Am at Starbucks. Want yr usual?

Ziva waits another two minutes, then replies. Yes. After she’s pressed send, her conscience gets the better of her, and she texts another one-word message. Please.

Twenty minutes later, she walks out of the ER entrance and finds Tony parked in the ambulance bay. “You do know that is illegal.”

He hands Ziva a grande latte. “I had an emergency.”

“Really?”

“I’ve seen the way you get without your coffee. It’s at least a Code Orange.” Ziva fights it, but she smiles. “See? You have your coffee and you’re happy. Crisis averted.”

“Let’s get out of here before a mob of angry security guards attacks us.”

They’re two blocks past the hospital when Tony asks, “Tell me, does buying you coffee count as helping you?”

Ziva feels like punching him, but settles for ignoring him the rest of the way home. She wonders if it will be this way between them forever: two steps forward, three and a half 0back, until they’re dizzy from making each other smile and making each other hurt.

********

It takes three days, but Gibbs gets his man. Abby sends her a text message with the good news. Ziva calls McGee. “McGee? Abby sent me a message – she said he confessed.”

“Ten minutes with Gibbs and he was crying like a baby.”

She grins. “Rock the Baby?”

“Yep. Not a moment to soon, either. I can’t wait until you’re all back, it sucks…” McGee trails off. “Sorry. I’m probably making you feel guilty.”

“I haven’t called in sick and taken a holiday in the Bahamas, McGee,” Ziva jokes.

“I know. I’ll come by when we’re finished here – I’ll bring take-out. Abby has a bowling game tonight, so it’ll just be you and me.”

“You do know this is Gibbs’ house, yes? You are likely to see him here.”

“Are you kidding me? We just cracked the case. He’ll be down in his basement, working on his boat and drinking bourbon.”

********

McGee is right. He arrives half-an-hour after Gibbs gets home, and twenty-eight minutes after Gibbs heads for his basement. McGee brings Thai and a six-pack of Coronas. He’s a pushover, so Ziva ends up drinking two of the beers. They sit out on the porch swing in the diminishing heat and McGee gives her a blow-by-blow of Gibbs’ interrogation.

“It sounds like a good collar,” Ziva says.

“It was.” McGee’s eyes settle on her. “I miss working with you.”

“I will be back soon.”

“I know. It’s just different without you. Not in a good way.”

Ziva keeps staring out in the night. “Once I am back, you will probably wish I was gone again.”

“No, I won’t.” McGee’s answer is swift. “When you were…at first, we thought you were in Israel.”

“McGee…”

“Please let me say this.” The need in his voice is like a slow burn. “At first we thought you were in Israel. Abby…no, both of us were upset that we didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“I am sorry,” Ziva interjects. “I did not plan to leave that way.”

“I know that now. When…Gibbs intercepted the chatter, when he realised what had happened to you, it was awful, Ziva. We couldn’t find you, we didn’t know how to get to you. Your father denied you were on a mission. Vance denied he knew anything about it. He and Gibbs went ten rounds and Gibbs wouldn’t let it go, and when Vance finally told him, when Gibbs realised the entire mission had been green-lighted by him and your father…I thought Gibbs was going to kill him. Time kept working against us. We had to find Kort, hack the satellite to find your location, wait while Kort set up the rescue. It felt like days of waiting, not knowing if we were too late.”

McGee pauses, and Ziva stays silent, letting him find his words. He’s obviously been waiting weeks to release the words. “It was the worst feeling in the world Ziva, thinking that you were too far away to save. Believing that we had failed you.”

“No.” Ziva’s denial is as swift as McGee’s. “You didn’t fail me, McGee. You cannot know…” Ziva doesn’t entirely trust her voice as she continues. “You cannot know what it means to me, to know that you defied everybody to rescue me.”

“You’d do it for me in a heartbeat. And you’d probably find me faster, with your awesome ninja skills."

Ziva reaches across the distance between them and rests her hand over his. “Maybe, but I cannot hack a satellite.”

“Uh…can you forget I said that? I’d go to federal prison if anybody found out.”

Ziva laughs. “They will never get it out of me.”

McGee isn’t smiling. “Ziva…what they did to you…”

“Is not after dinner conversation,” she replies, squeezing McGee’s hand. “You don’t want to know.”

“You don’t have to protect me.”

“I am not,” she lies. “I am protecting me.”

********

It’s nearly midnight when Ziva sends McGee home. She doesn’t have to wait long before Gibbs appears. He gestures to the empty longnecks. “Enjoy the beer?”

“You’re not my doctor, Gibbs.”

He takes the seat vacated by McGee. “Fascinating what I can hear in my basement when the windows are open.”

“Eavesdropping is a terrible habit. Did McGee really…”

“I know nothing,” he interrupts. “And I never would’ve killed Vance. Broken his nose, maybe.”

“The Director is a former boxing champion.”

“And I’m a Marine.”

“So in a full-scale attack by sea you would win.”

“Air, land and sea,” Gibbs corrects mildly.

“McGee is a good person.”

“Yes,” he agrees without hesitation.

“Do you ever think, sometimes, that he and Abby balance us out?” Off Gibbs’ look, Ziva adds, “I am not a good person, Gibbs.”

“No?” His voice conveys surprise without changing pitch.

“The things that were done to me? I have done them to other people, many times over. I have tortured people until they have not had a voice left to beg for death.”

“Do you think I’m a bad person?”

“No.”

“You know why I became a sniper? I was good at it. I was better at it than anybody else in my unit. When I did the specialized training, I was better at it than anyone else in that unit. In the field, I was better at it than any of the other combat snipers. I served my country for good, noble reasons. I don’t lose sleep over anything I did. But at the end of the day, Ziva, I killed people without knowing why, because I was good at it.”

“But you did not kill them because you wanted to,” she points out.

“That doesn’t mean anything, and you know it. You are what you do, Ziva. I’ve seen you do bad things, I’ve seen you do foolish things. And I’ve seen you do good things. It means you’re all of those things.” Gibbs stands and holds out his hand. “It’s late.”

Ziva hesitates before taking his hand and letting him lead her inside. She wants, very much, to believe him.

********

Saturday blooms brilliant and lovely. Ziva makes fruit salad for breakfast; Gibbs grumbles but eats it. While Gibbs replaces a washer in the downstairs bathroom, Ziva cleans the kitchen and writes a grocery list and realises she and Gibbs are a heartbeat away from being a married couple. It’s mid-morning when Gibbs answers a knock at the door. The short exchange tells Ziva their visitor is a male, but Vance is the last person she expects to see when he appears a half-step behind Gibbs. Ziva is barefoot, wearing Abby’s red sundress, cutting watermelon, a domestic state that makes her feel ill-equipped to deal with Vance.

“Director Vance. To what do we owe the pleasure?” Ziva asks, stealing a line from Gibbs.

“I came to see you, Ziva,” Vance says. “I’ll let you get back to your boat, Gibbs.” It’s a clear dismissal – and a fairly blunt one at that – but to Ziva’s amazement Gibbs accepts it, heading for the basement without a backward glance. “I wanted to see how you were recuperating.”

“Well enough, as you see,” Ziva replies.

“That’s good. You took one hell of a…”

“Beating,” she provides, when Vance prevaricates. “It's difficult to fight back when you are tied to a chair.”

“You served NCIS admirably,” Vance says. “And Mossad.” Ziva waits him out. “I won’t forget it.”

“Neither will I.”

“Has Gibbs got any drinkable coffee around here?”

Ziva finds two mugs – once with an NIS logo, the other emblazoned with the eagle, globe and anchor – and pours coffee from a coffeemaker that almost never rests when Gibbs is at home.

“Shall we…” Vance gestures to the table.

Ziva doesn’t want to sit down, but she knows Vance: letting him having the small victory lulls him into a false sense of security about obtaining the bigger victory. “Of course.” She takes the head of the table, letting Vance settle at her right.

“It’s a nice table,” Vance comments, skimming his hand along the top. “Gibbs’ work?” Ziva nods. “Damn nice. My wife would love something like this.”

Ziva half-smiles. “I’ll let him know. If his career in NCIS comes to an untimely end, he could take carpentry jobs.” Vance’s look isn’t friendly, but Ziva is unperturbed. “He made most of the furniture in this house,” she continues. “Gibbs is good with his hands. Strong.”

“So I see.” Vance crosses his legs and buys time swallowing half his coffee. “I’m glad you’ve decided to return to NCIS. I trust your father was supportive of your decision.”

Ziva falls straight into diplomatic speak. “My father recognises the value of a continuing relationship between Mossad and NCIS. He agreed with me that it would be a shame to lose the benefit of my time and experience in the liaison position.”

“I couldn’t agree more. I wonder though, if you see yourself returning to us in the same capacity.”

“What other capacity would I return in?”

“I want to be sure you’re comfortable returning to your position in Gibbs’ team. Your parting with your co-workers was not…amicable.”

“You should know better than anybody that my parting with Gibbs was designed to ensure the success of your mission. Or my father’s mission – I never was quite clear on who was in charge, but then again, I know my father well. He's nobody’s second in command.” Ziva smiles, showing teeth.

“As long as you’re happy returning to your previous position,” Vance sidesteps.

“Of course.”

“And Agent DiNozzo? Are you happy for him to return to the team?”

Ziva works hard to hide her surprise. “I doubt he’s pleased with his current assignment,” she baits.

Vance falls for it. “Doing security clearances and background checks is supposed to feel like a punishment.”

Now Ziva buys time drinking her coffee, sifting through the information she has, until Vance’s motives become clear. Vance owes her. She nearly died on a mission he plotted with her father. He had no intention of rescuing her until after the terrorist group were entirely deactivated, and Ziva knows it. He’s giving her the chance to effectively remove Tony from the team, because he thinks that discharges the debt. Because he thinks she won’t work with Tony again. But if Tony is being punished, making the sacrificial gesture for her sake is entirely hollow. He’ll probably get rid of Tony no matter what she says, but he looks like a good guy if he does it for her benefit.

Eventually, she says, “What does Gibbs say?”

“Gibbs does what I tell him.”

This time Ziva’s smile is genuine. “We both know that’s not true.” She finishes her coffee and stands, ending their exchange the fastest way she knows how. “I will think about it and speak to you on Monday.”

Vance has no choice but to say his goodbyes. “Give my regards to Gibbs,” he says, as he heads for the door. Ziva doesn’t dignify his request with a response.

********

When she returns to kitchen, she looks at the half-cut watermelon for a long moment, before she heads for the basement. Gibbs is hammering, and although he hears her coming down the stairs, he doesn’t stop. He waits until the nail is definitely embedded in the frame before he says, “You and the Director have a nice catch up?”

“You are angry.”

“Nope.”

“Gibbs, I understand you find this difficult to talk about…” Ziva begins.

Gibbs slings his hammer across his workbench and turns to glare at her with fire in his eyes. “I don’t have a goddamn problem talking about it, Ziva. I have a problem that any of it happened in the first place!” He raises his voice, “How long? How long were you, Vance and your father cooking up your mission?”

She keeps her voice quiet, reasonable. “They told me about it in Israel.”

“Bullshit, Ziva! You knew what Michael was doing in D.C. You were a part of it. I saw the emails!”

“If you saw the emails you know they don’t reveal anything specific. I knew my father had sent Michael on a mission. I knew it did not end in L.A., and I knew that it involved NCIS, but that is all.”

“You should have told me what you did know.”

“I wanted more time – and information. I could not start making accusations without information. And I suspected my father had sent Michael to me to test my loyalties.”

“Did he?”

“I still don’t know,” Ziva says honestly. “I don’t believe Vance was aware of my father’s operation until we went to Israel. And when he realised what my father was doing, he saw a perfect opportunity to put my father in his debt. Tony killing Michael had left my father without an agent on point. Vance knew that as a liaison officer, I would be perfect bait for the terrorists. They came to me when we were in Israel and asked me to take on the mission.”

“If it was your father’s mission then you chose Mossad over NCIS.” It’s not a question.

She waits a half-beat, then says, “My father believes I did it for Mossad. Vance believes I did it for NCIS.”

“What’s the truth?” Gibbs demands.

“Why do I have to choose?” she returns with the same intensity, losing her grip on her calm. “Does it matter?”

“It matters to me!”

“Why?”

“You work for me, Ziva. You’re the one who talked about trusting the people you work with. If you’ll always choose Mossad over NCIS, why should I trust you?”

“I am a Mossad officer, Gibbs! I was trained by Mossad. I cannot deny that part of myself.”

“I trained you too,” Gibbs says, with something close to hurt in his voice. “I taught you to be an investigator. I taught you to think for yourself instead of being somebody’s weapon. I thought you…” He shakes his head. “It matters to me, Ziva.”

“I accepted the mission because I believed in it.”

“Really?” Doubt laces his words. “You’re sure you didn’t do it because your father ordered you?”

“Is my word not enough?”

“You forced me to choose – you or Tony. You did it on purpose, because you knew I’d choose Tony and go home.”

“Yes.”

“You played me for a fool, Ziva.”

“No.” She meets his hard glare. “No, I played you for a man who does not like ultimatums. And I was not lying when I told you I could not work with Tony.”

“Whatever was happening between you and Tony, you should’ve trusted me!”

“It was never a matter of trust between you and I, Gibbs. I have never doubted you. Why do you doubt me now?”

Reading Gibbs is difficult, but Ziva can see him considering the ramifications of his answer as the seconds tick by. “Vance told me you killed Ari on your father’s orders. To earn my trust.”

Ziva takes a moment to admire her father’s skill. Her father no doubt told Vance that he ordered Ziva to kill Ari, because he knew Vance wouldn’t be able to resist using the information against Gibbs. In that way, he could cast doubt on the very moment that sealed Gibbs’ and Ziva’s relationship, the moment that cemented the trust between them, and he it did with perfect timing. It hurts to think that Gibbs believed the lie.

“My father ordered me to kill Ari. I told him I would not. And I meant it, up until the moment I knew he would to kill you. Nobody will ever understand what it cost me to kill my brother, Gibbs. And if it earned your trust, it was for me, not my father.”

“Why didn’t you come to me?” All the heat in Gibbs’ tone evaporates. “I could have stopped it.”

“How? And why? It was an important mission. I was the right agent – indeed, the only agent who could carry it out. You can be angry about how it happened – you can be angry at me and my father, at Vance for playing games – but you know I am right about the mission.”

“Your life isn’t worth anything?”

“One life against many is simple mathematics,” Ziva counters.

Gibbs voice is full and strong when he says, “Your life is not an equation, Ziva. Not to me.”

Ziva’s voice trembles when she says, “You ask me where my loyalties lie. I knew Vance would sacrifice me without hesitation. I knew my father was testing me because he believed I was no longer loyal to him. But I also knew that you would come for me. And you did.” Ziva steps forward to touch Gibbs’ arm, because she needs him to hear her. “Have I not returned here, to you, when I could have stayed in Israel? I am loyal to you, Gibbs. Always.”

Gibbs looks away from her and swallows with difficulty, and Ziva doesn’t think she’s ever seen so much naked emotion on his face. When he can control it, he reaches over to his workbench and retrieves a sanding block. “I told you if you came down here again I’d conscript you.” He proffers the block. “Get to work.”

Ziva accepts what Gibbs is offering, because she understands it’s the best way he knows how to forgive her, and to show her that forgiveness. It’s an absolution Ziva didn’t know she was looking for.

********

They eat watermelon on the porch swing in the afternoon. Ziva leans back against the cushions and closes her eyes to the glare of the sun. “Why is Tony being punished?”

Gibbs takes his time answering. “What did Vance tell you?”

“That doing security clearances is supposed to feel like a punishment.”

“He’s right.” Ziva waits. “But you should ask Tony.”

As they swing idly, Ziva tells Gibbs about Vance’s proposition.

“What are you going to tell him?”

“Professionally, I will admit that Tony is an excellent investigator. The team functions better with him.”

“And personally?”

“Not everything that is broken can be mended, Gibbs.”

********

On Sunday when Ziva wakes, she stares at the boxes in the corner of her room and feels almost guilty. She’s been here two months and hasn’t opened them.

Her shoulder twinges when she pulls the top box down onto the ground, but it’s not particularly heavy. Her father has sent practical things: clothes, an old pair of combat boots that were stored at his house, new copies of her identity documents, most of which were lost in the explosion.

The second box has books and other personal items, including a copy of the photograph of her, Tali and Ari. Tucked into the corner at the bottom is a red velvet box that has been waiting for her for months. She knows what’s inside the box before she opens it. It has always been her father’s way to make his most heartfelt gestures as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, as though he’s afraid somebody will see.

********

All day, Ziva finds herself touching her new necklace, tracing the shape of the star with her forefinger. Gibbs notices, but doesn’t say anything. She calls her father in the afternoon and thanks him. It's the most sincere conversation she’s had with her father in months, maybe years.

********

She spends the hours before dinner writing her mission report for Vance and her father. She handwrites it, forcing herself to consider every word. She keeps her language clinical and formal, offering no more description of the torture she suffered than is absolutely necessary. She strategically glosses over her extraction, leaving Kort’s name out entirely. The report is thirteen pages in longhand. It’s difficult, not because it forces her to relive what happened but because it feels like the end of something, like letting go, and Ziva’s never been very good at that.

********

That evening after she brushes her teeth she looks in the mirror. For the first time in months, she sees herself.

********

At breakfast on Monday, she tells Gibbs she’s ready to return to work. Then she calls Vance, and tells him what she’s decided about Tony.

********

Gibbs is adamant she’ll be on desk duty until he says so, and Ziva knows better than to fight him.

“You’ll need to pass a full physical and psychological exam before you’re allowed back in the field. If you so much as set foot near the van I will bring you straight back here and handcuff you to the bed.”

“You are assuming I would not enjoy that.”

“Ziva!”

“Yes sir!” But she winks as she says it, and she sees the corner of Gibbs’ mouth quirk.

********

Vance is even more draconian, telling her she’ll be on restricted desk duties and she’ll have a minimum six sessions with the shrink before she’s even allowed to undertake a psych evaluation. Ziva has no idea where he plucks the number six from, but she agrees to it all

If he’s surprised by her choice about Tony, he doesn’t say anything. But Ziva doesn’t doubt he’s considering how to turn the situation to his advantage. Men in power are all the same, Ziva thinks. It’s why they never account for a woman in power.

********

Ziva returns to work on Wednesday.

McGee’s desk is festooned with balloons and streamers and is overshadowed by a banner that reads, “WELCOME BACK ZIVA!” in glittering red letters.

Abby has her back to the elevator, and Ziva hesitates momentarily, suddenly nervous. But Abby turns, and the joy on her face is enough to convince Ziva that moving forward is the right direction.

********

“Ziva!” Abby squeals, diving for her. Abby doesn’t hold back on this hug. It’s almost as though she’s been saving up this special, extra-tight version for Ziva’s return to work. “You’re here!”

“I am here.” Ziva waits for Abby to relax her grip slightly then wriggles out of her arms. “What did you do?”

“I decorated. Do you like?”

“It looks lovely, but you have decorated the wrong desk.”

McGee pops up from the chair behind Tony’s desk. “Actually, Ziva, uh…that’s your desk now.”

“No.” Ziva shakes her head. “That is my desk.” She points, then notices Tony’s things lined up neatly on her desk. “That little…”

“It was Gibbs’ idea,” McGee interjects. “He thought…he told me to move everybody’s things around yesterday.”

Ziva looks at McGee’s desk, to hers, then at Tony’s, back to McGee’s, then realises what Gibbs has done. He’s moved her opposite him, both so that she and Tony won’t be in each other’s immediate eye line, but also so she’ll be nearer to Gibbs.

“You won’t believe what’s in Tony’s bottom drawer…”

“If you finish that sentence, your decapitated head will be joining it,” Tony says. He does the same triangular stare that Ziva just performed. “At least Gibbs won’t be able to sneak up on me at this desk.”

“Won’t I, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asks from behind the partition at the rear of Ziva’s former desk.

Tony jumps. “Ha-ha…you got me, Boss.”

Gibbs hovers in front of Tony. “It’s good to have you back. I’ve had to do my own paperwork.”

Tony jerks his head in Ziva’s direction and says, “What do you mean? I was here yesterday. And all the days before that.”

“Ziva knows,” Gibbs replies softly.

“That you were on secondment for a while,” McGee adds in an overly loud tone.

Abby jumps up and down and hugs Ziva again. “Everybody’s back together."

“Shouldn’t you be in your lab testing our victim’s clothes for blood spatter?” Gibbs enquires.

“But Gibbs – Ziva doesn’t come home every day.”

“Ziva came home eight weeks ago, Abby.” But he gives Abby a fond look. “One more hug.” Abby takes Gibbs at his word, practically tackling Ziva before she bounds in the direction of the elevator. “McGee, help Ziva take that…” Gibbs frowns at the decorations, “…down.”

Ziva looks at the disaster zone that is her desk, and says, loyally, “I like it, Gibbs. I think I will keep it this way. At least for today.”

Gibbs raises his eyebrows and shrugs, conveying both amusement and indifference. Ziva sits down at her desk, squares her shoulders and opens her email inbox. “Two hundred and fifty emails?” she squeaks.

“Welcome back,” Tony says sarcastically.

Ziva snaps her head up to glare at him, only to remember that she’s looking straight at Gibbs, who is looking straight at her.

********

Her first appointment with the shrink is the Monday after she returns. She’s sure everybody knows where she’s going, but all she says to McGee and Tony is, “I have to go out for something. I will be back soon.”

“Why so mysterious?” McGee teases, obviously going for humour.

“Being mysterious is Ziva’s thing,” Tony says. “Haven’t you learned that by now, Probie?”

Tony’s remark is innocuous enough, but Ziva can’t control the rage that suddenly flares. “If you don’t trust me, Tony, why don’t you follow me? Who knows, perhaps you could add another unarmed Mossad agent to your kill tally?” In response, Tony gets up and walks away from the bullpen. “Go on Tony, walk away,” she needles, knowing she shouldn’t.

Tony turns quickly, all indifference gone as steps up into her personal space, crowding her back against the edge of McGee’s desk with his body. His eyes are dark, and his voice is frighteningly hard. “The last time we talked about Michael, you knocked me off my feet and held me at gunpoint. Forgive me if I don’t want a repeat performance.” He holds his position, breathing hard and fast, as angry as he was that day in Tel Aviv.

It’s McGee who breaks the moment, saying, “Gibbs.”

Tony steps back, and Ziva sees Gibbs standing at the head of the bullpen. She can tell from his expression that he hadn’t heard about Ziva and Tony’s confrontation in Israel before now. Ziva slides past Tony, choosing the shrink over the disappointment on Gibbs’ face.

********

Ziva expects Gibbs to say something that night, but he doesn’t. The silence is almost worse, because Gibbs is telling her without saying a word that she’s on her own with this.

********

Gibbs keeps Ziva on desk duties while the others go to crime scenes and have all the fun. Except that Ziva doesn’t really mind. Palmer, Ducky and Abby spend a lot of time upstairs with her, much to Gibbs’ chagrin. And it keeps her contact with Tony to a minimum.

It doesn’t stop being strange though, to look up from her desk, expecting to see Tony and finding Gibbs instead.

After the scene in the bullpen, she and Tony mostly use McGee as a go-between, talking through him rather than to each other. If Tony needs something directly from her, he emails his requests and she emails her replies. He still drives her to her weekly medical appointments, but they rarely pierce the passive, vacant silence that has settled between them.

*******

It’s an argument about Ziva’s desk in late September that finally breaks the holding pattern.

They're alone in the bullpen on a Thursday afternoon. She’s writing a report while Tony opens a box of documents sent over from the Pentagon – something to do with a cold case he’s been assigned. He slits the box open with a box-cutter knife and pulls the documents out. While he reads them, he taps an idle pattern against the edge of the desk with the blade of the box-cutter. The noise annoys her, but when she turns she realizes he’s cutting nicks into her desk, Ziva says, “Could you not do that to my desk?”

Tony looks at the series of nicks he’s made. “I’m pretty sure this is my desk now.”

“Your things may be on it, but it is my desk.”

“Do you want it back, Ziva?” Tony asks pleasantly. “Why don’t you ask Gibbs? I’m sure he’ll give you whatever you want.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’re the only one of us living with him.”

“Are you jealous, Tony?”

“No.” Tony flips the box-cutter shut and drops it on the desk. “Not at all.”

“You are a liar.”

“That’s rich coming from you.”

“This has nothing to do with money!” she exclaims.

He rolls his eyes. “It means you’re the last person who should talk about lying.”

Ziva doesn’t hesitate to wade in, because she knows exactly what this is about. “I wouldn’t have lied if you had trusted me.”

“So you admit you lied to me!” Tony stands up.

“Around the same time I was lying to everybody else. You are no different to the others.”

“Of course I am!” He crosses the bullpen to her desk, and she stands, not wanting him to have the advantage of height. “I’m your partner!”

“A fact you conveniently forget when it does not suit your purposes.”

“Well, it suits my purposes now. You looked me in the eye and you lied to me about Michael.”

“You killed him!” Ziva yells.

“I didn’t lie about it!” Tony yells back. “You knew what he was doing.”

“A suspicion is not the same as knowing. And I was dealing with it, at least until you decided to be a hero and confront Michael.”

“Dealing with it? What? Asking Mossad to extract him so he could return to Israel and never face trial here?”

“Your solution was better? Getting into a brawl and killing an Israeli agent on American soil? My way would have prevented a diplomatic nightmare.”

“And it would’ve saved your boyfriend’s ass. You chose him.”

“Over who?” Ziva fires back. “You?!”

Tony’s pause is all the answer she needs.

“I am tired of everybody’s hurt feelings.” Ziva lets her tiredness show in her face. “Nobody has asked me if I am upset about anything.”

She waits long enough for Tony to reply. When he doesn’t she shakes her head, sighs, walks away.

********

Days later, when she’s heading downstairs for lunch, Tony ducks into the elevator just as the doors close. “Are you?” he asks.

Ziva frowns at him. “What?”

“Are you upset? About what happened?”

“Tony…”

“I’m asking, Ziva.”

She waits until the elevator deposits them in the lobby. “You say we are partners, but you did not trust me. You went behind my back, you doubted me. You thought I had betrayed NCIS.”

“You didn’t trust me,” Tony fires back. “Why didn’t you come to me with your suspicions?”

“Why would I involve you? Michael, my father, Mossad…you would not have understood.”

They pass through the main gate and stop on the sidewalk. “You didn’t give me a chance to. Partners share, Ziva. That’s how it works.”

“Not for me.” Ziva steps closer to Tony to let a woman with a stroller pass. “I have only ever had myself to rely on, Tony.” She looks up at him, willing him to understand. “I did not want you being caught up in my world. And I did not want my father to use you against me. I wanted to protect you.”

“Why would your father have used me?”

“Because you…” She hesitates long enough to change her mind and give him a lesser answer. “Because that is what he does.”

“Why do you think I went to your apartment that night?” Tony asks gently.

“We both know why.”

“I’ve hardly made a secret of how much I hated Michael," Tony says, with aggression colouring his voice. "Why would I visit him?”

“Then I do not know.”

He closes the last of the distance between them, but this time, his proximity isn’t aggressive, only intimate. “I went to see you. Because I wanted to help you. I wanted to protect you, Ziva.”

This time, Tony gives her the chance to reply, but when she doesn’t, he walks away.

*******

In the end, it’s Palmer who answers all of her questions, although he doesn’t actually wait for her to ask. She goes down to pathology one afternoon in October to collect a report and finds Palmer by himself. He frowns at his desk and pulls a file out of a teetering stack. “That’s what you wanted?”

She checks. “Yes. Thank you.”

“No problem. Listen, uh…Ziva?”

“Yes.” She pauses in the doorway. When Palmer doesn’t continue, she offers an encouraging smile. “What is it?”

“Tony’s never going to tell you, and I…I don’t like – actually none of us like the bad blood between you and Tony, because you’re sort of like…well, you’re like our prom king and queen, if you know what I mean, and it’s like you’ve broken up before Spring Fling, and…”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Ziva interrupts.

A look of resolve crosses Palmer’s face, and he says, without stammering or pausing once, “Tony sweet talked an analyst at Homeland Security into giving him access to chatter coming out of Africa. She was fired. He was demoted for the summer. That’s why he was being punished.”

It doesn’t sound right, but it has to be, because Palmer is the world’s worst liar. “It was Tony who found me?”

“Yes. He thought you’d stayed in Israel for a mission, so he reviewed the emails from Michael’s computer and noticed the references to Africa. He spoke to your father, demanding to know where you were. When your father stonewalled him, he stormed into Vance’s office and confronted him during a meeting with SecNav. It was…actually it was stupid, but it was brave.”

“But McGee said Gibbs and Vance argued about the mission,” Ziva argues. “That Vance told Gibbs about it.”

“After Vance threw Tony out, Gibbs went into bat.”

“And Kort?”

“That was Gibbs. By then, Tony had been suspended."

“But everything else…”

“Was Tony,” Palmer confirms. “He didn’t want you to know.”

“Why not?”

Palmer shakes his head. “That I can’t tell you.”

“Uh…” Ziva gestures to the hallway. “I am going to…”

“Okay. Sure. I’ll see you later.”

She steps into the hallway then doubles back. “Palmer? If you know Tony did not want me to know, why did you just tell me?”

“Tony deserves to be thanked.” He turns back to his desk. Ziva honestly didn’t think Palmer had it in him, to be so defiant, to call her out blatantly. She’s impressed.

********

She can’t stop thinking about the fact that she owes Tony her life, but he hasn’t taken the opportunity to tell her so. She doesn’t know this Tony. She doesn’t know how to be his partner. She doesn’t know what to say to him, or how to begin, and for all the distance she’s traveled in the last months, she’s made no progress with Tony at all.

********

The next morning, she goes for her usual walk. She’s been getting faster the last few weeks, and after five minutes of walking, she decides to test herself, moving into a tentative jog. She jogs half the distance and her knee aches, but it’s the good kind, the kind that comes from exertion, not pain. Each morning, she jogs for a longer distance, until Friday morning, when she manages a full-speed sprint for the last part of her run. It’s glorious, the ground shifting and flying under her feet as her body finally does exactly what she tells it to without a moment’s hesitation, without a shadow of pain or doubt, and when she bursts back through Gibbs’ front door, she is almost laughing with joy.

“You look happy,” Gibbs observes from the breakfast table.

“I just went for a run. I’m ready to return to field work, Gibbs."

He gestures to the table. “Your psych eval came in yesterday.”

Ziva sits with trepidation, her joy suddenly evaporated. “What does it say?”

“That you have PTSD symptoms.”

“But Gibbs…”

“But,” he interrupts loudly, “They haven’t diagnosed you with PTSD. They seem convinced you should have it, but they’ve cleared you to return to the field.”

“Then I can start today?”

“I want Dr. Carver to sign off on you physically."

“I have an appointment this afternoon.”

“If he agrees, you can return to field work on Monday.”

“Okay.” Ziva pauses behind Gibbs’ chair on her way to the kitchen. She bends and presses her sweaty cheek to the top of his head for a moment. “Thank you.”

“Go eat something. And take a shower.” But he’s smiling. She can tell.

********

All day she’s cheerful, buoyant even. She’s in such a good mood she offers Tony a smile when he arrives at work. He seems confused. McGee – because he knows no other way – shares her good mood, promising he’ll let her have the fun jobs when she returns to the field. Gibbs eventually tells her to stop grinning like an idiot. “You’re scaring the natives,” he says, gesturing to the other workers on the floor. He’s right; they’re looking at her with something close to fear.

“I cannot help it,” she tells Gibbs defensively. “I am happy. You should try it.” The face McGee makes is hilarious, and even Tony’s mouth flickers.

Abby tells her they’ll go out to celebrate if she gets the all clear, and Ducky comes by after lunch with a bunch of yellow roses and a kiss for luck. She’s packing up her things to leave when her father rings on her cell.

“Shalom, Ziva.”

“Shalom, Abba.” She can sense Tony hovering with car keys in hand and she looks up and nods at him. They begin to make their way towards the elevator.

“How are you?”

“I’m well, but I’m actually on my way to the doctor. I have an appointment.”

“You are driving?” he asks with some concern. “I will call later.”

“No,” Ziva interrupts. “I have not been cleared to drive yet. Tony…Agent DiNozzo is taking me.” Tony gestures for her to stay near the elevator while he retrieves the car. She nods.

“Ah, yes. Your Agent DiNozzo,” her father says over the phone in a knowing, arch tone.

“He is not mine,” she automatically denies.

“No? Strange then, that he was at the hospital in Tel Aviv.” Eli pauses. “I think he is definitely yours, Ziva. I will let you go. I will speak to you later.”

He rings off, before Ziva can ask him anything, anything at all.

********

The whole drive over to the hospital Ziva considers the information she has. She thinks about what McGee, Vance, Gibbs, Palmer, and now her father has told her. It’s not until they take their usual seats in the waiting room that Ziva realises what’s been going on all summer. None of it makes sense though, because she doesn’t understand why Tony has done any of it.

“I am an idiot,” Ziva begins.

Tony fishes through the pile for his copy of The Economist. He flips it open and begins reading. “You’ll get no argument from me.”

“You came to Tel Aviv.”

He turns a page. “Yes. Your father interrogated me and then you nearly killed me. All in all, it’s a trip I’d rather forget.”

“No, you came to the hospital.” Ziva grabs the magazine out of his hands. “Look at me!”

“Hey, I’m reading that!”

“Look at me.” He doesn’t. “Tony!”

He sighs and looks at her. “Ziva…”

“You charmed a woman in Homeland Security into giving you chatter from Africa. You confronted my father and Vance, you refused to take no for an answer until Vance had to tell Gibbs where I was. You got McGee to hack a military satellite that technically doesn’t even exist. You flew from D.C. to Tel Aviv to see me at the hospital after Kort rescued me. You told the nurse you were my husband, but left before I knew you were there. You…all summer, it’s been you. The movies and books were from you."

“It wasn’t all me. Caddyshack II was definitely Palmer’s choice."

“Stop it. Tell me why. After what I did to you, after the way we parted, why do any of it? And why not tell me?” Ziva asks, desperate to know why Tony would do all of those things in secret, without wanting anything in return from her.

Tony is perfectly serious when he says, “You know the answer, Ziva.”

“Ziva?” Dr. Carver’s voice rings out. “Come in.”

Not now, Ziva wants to say, not now when Tony and I are finally telling each other the truth. She doesn’t hear a word Dr. Carver says as he runs through his examination. For all Ziva knows, he hasn’t given her the all clear to return to the field, but he shakes her hand at the door and smiles, so she guesses it’s good news. She tries to be polite, but bolts through the door as soon as he opens it.

To her infinite relief, Tony is still there, waiting. Waiting for her.

He waits while she pays her account. When she’s done, he returns his magazine to the table, but Ziva steps past him and collects it. “We are taking this with us,” she tells the receptionist, brandishing the copy of The Economist.

“The magazines stay here,” the receptionist says frostily.

Ziva walks out, leaving the spluttering receptionist behind. Tony trails after her. He waits until they’re in the hallway before he says, “I don’t actually want that magazine.”

“I know. Palmer said you deserved to be thanked.”

“Palmer needs to keep his mouth shout,” Tony grumbles.

“He is right.” Ziva proffers the magazine. “Thank you for looking for me. Thank you for saving me.”

Tony accepts the magazine. “You’re welcome.”

“Now throw that thing out,” Ziva commands. “It’s ten years old and is about economics.”

“No, there’s an article about...some economic finance thing I want to read.”

“You have not read a word of it, have you?” she asks, amused.

“Nope.” Tony tosses it into a trash can with a flourish. “It gave me something to do while you were sitting there hating me.”

“Not hating you,” Ziva denies softly.

“Really? I’d have hated me.”

“That’s because you suffer from low self-esteem,” Ziva proclaims. Off Tony’s look, she explains, “Dr. Phil. American daytime television explains a lot about your country.”

They reach the elevators and discover they’re out of order. “Of course,” Tony mutters.

“Stairs?” Ziva gestures.

“Do you promise not to fall down them again?”

“Do you promise to catch me again if I do?”

“Yes,” Tony says without hesitation.

Ziva looks at him under the bright hospital lights that lay everything clean, white and bare. She looks at a man who risked everything for her, and would do it again if she needed him. And suddenly, she does know the answer. “I am not sure I deserve to be your partner.”

Tony’s expression gives nothing away as he says, “Is that what you want? For us to be partners again?”

“No.”

He can’t hide his hurt, but says, “Okay. I’ll tell Gibbs…”

Ziva reaches up on her toes and kisses him, and hopes with everything she has that he’ll kiss her back. He doesn’t move, doesn’t do anything, and Ziva thinks she’s made the wrong choice, but just when she’s about to pull back Tony slides his body into hers, angles his head and kisses her with everything he has. When she breaks away, trying to breathe, he barely lets her inhale before he kisses her again, walking her backwards to press her against the wall.

He keeps kissing her before she can get enough oxygen, and she’s light-headed after a few minutes. Eventually, she puts her hand to his throat to hold him back. “Let me breathe,” she gasps, inhaling greedily and breathing out against his neck.

“We don’t need to breathe,” Tony says, leaning in to kiss her again.

“You are an idiot,” Ziva laughs.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” he replies, taking her hand and pulling it away from his throat. “You have to let me in, Ziva. You have to trust me.”

She tilts her head back and considers him. “You have to trust me too.”

Tony kisses her again, softly this time, easing his mouth over hers with something close to delicacy. The kiss feels like a promise.

********

“You do realise we are making out in a hospital?” Ziva asks ten minutes later.

“What can I say?” Tony squeezes her waist. “I’m a romantic guy.”

“It will be hours until Gibbs comes home.” She slides her leg between his and presses up against him.

He groans and makes a face. “Stop that. I don’t think I could do anything under Gibbs’ roof. I’d keep hearing his voice in my head.”

Ziva skims her forefinger down to the base of Tony’s spine. “I could make you forget.” His eyes are wide and shining. Ziva suspects hers look the same. “Give me the keys. I can drive now.” She holds out her hand.

“No,” Tony says emphatically.

“Why not? Dr. Carver gave me the all clear.”

“I want to have sex with you once before I die.”

It’s a good answer.

********

They don’t end up having sex, but make out for what feels like forever, and come damn close, and it’s almost better. They lose some clothes along the way and Tony makes her feel beautiful, undressing her slowly, touching and kissing each of her fading wounds and pink scars. He slides and runs his hands across her body, turning and twisting her underneath him, drinking her in with his eyes.

He’s given her so much these last months, but the look of wonder and worship on his face, is perhaps the finest gift so far.

********

When they are coiled together in her bed, Ziva says, "The other day you asked why my father would use you against me?"

"Yes."

"The truth is because he knows how much you mean to me."

He coils a strand of her hair around his forefinger. "And how much is that?"

Ziva kisses his jaw. "I am not ready to say it yet, Tony." She kisses his mouth. "But I feel it."

It's the only gift she can think to give him.

********

Tony is gone by the time Gibbs arrives home. He didn’t make a hasty exist – they ate leftovers in Ziva’s bed, then Tony took it upon himself to raise hickeys on her neck and shoulders while she half-heartedly protested but mostly laughed. But they both decided that having Gibbs walk in on them would be too mortifying to ever live down.

Ziva is reading in the living room when she hears Gibbs’ key in the lock. He treads down the hall to change out of his work clothes and passes back through the kitchen to collect something edible from the fridge.

“Ziva?”

“In the living room,” she calls.

He pokes his head around the door. “Dr. Carver gave you the all clear?”

“I think so.”

“You think so?”

“Yes. I will ask him to confirm with you on Monday morning.”

Gibbs narrows his eyes at her and Ziva sits up, hopeful that her high-necked T-shirt covers most of the hickeys. But she should know Gibbs has secret powers and strange ways of knowing. “You and Tony finally sorted things out?”

“Uh…”

“You think so?” he teases.

“Well, yes.”

Gibbs leans against the doorjamb. “You have to fill out paperwork with HR. There will be no kissing in the office. And you’re breaking Rule 12.”

“I thought trusting your gut was one of the rules?”

“I doubt Tony is thinking with his gut. You probably need to find a place of your own now.”

“Oh.” Ziva is surprised; she hadn’t thought about leaving Gibbs, but he’s right. “Of course. Now that I’m back in the field…”

“No, I just can’t have you and DiNozzo…” he jerks his head in the direction of her bedroom. “In my house.”

Ziva stares at him wide-eyed. Gibbs stops with a forkful of food halfway to his mouth. She offers a sheepish smile.

“There’s not enough bourbon in the world,” he mutters as he walks towards his basement.

********

Ziva gives Gibbs ten minutes to finish his food and down his first bourbon, then she follows him. He’s measuring and making marks in pencil on the frame of the boat.

“I want to say thank you.” Gibbs keeps his back to her, as uncomfortable with gratitude as she is. “Gibbs?”

He turns then, to look at her. “Yes?”

“You gave me something nobody else ever has.”

“What’s that?”

“Refuge.”

Gibbs puts his measuring tape and pencil down and steps gracefully out of the boat’s frame. Ziva doesn’t know what he’s doing, but Gibbs clearly does. He closes the distance between them with two long strides and gathers her in his arms. He wraps his arms around her and holds her tight to him. Ziva closes her eyes, presses her face into his shoulder, links her hands at the small of his back, and decides she won’t let go until he does.

“You only ever need to ask,” Gibbs says softly, cradling her head in his palm.

When he eventually lets go, her eyes are wet but she’s smiling.

********

Later, Ziva pours herself a bourbon and straddles one of the sawhorses.

She watches Gibbs work at the frame of his boat. It’s a work of millimetres and hours. It’s a work of art, worthy of Gibbs’ patience, precision and love.

********

Fin

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Posted by: Grace OMaille (ncis_dispatch)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)

Thank you so much for sharing your story. You have the voices and characters down perfectly. It was so easy to hear and visualize them.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)

Well, thank *you* for reading and leaving feedback - it makes it all worthwhile! I'm glad you enjoyed this.

Posted by: Stephanie (slybrunette)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
NCIS. T/Z; slow burn

There are no words to describe the beauty of this. It is everything I want from this show. You write these character's interactions so flawlessly that it's breathtaking. I give terrible reviews because I never know what to say, but I just wanted to tell you that you are very talented, and please never stop writing fic for this show. I would be devastated if you did because it's so hard to find well-written, well-characterized fic, and that's exactly what this is.

Fantastic work!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)

I think your words are more than adequate! Thank you very much for the feedback - it's very kind. I'm glad you enjoyed this. I guess I better not stop writing...I wouldn't want your heartbreak on my conscience!

And I love your icon. They really are both ridiculously pretty, aren't they?

Posted by: Stephanie (slybrunette)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:21 am (UTC)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)

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

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)

Posted by: Stephanie (slybrunette)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 04:17 am (UTC)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 24th, 2009 03:25 am (UTC)

Posted by: Stephanie (slybrunette)
Posted at: September 24th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 24th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)

Posted by: capnhobbes (capnhobbes)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)
Costa

Wow. That was beautiful. You did such a spectacular job working each one of the characters (especially Ziva) through a whirlwind of delicate (and some not-so-delicate), confusing, painful, heart-wrenching, heartfelt emotions. I love it.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:21 am (UTC)

(and some not-so-delicate)

Thank you for that! Ziva's and Tony's interaction in the last few episodes was so angry and hard and hurtful in a blunt trauma kind of way, and I wanted to be sure to include that!

I'm glad you enjoyed this!

Posted by: everybody__lies (everybody__lies)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
ncis .# tony and ziva

That was so good. I excitedly came online today hoping the second part would be here and I was pleased to find it was. :D I really, reeally loved this. It's just beautifully written. I could hear the characters voices in my head as I read it. I loved how Tony & Ziva were angry at each other for so long.. and how she eventually found out he was behind her rescue. Awesomeness! I can't praise this fic enough, really enjoyed reading it. ♥

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)

LOL - thank you! I felt very strongly that Tony and Ziva wouldn't just forgive each other straight away and move on - I wanted to create that more complex interaction of hurt/anger/forgiveness. And yay for Tony rescuing Ziva! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and that it rang true for you.

Posted by: Mona (monack)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)

You have done such an excellent job with the entire scope of the story. I am a huge fan of characters who come together in a believable way (when they are done outside of canon), and you have done just this. Thanks for writing this, posting this, and doing so so quickly after the first part.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)

Oh yay! "Believeable" is about the nicest compliment you can give a writer! It's always difficult with Tony and Ziva because the show has been so careful to keep that sexual tension between them more implicit than explicit(and has mostly done a good job, although others might disagree with me), so moving them into a relationship has to feel organic rather than forced. I always worry that I haven't struck the right balance!

Thank you for the feedback, I'm glad you enjoyed this.

Posted by: midget_size (midget_size)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)

That was so amazing. The characterization was perfect. And now I am SO intensely worried that when we see the "real" version tomorrow it won't be as good as yours.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)

Awesome icon! I love McGee and Abby. Sigh.

Thank you for the lovely feedback - and never fear, if the "real" version sucks, I'll just write more fanfic! Am glad you enjoyed this.

Posted by: tabaqui (tabaqui)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)

Oh, oh, oh, and oh. So. Friggin'. Perfect. Just.... Yes. Trust. Partners *trust*, and they both failed on that, and they both needed that, and whooooooot, Palmer! And the Gibbs!hug, the cherry on top.
*twirls you*

This was wonderful, so wonderful! Thank you so much!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)

THANK YOU! Because this is all about trust and how they absolutely, totaly, both failed each otehr! And Palmer - he's so the dark horse of my fics, and he has such a hero-worship of Tony thing going on in my fandom, and and how could I not end with a Gibbs!hug?

*blows kiss*

Posted by: fredsmith518 (fredsmith518)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)

For two people who have almost never stopped talking – arguing, teasing, flirting – the whole time they’ve known each other, the silence feels like a foreign country. most well put

I very much liked the slow reveals, where the reader would have wondered earlier, was Tony in Tel Aviv? did Palmer really know Ziva's taste that well? and that it was Palmer having Tony's back making the biggest reveal, I think

Absolutely beautifully done, thank you

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:31 am (UTC)

I really like what that line conveys too. So much of the interaction betwen Tony and Ziva is a performance - don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun, an I love the banter and flirtation as much as the next person, but it's their silences that often more revealing.

I loved creating my little mystery within the fic - all the little clues and hints I dropped were heaps of fun. And Palmer having Tony's back was one of the most rewarding parts to write - I really love Palmer!

I'm glad you enjoyed this - thank you for the feedback!

Posted by: fredsmith518 (fredsmith518)
Posted at: November 25th, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)

Haha! It definitely says something about you! But it says something good - because Tony + Ziva = making out. Or at least they should be.

Believeable is probably my favourite word of all the feedback I get, because it's exactly what I'm going for, and I always worry that I don't achieve it. So THANK YOU! And those trust issues like whoa - if the show *doesn't* explore them, I will be ridiculously mad and will probably yell at my television.

And Gibbs is absolutely, completely the daddy. He is. End of story.

Am glad you enjoyed your drabble!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: kyra_gm (kyra_gm)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)

Man!! That was REALLY good! I can't even begin to describe how good it was!!!! You got everyone so in character!!! Freaking Amazing!!! In fact, you did it soo good, that I'm sure I'm gonna be dissapointed tomorrow night with the real episode!!!
However, if that's the case, I will come back here and read this story one million times more!!
Thank YOU!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)

Thank you so much! Look at all those exclamation marks - I definitely did good, huh?

I'm glad you enjoyed this. I've been writing this fic all summer long, so I think it'll be really strange to sit down and watch the episode. I'll be sitting there thinking, "Wait, that's not what happens - Kort rescues Ziva and then she spends the summer with Gibbs, you stupid show."

I am excited to see what they do, though!

Posted by: azami2011 (azami2011)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)

I love the Tony/Ziva relationship! I was so happy when their relationship is all resolved in the end. Thank you for sharing this story!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)

Thank you! I was glad I could give them a happy ending too.

Posted by: Megan (returnofpiper)
Posted at: September 21st, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
NCIS Tony and Ziva Promo Photo

I admit it. I have been obsessively refreshing your LJ waiting for this to be posted. I love this. It's beautiful, and I could visualize Ziva's realization being played out on screen - with all the scenes flashing everywhere. Gorgeous. You dropped such wonderful hints, and I'm so glad I didn't see the end coming. I am going back for a second read right now.

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)

Oh, another TV Guide icon. Love. Because really, how much can two people be ALL OVER EACH OTHER before innocent-minded viewers start to ask questions?

Ahem.

Thank you for this feedback! Am glad your obsessive refreshing paid off. I liked creating the mystery, dropping all those hints, knowing they'd pay off in the end. I hope you enjoy just as much on the second read!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 12:40 am (UTC)
fan of tiva

Will you please go work at CBS? Your writing is better than anything the professionals can come up with. This was riveting. I couldn't stop reading, anticipating, hoping, smiling. Thank you for giving me something to come back to if Shane Brennan disappoints this season.

Hope you continue to write NCIS fics. They're awsome!

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 03:41 am (UTC)
Re: fan of tiva

LOL! If CBS want to pay me to write for NCIS all day, I am in! Thank you so much for this feedback - it's very kind. I'm so glad you enjoyed this.

And who knows what Shane Brennan will do? Sometimes I think he teases us on purpose, mean man.

Posted by: Jenny (eveningflares)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)
NCIS:tonyziva personal space?

Gah, so good!!!! I just hope the premiere tomorrow is half as good as your story. Once again, you just write the characters so well. And I loved that Palmer told Ziva what Tony did for her. And the ending was just wonderful!
I totally wasn't expecting it to be up this fast. So when I got home from work and saw it on my flist I got all excited. :)

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 09:07 am (UTC)

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed this - I wanted to get it up before the season premiere. And Palmer totally got to have his "hero" moment, right? I really love Palmer - he's good for comedic value, but he seems to have so much heart.

Posted by: Kerrison (kerrison)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 05:28 am (UTC)

When I die, will you write the story of my life? You'll make it sound better than it ever was

Posted by: ygrawn (ygrawn)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2009 09:10 am (UTC)

LOL! I love this feedback so damn much! Thank you! And of coure I'll write your life story? Would you like to have an affair with Michael Weatherly? Or perhaps play a staring role in SPN?

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