Thursday May 12 continued...again (8:30 pm)

When it was all over Tony headed down to the Lab with McGee on his heels. Upon Gibbs' return he volunteered to be on Ziva duty for the next forty-eight hours to keep an eye on her, something that had never really been in question to begin with. Gibbs had expected and accepted that both younger men on the team would put themselves on self-appointed protection detail while there was a threat and even though it was permanently neutralized now, he didn't blame them for continuing. He needed to know the girls were safe too, especially after the day they'd had.

The senior field agent tapped a pattern of knocks on the door so Abby would know it was him and she buzzed it open, rushing over first to hug him and then throw herself into McGee's arms. It occurred to him at that moment that he'd missed something crucial, because after two months of avoiding and ignoring each other over an unknown hurt, the two best friends were clearly back on the same page. He watched how Tim held Abby and his chest ached to do the same with his wife. Waiting impatiently until they parted, Tony cleared his throat, glancing through the glass doors at the sleeping figure.

"How's she doing?"

Abby sighed and shrugged. "Fine, I guess. Disgruntled the only time I had to wake her up, but she knew who I was and what happened, after that I left her alone. I think she's in a lot of pain though, maybe Ducky can give her something?" She didn't like that her friend was hurting.

He nodded. "I'll see that she takes some painkillers." Abby hesitated and he jerked his chin towards the door. "You guys go, I got this."

The forensic scientist came back for one more hug and left with McGee. Tony waited until the elevator doors closed behind them, then he slowly approached the inner office. Because no one else was there to catch him watching, he stood and stared at her long enough for all the sounds around him to quiet until there was only his breaths and hers. Tony observed the slow and steady rise and fall of her chest, relief building in him at such a simple thing. Finally, knowing it was getting later and wanting his wife home safe and sound, he went over to kneel by her pallet on the floor.

Smoothing the hair back from her forehead, he pressed a soft kiss there and whispered, "Ziva." She stirred a little but didn't open her eyes. He worked his way down, lips brushing her nose, cheek, and jaw before finally making it to her mouth. When his lips touched hers she suddenly jerked awake, alarm in her expression until she realized it was him. Then she relaxed and let her eyes slide closed again. Tony shook his head. "Come on honey, you can't go back to sleep right now. It's time to head out."

Ziva brought a hand to her head and winced when her fingers encountered the wound. "I'm so tired," she whispered. "Everything hurts."

"I'll get you one of the pills Ducky gave me after the beating as soon as we get back," he promised, supporting her into a sitting position. Tony wanted so badly to carry Ziva out of the lab, to demonstrate in some way that she was still safe in his arms. But the possibility of witnesses prevented such an act, so he instead kept her close to his side once she was standing, snagged her butterfly clip off a nearby table, and together they went upstairs for their things. The partners paused in the bullpen for Gibbs to wrap Ziva in the hug he'd wanted to give her hours ago and made slow progress out to the car.

At home he ran her a bath, hovering beside the tub after she sank into the steaming water and closed her eyes. Tony touched her curls lightly and spoke softly. "Is it okay for me to join you?"

Ziva rolled her head towards him and cracked open one eye. "Yes." The word was so quiet he read it on her lips rather than actually hearing and started to unbutton his shirt. She made a faint sound of protest when he shifted her away from the wall to slide in behind her and Tony hesitated, but Ziva said nothing else so he continued. Finally as close as he'd longed to be since finding her, he breathed a contented sigh. "Can I hold you honey, please?"

She lay back against his chest, feeling about as lively as a wrung out dishrag, and pulled his arms around her. Tony straightened his legs to bracket her body and surrounded her in a careful embrace. Ziva's fingers came up to grasp his wrist and he dropped his head to her shoulder. "I was so scared today Zi," he whispered. "It made me think of the time you were framed, how you disappeared for two days and I didn't know where you were or if you were okay. Until summer two years ago those were the longest hours of my life."

"I'm sorry...I went without you." Ziva moved gingerly, afraid to make the stabbing pain in her head worse, and curled up against him, her head on his chest and one hand creeping up to rest on his cheek. Tony immediately covered her hand with his, turning to press his lips to her palm. "I did not mean to put you through that again."

With her face so close temptation overrode good sense and he closed the space between them, capturing her lips and holding on, unable to break the kiss, needing proof of her here and alive and with him. Ziva, however, pulled back after only a few seconds. "Ani mitzta'eret ahava, but I feel so sick." She'd been nauseous from the moment she regained consciousness in the barn and it hadn't gotten any better with time.

Tony frowned. "When was the last time you ate?" She'd been gone before he returned with their lunch.

"I can't eat. Not being able to keep it down would only make everything worse."

"It's not fair that you got hurt again." There was no response to give and he ran a hand down her back. "I know you can't get the stitches wet, but I could help with everything else."

"This is not the time to use naked to your advantage," she grumbled.

Tony blew on her ear. "I will be a complete gentleman yafa, I promise."


He wet the cloth and smothered it in body wash, beginning with first one arm then the other. There was no lingering as the bubble saturated terrycloth was drawn across her chest and abdomen, and he did her legs next. To keep from testing his resolve Ziva took care of private areas herself, letting her head fall forward while the cloth traveled the length of her back. Seeing the effect it had Tony repeated the motion a few times before lifting her hair and rubbing her neck too, being careful not to go over the spot where her tattoo was.

With incredible tenderness he wiped her face, barely skimming his lips over hers. "I love you Ziva."

"Mmm." She nudged his nose with hers. "I love you."

When the water grew lukewarm Tony helped his wife out and swallowed her in a large towel, leaving her to dry herself while he grabbed long sleeved pyjamas from the dresser and assisted her into them. Ziva sat on the edge of the tub with her eyes closed, resting after what felt like a great exertion, and Tony knelt beside her. "I'd like to carry you to bed."

If her head didn't hurt so bad she would've rolled her eyes. "It is ten steps away."


She didn't answer so he stood and bent his knees slightly, wrapping one arm around her back and sliding the other under her knees. Ziva looped her arms over his shoulders and turned her face into his neck, each breath infused with his fading cologne. For a full minute he didn't move, just cradled his wife in his arms and savoured the warmth of her body against his. Finally he walked into their room and lowered her to the bed. Ziva collapsed onto the pillows, sapped of all strength and energy.

Tony pulled the blanket up to tuck her in, kissed her forehead, and went out to grab a quick bite to eat before returning to sit with his back against the headboard. To keep pressure off the injury she was sleeping on her right side facing him and he curled his fingers around her hand, desperately needing the connection with her, the confirmation that she was alive and breathing and mercifully home safe tonight when it could've been a whole different story. Far from ready to rest Tony couldn't shut off his thoughts and pulled stationery from his bedside table drawer, looking at his wife before beginning the letter.

I'm so grateful for your life tonight Ziva, that you're okay and I didn't lose the most precious part of my world today. Seeing you like this scares me because you will always be my invincible ninja, but I love taking care of you, care in action when you're not able to return it. I want you to soak these moments up sweetheart. I would do anything for you and I'm glad for the chance to show it. I love you with all my heart.

The letter went on for a couple pages, including more 'I love you' reasons and trying feebly to express his heart in mere words. Finally he turned the lamp off stretched out inches away, setting his watch for two hours. She was his responsibility and Tony would make sure Ziva got whatever she needed.


When Gibbs walked in the front door he thought he was only imagining the scent of his ex-wife's perfume still lingering in the air. Then the unmistakable smell of home cooking reached him and he strode towards the kitchen. "Celeste?" No one was in the room but it was spic and span, the table set for two and oven on. Turning on his heel he headed downstairs, knowing the only other place she could be was the basement. As soon as he stepped off the bottom stair she left the boat and wrapped her arms around him. Stunned, he could barely respond to the hug, then it sank in that this was real and his grip tightened.

"What are you doing here?" Gibbs managed.

Celeste moved back only enough to look at him. "I couldn't stay away when I knew you needed me. And I couldn't do this over the phone." She hugged him again and he could barely swallow past the emotion of it all. "I'm so sorry about Mike Jethro."

He heaved a sigh. "Me too."

For a long time they held each other, then she let go and took his hand. "I made dinner. Just a macaroni and beef casserole, but it qualifies as comfort food."

Gibbs frowned. "When did you get in?"

She led him upstairs. "I couldn't sleep after you called this morning, so I was on a plane by the time I should've been at work. I arrived shortly after five, went grocery shopping, and started the meal." Celeste scooped food into bowls and handed him one. "I waited awhile to put it in because I wasn't sure what time you'd be back."

They sat down and he sampled the dish. "It's good."

Celeste leaned her chin on one hand. "I like having people in my life who appreciate my cooking."

"Always have," Gibbs responded. Even when things were falling apart she always cooked for him and he'd never been properly grateful. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

After the dishes were done in quiet companionship with an occasional question or comment from Celeste, she followed Gibbs to the couch and settled in to watch one of his old Western movies. Aside from her pulse speeding up, she managed to subdue any reaction when he put his arm around her shoulders, knowing he needed the comfort he'd never ask for. A peaceful couple of hours passed as they sat together with the familiarity of two people who had known each other a very long time. Celeste's hand eventually moved to Gibbs' knee and he considered it a victory when her head found a resting place on his chest. He was loathe to let her go when the credits rolled and debated about making a request for what he really wanted.

The TV clicked off and Celeste stretched, then turned to smile at him. "Thank you for a lovely evening Jethro." Her hesitation was brief before she leaned in and kissed his cheek. "It's late. I better get to my hotel."

"Stay," he blurted and her brow furrowed. Gibbs sighed and kept hold of her hand. "I'd really like to have you close tonight."

The admission cost him, this she knew, and Celeste bit her lip, her eyes flickering unconsciously to the stairs.

She'd probably do it if he asked, lay in bed and hold him through the dark night, but the idea was crossing some major lines she held. Gibbs shook his head, patting the cushion beside him. "Just here."

Celeste visibly relaxed, though her uncertainty was clear. He watched the internal debate play out and then her decision was made. "Very well. I'll call and cancel my reservation." In doing so she committed to staying in the house with him until she returned to California.

While she was on the phone Gibbs grabbed the blanket and pillow stacked neatly together on the floor and set them out. This wasn't the first time they'd shared a couch, so after retrieving her overnight bag and completing their bedtime routines together she lay down close to the back, knowing he preferred the outside where he could be the protector. When Gibbs joined her Celeste paused a moment before making his chest her pillow and he anchored her there with an arm around her waist.

The awkwardness lasted mere seconds and then history took over, allowing them to get comfortable with each other. After a minute Celeste started tracing the letters on his t-shirt. "How long have you been sleeping on the couch Jethro?"

"How do you know I am?"

"The supplies."

"Could just be prepared."

"Not that much," she retorted. "How long?"

He shifted and sighed. "2001. Since the last divorce."

"That's ten years," she pointed out.

Gibbs shrugged. "Less memories here." Which wasn't strictly true, because there were movie nights with Shannon and Kelly, nights when he and Shannon sat on the couch together with their drinks after Kelly was in bed and talked, afternoons he'd fallen asleep laying there holding his baby girl on his chest. Pictures and rememberings started to haunt him and an agonizing ache clogged his throat.

As if she could sense the struggle, Celeste placed her hand over his heart. "Maybe you need a new couch."

He sighed and closed his eyes. Even if they tortured him the thought of not seeing his wife and daughter in every inch of the house was a bitter pill to swallow and a change he wasn't ready for, not yet. The woman in his arms shifted slightly and he rubbed her back. Then again, if he and Celeste were ever going to have a future he'd have to figure out how to handle that change before he lost his last chance.


Friday May 13

The second time Ziva was brought out of sleep was not for her husband's check-in to make sure her concussion hadn't gotten worse, but by his panicked cry of her name. "Ziva!" He flailed beside her as if fighting an invisible enemy. "Ziva!"

Feeling sick and head still pounding, she rolled from her back to her side and reached over to place her hand on his chest. "Tony." Her voice came out sounding hoarse and weak, so she moved closer and tried again. "Tony." But she couldn't be loud enough to drown out what was in his head and she refused to leave him fighting alone.

"Meira," she commanded, "da'ber." Bark. The dog, already awake because of Tony, stood up on her bed and let out a sharp bark. When he didn't become coherent enough, she gave the order again. A second bark, louder than the first, finally broke through Tony's consciousness and he startled into reality. "Kelev tov," Ziva murmured to Meira, then turned to her husband. Good dog.

Rubbing his chest slowly, she felt the pounding of his heart and hummed his name. "Tony."

His head snapped to the left to see her, anguish clear in his green eyes. "Oh Zi." He dragged a hand over his face. It had been too real, what he'd seen, that Cobb kidnapped Ziva not as a diversion but as another victim of his twisted sense of justice. They found her body wrapped in plastic, throat slit by a knife like all the others. And those pictures were holding on hard despite her presence, alive and in bed with him.

Concentrating was so difficult, all she wanted to do was sleep, but how many times had it been her needing comfort, needing to know that what she saw in a nightmare was not real? For her husband she could do this and Ziva forced away all thoughts of her own condition to focus on him. She laid her palm on his cheek. "Tony, I am here."

He put his hand over hers, trapping it against his skin. "You're here," he echoed.

She slid over until it was impossible to get closer to his side. "I am alright."

"Alright," he repeated, staring at her like she was the only thing keeping his sanity intact.

Ziva leaned in and joined their lips, overwhelmed by his eager response. She was not in any state to go further than just a few kisses and Tony seemed to recognize that, pulling back and shifting so they were face to face, his arm curling over her waist. "I love you."

"I love you too," he breathed and those words seemed to be what broke the dream's hold on him. "I love you." She closed her eyes, thankful that the worst was over. Tony swallowed and very carefully lifted her hair away from the stitched area. "How're you feeling?"

She shrugged. "About the same." Brown eyes dark with pain searched his. "What was your dream?"

He shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it. But you can probably guess."

Yes, Ziva could well imagine the images that would plague him after yesterday. "Can I help?"

Tony held her tightly. "This. Just let me hold you and remember we got the best ending we could out of that."

"Okay." She adjusted their position so she could lay her head on him without bumping her injury. "I love you."

He smiled faintly. "You can keep telling me that too."

"I promise I will never stop."

Right now that was about the best thing he could hope to hear.


They woke up in the morning face to face and Celeste read the desire in his eyes before he had a chance to act on it. Her fingers came up to cover his mouth. "Please don't."

He swallowed past the unfamiliar emotion. "Just one Les? I won't ask again, I promise."

When he cupped her cheek she didn't stop him and Gibbs brought his lips to hers. Oh how he'd missed her mouth! The way she softened under his touch and moved into him, pouring her heart out in the kiss like she always had. She was so warm and comfortable in his arms that Gibbs didn't want to stop, but he was determined not to break his word to her again and finally pulled away.

Celeste held her breath for a moment, then sat up, drawing one knee to her chest and resting her head in her hands. They were too mature for her to run away from him, but her heart felt close to breaking. A taste of what she wanted so badly was almost worse than not knowing if she could ever have it for good. Gibbs, not totally aware of how much of a sacrifice one kiss was, still realized it couldn't be easy for his ex-wife when they weren't anything defined yet and he appreciated what she gave all the more.

Not wanting her to withdraw, he got up and rubbed her back, dropping a kiss on her mussed hair. "Thank you," he whispered.

She caught his hand and squeezed briefly, becoming her smiling self again following a shower and change of clothes. "Can I make you something for breakfast?"

Gibbs checked the time. "I should be getting in."

Her brow furrowed. "You don't even have a day off after what happened?"

He rubbed his chin. "Just want to get the report over with, get it down on paper so it's not trapped up here." He tapped his temple. "I'll be back before the girls arrive." Gibbs scrutinized her. "You good by yourself?"

Celeste gave him a slight smile. "You know me. I always come prepared to entertain myself."

His fingers pressed hers briefly, then he turned towards the door. "See you soon."

"See you," she echoed, staring at his retreating form for a moment. When he'd disappeared from her field of vision Celeste selected her briefcase bag from among her belongings and settled at the kitchen table. Work was the best thing to distract her from all the things swirling around in her mind. Hopefully she'd have them sorted out before he returned. Being so close to the man she loved was interfering with her ability to think rationally and after what they'd shared this morning she needed all the logical thought she possessed to keep her from jumping headfirst into something that could very easily break both their hearts all over again.


Tony arrived shortly after Gibbs and nodded at his boss but didn't bother saying anything. Leaving Ziva alone in bed had been extremely difficult. He didn't want to let her out of his sight let alone be a twenty minute drive away. But responsibility dictated that everything from the case get wrapped up now so the director could sign off on reports and they could lay the whole mess to rest before Mike Franks' funeral. Except for Ziva's part of the story. The concussion precluded her coming into the office today and he wasn't sure if she'd even be well enough by the time Monday arrived. Then again, she was always so well prepared...

On a hunch he went to the other side of the bullpen and looked. Sure enough, there on the top of the paperwork pile was a new folder. Flipping it open he found her recounting of events right up until they'd gone home the night before she was kidnapped by Cobb. Seeing as that was a different form entirely he could at least hand in her report on Mike's case when he turned in his. Tony smiled slightly. "Good job Zi," he said under his breath.

Gibbs's growl made him jump. "Stay out of her desk DiNozzo."

"I'm not snooping Boss, honest." The expression he got was disbelieving. Tony held up the folder. "Ziva's report. She got it done enough to hand in. Shoulda figured she'd be miles ahead of the rest of us."

He grunted. "How's she doing?"

Tony shrugged. "She didn't get any worse overnight." That was something to be thankful for. "But she feels like crap. And for Ziva to admit to that..."

"Must be bad," Gibbs finished, dragging a hand over his face. He did not like knowing she was suffering.

Leon chose that moment to appear in their team space. "I'm surprised you made it in so early," he commented. "DiNozzo, how's your partner?"

"As well as can be expected sir."

He nodded shortly. "Reports on my desk asap. I want to get this whole matter cleared up as soon as possible. Then you two and Agent McGee are to take the rest of the day off. I don't need to see any member of this team until 0900 on Monday morning."

Relief didn't even begin to describe Tony's reaction, though he kept it to himself. An hour, maybe two, and he could be back in their house doing whatever it took to make Ziva comfortable. If that wasn't enough to light a fire under him, nothing was.

The director focused on Gibbs. "I understand Mike Franks' family is arriving today." The team leader neither confirmed or denied the information. "You let me know if they need anything."

"Thanks," he said grudgingly.

Tony followed up on the comment once Vance left. "What are Leyla and Amira going to do without Mike?" In the chaos of recent events he hadn't even begun to think about what would happen to Mike's girls after his death.

"Move here," Gibbs answered after a moment.

"Here?" Tony echoed.

"Do what you have to for family."

He smiled slightly. "The unspoken rule. Nice."

"Be good to have them close."

Tony knew he was lucky to get that admission from his boss. "Add me to the list." Gibbs frowned. "I'm with Vance, for once we agree on something. If Leyla and Amira need anything, if any of us can help..."

Gratitude was a rare quality to see in the man's steel blue gaze, but it was suddenly there in abundance. "Proud of you Tony," he said, then immediately got up and left.

Sitting back in his chair, Tony allowed himself a small smile. Not a bad start to the day.

He kept his eyes on his keyboard, doing his best to project an air of inaccessibility when EJ and Cade arrived to collect their things shortly after Gibbs' departure from the room. Thankfully they were dealing with a heavy enough load that they didn't even try to interact with him. Both members of the other team spent a few minutes in Vance's office getting their new marching orders and tying up any loose ends from their short time at HQ.

EJ was packing up her desk when McGee got off the elevator and he paused nearby. "Heading back to Rota?"

The blonde agent shook her head. "I'm giving up my post. After everything that happened I need some time to decide what's next."

He nodded. "Take care Barrett."

"You too McGee." EJ glanced towards Tony and it was apparent that he'd been eavesdropping but he didn't look up or make eye contact with her. Perhaps that was best. A clean break, away from everyone and everything that would remind her of her team for awhile. She picked up her bag and box and got on the elevator without even looking back. This part of her life was officially over.

When the doors slid closed Tony breathed a sigh of relief and dropped his head. She was gone. No more sneaking to his desk to avoid her or coming up with excuses for why they couldn't have plans together. No more worrying about his wife's reaction or what might happen if she and EJ were ever left alone. Despite Ziva's current state, he felt a weight lift off of him just knowing that something causing tension between them was now removed.

The thought of her reactions reminded him of the weapons she'd entrusted to him, so Tony checked to make sure McGee was busy with his computer and slid open the metal door of the cabinet behind his desk. Reaching into the back, he retrieved a zippered pouch and opened it to confirm that all of Ziva's extra weapons were as he'd left them. Tony scribbled a quick note and pinned it to the outside, then left the bag in the bottom drawer of his partner's desk where she always kept her purse, knowing she'd find it as soon as she returned to work.

A peek at the clock showed that he'd been at his desk a little less than an hour and hadn't even finished the first page of the report. That wouldn't do. He wanted to get it out of the way so he could go be with his wife. Coffee would help, he decided a moment later, heading for the breakroom. Tony was just adding the last couple spoons of sugar to his drink when Rob walked in. He waited to be acknowledged but the senior field agent wasn't in a cooperating mood, so his rival moved closer.

"I know you were with her last night."

"What's it to you?" Tony ground out bitterly.

Rob crossed his arms. "I saw how you acted when she was missing. I know I screwed up, but I still want to stake a claim."

That crossed a line. Tony's temper boiled over and he shoved the other man into the wall. "What part of 'over' don't you understand, huh?" He tried to say something but was cut off. "Stay away from her Rob. I won't tell you again."

Rob's shoulders sagged under the grip Tony had on his suit. "I lost my chance."

"You're darn right," he spat back.

A knowing look coupled with resignation came into the CIA agent's eyes. "So are you taking it then?"

Tony glared darkly. "That's none of your business." He grabbed his cup and stalked away, not caring for the drips that spilled because of his jerky movements. He sat at his desk with jaw and fists clenched until Rob gave his last debrief to the director and left, checking a text message on his phone while waiting for the elevator. When the doors slid open he entered and like EJ didn't bother looking back. With that out of the way Tony released a slow breath, took a sip of lukewarm coffee, and went back to his report. His only goal now was getting home.


The minute his report was printed and in a folder, Tony left it on McGee's desk with the others to be turned in to the director as soon as the computer expert finished his. For once Tony had greater motivation than his teammate to be done. He grabbed his backpack, gun, badge, and keys but stopped at the edge of the bullpen. "You and Abby get things figured out?" It certainly looked that way last night but assumptions in the area of people's hearts were dangerous.

Tim glanced up briefly. "We're working on it." Having her in his apartment this weekend made their new guidelines much harder to follow, but hopefully after things settled down they'd be able to get back to a routine that worked for them.

Tony nodded. "I'm glad to hear that." He rolled his eyes in the direction of his partner's desk. "Ziva was worried."

Interesting comment considering who they were talking about, but McGee let it slide and added his own inquiry. "How's she doing?"

His eyebrows rose. "You had a concussion before?"


"Then she feels like that, only worse because this isn't her first and the symptoms don't get less intense the more you've had."

Tim winced. "Right. Hey, don't forget ice for where Cobb hit her. It'll at least help the swelling go down."

In all the other things he'd been doing to try and make her feel better, that was one he'd missed. "Thanks. See you Monday."


Deciding to take the stairs down because that was the most exercise he'd be getting for a few days, Tony hurried down the hall and through the door. He was in the middle of the second flight when his cell phone rang. Seriously considering ignoring it because he had a place to be, duty won out over desire and he stopped where he was to answer. "DiNozzo."

"Agent DiNozzo, this is Clay Jarvis. I'm the new Secretary of the Navy."

Whoa. That got his attention. "Sir."

"Secretary Davenport left a few loose ends that have to be tied up and I've selected you for a long-term undercover assignment."

Tony felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. "Long-term Sir?"

"A few months at least, perhaps longer. Is that something you can handle?"

"I've done it before," he said tightly, not wanting his skills to be in question.

"I know, which makes you perfect for this one. Agent DiNozzo, you're going on a mole hunt."

Tony licked his lips. "I appreciate your confidence Mr. Secretary, but I'm not interested. I'm sorry Sir, you'll have to find someone else. Good day." He hung up without waiting for a response and immediately shut his phone off so the man couldn't contact him again. Tony had no doubt this wouldn't be their last conversation on the subject, but no matter what was offered there was no way he was leaving his wife again, not for another assignment. He'd tender his resignation and hand in an application at Starbucks before that ever happened. They were not taking him away from Ziva, he refused to lose another minute of their life together. Too many had been wasted already and he never knew how many more they were going to get.


Two hours later Celeste's attention was straying more than it was staying on topic. She tried valiantly to focus on her editing, but the words would get lost in her mind amidst the memory of Gibbs' lips on hers when they woke. She'd waited nearly two decades to kiss him again, but this wasn't how she wanted it to happen. Celeste wanted nothing more than to share that kind of closeness with him all the time - sleeping in his arms with her ear against his heartbeat, the freedom to kiss and touch with no reason to hold back. But then she remembered there was a very good reason to hold back, several in fact, and those alone were enough to bring her back to reality. They were building towards a future, racing ahead now would only end in misery and she wasn't willing to go that route again.

By the time Gibbs came back through the door Celeste had the emotional distance she needed again, her heart carefully protected behind a practiced smile. "All finished?" she asked brightly.

He dragged his feet into the room. "Yeah."

Her expression fell. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-"

Gibbs stopped her with a shake of his head. "I know what you meant."

"What time do the girls get in?"


Celeste looked at the clock. "You skipped breakfast. Are you hungry?"

Grief had a way of making him feel nothing except tired. He opened his mouth to say 'no' but she was already heading to the cupboard for a bowl, which she almost immediately switched in favour of a mug, ladling soup into it from the pot on the stove. She passed it into his hands. "Just have a little, please?"

Gibbs could neither turn down her request or her cooking - even if the soup was just from a box or a can - so he accepted with a nod. Celeste went back to her editing project and he sat across from her, finding comfort in the familiarity of her work. After a couple minutes the corners of her lips curved up, making him think about this morning when those lips were pressed against his in a way that reminded him of coming home. He wanted that again, so bad, but he'd rushed into things with her last time because of grief and he had no intention of repeating past mistakes.

"I can't concentrate with you staring at me Jethro."

"I like watching you."

She glanced up. "That's a nice compliment. But I'm serious. Can't you find a book or something to occupy yourself?"

One shoulder shrugged. "Don't know as I can focus on much of anything right now."

Celeste rested her hand on his. "I know. Why don't we leave for the airport now? We'll be a little early but I'll let you buy me a cup of coffee and we can wander around and see if there's anything interesting to look at."

"Works for me." He couldn't handle being idle right now.

"Do we need to take anything?"

"Nope. Leyla was going to pack as much as she could in suitcases, the rest'll be shipped and here next week."

Celeste sighed. "I wish she did not have to start over, alone, again. But I am so glad she'll be nearby. It will be good for both of you I think." Her brow furrowed. "I'm not sure I asked, did you find a place that was close?"

He cracked a small smile. "Five minutes. She and Amira can walk here if they want. Not too far from the library either. There's a park down the street. Hit most of the bases."

"I love the way you take care of the people important to you," she said quietly, patting his chest.

They're not the only ones I want to take care of, Gibbs thought, but felt it best to leave that part unsaid for now.

He packed up a few tools in an old duffle bag to take with him, in case any of the things on his repair list were ones Leyla wanted taken care of right away, and they were out the door and on their way in a matter of minutes. Time passed rather quickly between the drive and enjoying their hot drinks and before he knew it people were streaming out of the gate. Gibbs kept his eyes peeled for the Iraqi woman and her daughter and suddenly there they were. Leyla stopped and smiled, pointing him out to her daughter. With eyes too sad for such a small being Amira let go of her mother's hand and ran into his arms.

"Papa Gibbs!"

He scooped the little girl up easily. "Amira." He held her close for several moments, then settled her against him. "How ya doin' sweetheart?"

She tipped her head to the side. "Do you know where my Jaddi is? Mama said he is not coming home." Grandpa.

Gibbs stared into her serious brown eyes and Leyla, having heard the question, came alongside them. "I'm sorry Gibbs. She does not understand."

The words were a murmur meant only for his ears. He rubbed Amira's back. "I know where he is honey. But he can't come home. He loved you and your mama so much. Don't ever forget that, okay?"

Her face fell and she laid her head on his shoulder. "I want him back."

Gibbs swallowed hard. "Me too sweetie." With his free arm he hugged Leyla. "I'm so sorry."

She held the grief in now just as she had when Liam died. "Does that not break one of your rules Gibbs?"

He gave a mirthless chuckle. "I'd break them all for Mike. He knew it too."

"I am sorry for your loss as well." Leyla turned to Celeste and offered her hand. "My manners, I apologize. My name is Leyla Shakarji."

"Celeste Casey. I'm a very old friend of Jethro's. It's a pleasure to meet you, but I'm sorry it's under these circumstances."

"As am I." She straightened and looked at Gibbs. "We should go collect our luggage."

They headed for baggage claim with Gibbs continuing to carry Amira. She didn't seem to want to be put down and he didn't mind a bit. Long years had passed since he'd had occasion to hold a little girl, he'd savour it as long as possible. Gibbs did pass Amira back to her mother when Leyla pointed out two large, beat up looking suitcases. Her smile was rueful. "Mike did not have very much in the way of luggage."

"Neither do you," he commented as he hefted them off the carousel. "This all you brought?"

She shrugged one shoulder. "We led a simple life Gibbs, you know what that is like. We did not have a lot of belongings. Anything that would not fit and that we wanted to keep from the house is being shipped. Amira and I will start fresh here in DC."

Celeste, who'd collected their carry on bags, followed the small group out to the car and Leyla buckled her daughter into the booster seat he'd found in the basement. It probably wasn't up to code but would do until they could go shopping and purchase some necessities. The return trip was quiet and Celeste noticed Gibbs kept one eye on the road and one on the backseat where Leyla sat with her arm around Amira, softly stroking her hair. He pulled into the parking lot of the stately old house that held their apartment and Leyla studied it, smiling faintly.

"This building looks like it has a story to tell. We will enjoy learning it as we settle in."

Gibbs and Celeste each took one of the suitcases, while Leyla handled the carry bags and Amira. As soon as he turned the key and pushed the door open, the young mother gave her first real smile since arriving. "Oh is lovely." She saw past the age of the space and instead took in the character of it. She placed a kiss on his cheek. "You made a good choice."

He rubbed her back. "This is your home now. I wanted you to be comfortable here."

Leyla took Amira's hand and they walked through every room. "You can have your own room habibi, or share with Mama for awhile." Sweetheart.

The large rooms and high ceilings were intimidating to the little girl and she buried her face in Leyla's skirt. "Stay with Mama."

Leyla bent and kissed her head. "I thought as much."

Celeste waited until they'd made a full circuit of the place. "Can we help you unpack?"

"Please," Leyla agreed, then her brow furrowed. "Oh...we have nowhere to sleep or put our clothes."

"Got an air mattress in the car," Gibbs put in. "That'll do for tonight. Tomorrow afternoon we'll hit the second hand shops, see if we can find you some furniture."

"That is very kind, thank you."

Celeste followed the young woman's lead and opened a suitcase, conferring with Leyla about where things should go.

Amira, usually a smiley, happy little girl was so sad and quiet and Gibbs couldn't take it anymore. "C'mere sweetie." She lifted up her arms to him, then stopped and ran to the first suitcase, frantically rummaging through it. "Mish! Mish! Mama...where's Mish?"

"Shh, shh darling, everything is alright." Leyla bent and unzipped Amira's backpack, tugging out the stuffed cat Mike gave her when she was just a baby. "Here he is."

She cuddled him against her chest, sighing in relief. "Mish."

They hadn't even thought far enough ahead to have a chair for someone to sit in, a fact Gibbs registered with no small amount of frustration. "Leyla, mind if Amira and I go sit out in the sunshine for a bit?" The front of the house had a wide stone staircase with a high side that would do for a temporary seat.

Leyla smiled at the sight of her baby in his arms. It reminded her of how Mike had always held Amira with such tenderness and care, something no one would've thought of the rough and tough former agent. The memory brought a lump to her throat and she did her best to keep the tears back. That picture of her father in law with her daughter was lost forever, she could never see it again except in the photos they brought. "Yes," she said at last, "it would be good for her to be outside."

Gibbs looked at his friend? girlfriend? the woman who held his heart? with a question on his face. "Les?"

"We'll be fine Jethro. Go enjoy it while you can."

So they did. Older man and young girl got comfortable together on the porch with Mish tucked in between them. She was content to be held, uttered hardly a word, and every now and then a tear leaked from her eyes, effectively breaking Gibbs' heart. He tightened his grip and pressed his lips to her forehead. "I gotcha honey. Papa Gibbs won't let anything happen to you, I promise."

Amira glanced up at him after awhile. "Papa gonna stay?" The couple times he'd visited Mike in Mexico she'd always been so disappointed to realize he wasn't there for good.

"Yeah sweetie, Papa's gonna stay. You and your mom and me, we're as close to family as it gets." Celeste might not even tease him about adding to the brood - first the team, then Mike's girls - didn't seem like he could stay alone no matter how hard he tried. Then again, it had been a long time now since he'd tried.

Try as they might to get things feeling settled, there wasn't all that much Leyla and Celeste could do until there was a bit of furniture and storage in the place. Besides second hand stores, they'd also need to pick up kitchen equipment at the dollar store and go grocery shopping. At least the place was clean, it had clearly been scrubbed top to bottom as per Gibbs' instructions when he paid extra for the privilege.

Leyla lifted a soft towel out of the bottom of the suitcase, gently unrolling it to reveal a vase and a small figurine. "The vase was from Mike, because I was always bringing flowers into the house. And this," she held up the knick-knack, "was the only other thing I managed to bring with me when I was smuggled into the country." Her hand came to rest on her midsection. "Except Amira of course. Her father, Liam, gave me that. It is all I have from him."

"I'm sorry you didn't get a spend a lifetime with him." She'd clearly loved her husband very much, Celeste knew a little bit about what that was like. "But I do hope you'll leave room for someone in your life Leyla. You're too young to be alone for the rest of your days."

"When we had Mike and we were a family I was never lonely, not really. Now..." she shrugged. "That cannot be part of my thinking. I must make a life here and be a mother to my daughter. She is all that matters in the world." Leyla shook out the towel. "At least I can give her a bath tonight, to make one thing normal for her."

"But before bath and bed, we need to get something to eat. I know Jethro will insist on taking you and Amira out for dinner. Are you feeling like something Middle Eastern as comfort food, regular American fare, or a different option altogether?"

Leyla's expression softened. "Mike would have liked very much to meet you." She chuckled. "There would be no end to his teasing if he saw the way Gibbs acts around you."

Celeste shook her head. "Acts how?"

The younger woman gave her a knowing look. "Like a man in love."

Ignoring the rest of it, Celeste touched on part of what she'd said. "I know from Jethro that Mike has at least heard of me. It's scary to think the stories those two might've swapped over the years. We've has some really good times and really bad times. I'm not sure which ones he shared."

Before Leyla could say anything else, Gibbs reappeared with Amira. "Ready to take a break for supper?"

Celeste's smile to Leyla silently conveyed, 'I told you', and she nodded. "Ready."

As she walked past Leyla touched Gibbs' arm. "You are very lucky to have someone in your life who knows you so well. Please do not leave it too long, whatever you are doing."

He cleared his throat. "I'll do my best." It was something he thought about all during the meal, as they went to pick up a few food supplies to cover breakfast in the morning, and took Leyla and Amira back to their new home, and as he and Celeste walked down his street holding hands to look at the stars before they turned in as well. He didn't want to lose any more time.


Since she was still a day away from being able to get her stitches wet, Ziva had to settle for another bath that evening. This time Tony let her take it alone after turning down the lights and setting out a few candles to create the most relaxing atmosphere possible. He hadn't told her about the phone call and thought he probably should, but she didn't need anything else on her plate right now. Sunday afternoon, before they prepared to return to work, would be soon enough to mention it. Then again, with the state Ziva was in Gibbs could insist she take a few extra days off to rest up. And based on how crummy she felt, this time she might actually listen.

When she was out the bathtub and wearing a different pair of clean pyjamas, Tony led her to the couch and tentatively held up her brush. "We need to get the tangles out of your hair before it gets any worse Zi."

She nodded, clenching her jaw briefly. "Carefully please."

He kissed her cheek. "Of course." One of her romance movies was on as a distraction and Tony wished for a mirror to see her expression in so he knew when it hurt. As it was, her shoulders kept creeping up, tensing when he got too close to the healing wound. He was as gentle as he could be but a few snags here and there were unavoidable.

"It hurts," Ziva mumbled halfway through.

"I know honey, I'm sorry."

The process took much longer than usual considering it had been almost two days since the last time her hair was in any semblance of order. She hadn't gotten it wet yet, though the ends were from her bath, and when he finally finished Tony chewed on his lip. "Would it be uncomfortable if I did a loose braid? That would at least keep your hair from getting too messy while you sleep."

She conceded the point and allowed him to follow the now familiar motions of weaving her hair into a plait. Then she slumped back against him. "I don't want to go back to bed yet."

Tony maneuvered them into a lying down position and curled his arm comfortably around her. "You won't get any complaints from me. My favourite place to be is wherever you are."

Her eyes were already closed as she snuggled into his chest. "I thought the pick up lines were over."

He chuckled in her ear. "That's not a line. It's the truth."

Ziva reached back and caressed his cheek. "Mine too. Thank you ahava."

His head nestled into the crook of her neck. "I love you babe. No thanks necessary." His wife fell asleep and he blew out a breath. He might need a few more days of sticking to her like glue before his heart got out of his throat, but this was a really good start. He could stay right here in this moment forever.


Saturday May 14

A nightmare tore Ziva out of the relatively peaceful sleep she'd finally managed and she cried out at the viciousness with which the headache that had been hanging on for two days suddenly morphed into a full-fledged migraine. Tony had only just woken up when she shoved back the covers and went running for the bathroom. The sound of her being sick reached his ears and he shuffled slowly after her, retrieving a fresh cloth from the linen closet and running it under warm water. He pressed it into her hand and kissed the top of her head, gently gathering loose strands of hair back and away from her face. When her stomach finished heaving and she slumped back against the cupboards, drained of any strength that remained, Tony filled the glass on the counter so she could rinse her mouth.

She did, wiping her face with the cloth before handing both back to him and carefully lowering her forehead into her hands. "Thank you," she whispered.

He sank down beside her. "Sweetheart, what was that?"

"Nightmare," Ziva mumbled. "Migraine. Feel awful."

"Oh babe." Tony wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. "Is there anything I can do?"

She started crying. "Hurts," she managed. "Funeral. Can't go like this."

The hurt he could do something about. He fished a couple of the few remaining pills from the bottle and gave them to her with a refill of water. "Gibbs will understand honey."

"Should be there," Ziva rasped. "Support."

"I know." He sighed, holding her tighter. "I know."

It wasn't long before they were back in bed, a garbage pail handy in case she threw up again. When the clock finally reached a normal time of day Tony reluctantly got up headed for the shower, knowing he'd have to leave for the funeral service without her. He hoped not being able to attend wouldn't interfere with her getting closure from Mike's death.

While he was getting ready to go, Ziva reached for the phone and dialed a familiar number, dreading what she had to say. Gibbs picked up, concern in his tone. "You okay Ziver?"

"No," she replied, half-sobbing. "I'm so sorry Abba. I cannot come today."

By the second day he expected her to be doing a bit better, but she had more head trauma in her medical history than most people. "Maybe DiNozzo should take you back to the doctor."

Ziva brought her knees to her chest. "I have a migraine," she all but whispered. "Stress." She didn't want to elaborate, but there was also a feeling of heaviness in her heart. She didn't think she had it in her to handle one more thing related to death. There had been too much of that in her life and she simply had no more left to give.

Gibbs read between the lines. Stress had affected her much more tangibly since Somalia. Headaches were just one symptom and a concussion certainly wouldn't help matters. "It's okay kid."

"Wanted to be there," she forced out. "For you...and Mike."

"I've got someone in my corner," he shared. "You take care of you."

A hint of a smile touched Ziva's lips. "Girlfriend?"

Gibbs rolled his eyes. Even sick she wasn't giving up. "Not yet. Maybe soon," he revealed.

"I'm glad."

"Get some sleep Ziver, that's an order."

"Yes Sir."

"Don't call me Sir."

Ziva swallowed. "I love you Abba. I am so sorry about Mike."

He sighed. "Me too kid. Love you back."

They hung up and Celeste came slowly downstairs in a dark skirt with a blue blouse that matched her eyes. "Is this acceptable?"

Gibbs knew she hated black but was trying to be respectful of funeral traditions. "Yup." He held out his arms and she stepped into them.

"I wish I could stand up with you today."

So did he, but having her at his side would raise too many questions. "I'll know you're there."

Celeste stepped back, holding his hands in hers. "Whatever you need Jethro, please remember that."

What I need is you to stay forever. The thought got away before he could reign it in. He kissed her forehead. "I'll let you be that tonight, when it's over Les. Thank you."

It took all her willpower not to blurt out 'I love you' right there. This man had held her heart for going on eighteen years. There was no stopping it now.


The funeral was well attended. It seemed Mike Franks was well loved regardless of his rough edges. For Leyla and Amira's sakes Gibbs was glad. It was important for them to see how many people Mike mattered to, even if it wouldn't make them feel any better about their loss. Everyone from the team was there except Ziva and Tony looked out of place without his partner by his side. "I didn't want to leave her alone," he shared quietly, "but I needed to be here. She doesn't like people hovering when she's not one hundred percent."

Gibbs knew when he didn't ask about Ziva's absence that Tony was aware of her current state. "She kick you out?"

He shrugged one shoulder. "Something like that." He looked away. "I wish I could do something to help her feel better."

"Neck rubs can have a positive effect on migraines," the older man shared without thinking. When Tony gaped at him Gibbs clammed up and headed up the aisle to take a seat next to Ducky. So as not to attract attention from his team and take focus off the reason they were all gathered today, Celeste sat at the back of the room. But he could feel her eyes on him the entire time and was grateful for her support, especially when he stood at the front to say a few words for his friend.

She hung back again when they arrived at the cemetery and stayed behind the crowd, out of view of anyone who might notice and recognize her. Now was not the time for a reunion. The formal military ceremony helped keep eyes mostly dry, but that all changed when Gibbs knelt to offer the tightly folded flag to his little goddaughter. He straightened and clasped Leyla's hand whispering, "I'll take care of you both, I promise." She almost smiled but the grief was too heavy today to say how much she appreciated what he was doing and how he'd taken them in.

They and the members of Team Gibbs stood as a tight group while many came forward to offer their condolences and when the crowd had at last drifted away a round of hugs was shared before Vance, Ducky, Jimmy, Breena, Abby, McGee, and Tony all went their separate ways. It was then that Celeste felt able to join them and she put her hand on Leyla's arm. "I'm sure this is very difficult. Is there anything we can do?"

Gibbs was startled but found he liked very much how 'we' sounded, like they were already a package deal, their relationship-to-be a foregone conclusion.

Leyla shook her head. "You have been so kind, thank you. Amira and I will stay here with Mike for awhile." She ran her hand over her daughter's curls. "Then perhaps we will go visit your Baba as well, yes?" Liam was buried not too far away and it had been so long since they'd been to his grave to pay respects. She wished Amira remembered him, but that was impossible when they had never met. The only thing she knew of him was photos and the stories her mother and grandfather had told.

Amira sighed. "Jaddi and Baba both gone." She looked up at Leyla. "I miss them Mama."

Leyla sat down on a nearby bench and lifted the little girl onto her lap, wrapping her arms around her. "I know darling, so do I."

Gibbs and Celeste almost felt they were intruding on the moment of grief between mother and daughter, so with one final look they turned and made their way to the car. He stopped by the driver's door, fiddling with his keys. "Don't feel right leaving them Les."

"Then we can stay," she offered. Looking around at the vast burial ground dotted with pristine white headstones, she turned back to him with a smile. "Will you show me around Jethro? Introduce me to the people that have played a part in your life?"

He was incredibly touched by her suggestion and wasted no time holding out his hand. They walked for a long time that day as he acquainted her with the people he'd served alongside, friends from bootcamp that never made it past their first assignment, buddies who fell in the wars they fought, superiors who not only commanded troops but gave their own lives to defend the cause. By the time they got back to where they started Celeste felt she had a whole new appreciation of how being a Marine had shaped her ex-husband's life.

When they returned from their trip down memory lane Leyla was also ready to join them. "Amira needs something to eat." Her solemn little girl hadn't said anything, but breakfast was a long time ago.

Gibbs chose a child-friendly restaurant with casual fare for their late lunch, then they all drove back to the apartment. Leyla and Amira were left to rest for a bit and change before they spent the afternoon running errands. Back at Gibbs' house they did the same - different outfits and brief naps to prepare for what would likely be a very full few hours. Instead of the car this time Gibbs headed for his truck - the bed space would be needed to hold all the furniture he was determined to procure for Mike's girls.

"Ready for an adventure Amira?" Gibbs asked when they met him and Celeste out front.

Amira examined the vehicle with critical eyes. "That looks like my Jaddi's truck."

He crouched in front of her and chuckled. "Difference is, mine actually works."

"Mike was always working on that old thing. He said one of these days he would get it back on the road."

Gibbs shook his head. "He knew the truck was a lost cause, just liked having something to tinker with."

"Kind of like a certain man I know who builds boats in the basement in his spare time," Celeste murmured, earning herself a mild glare from Gibbs.

They got in the back, Leyla insisted on sharing the bench seat with her daughter though Celeste offered the passenger seat to her, and Amira was securely strapped in. The first order of business was getting a proper carseat for the little girl and when they walked in the store Gibbs spoke to the department manager, who conferred with Celeste and Leyla and explained the options. Once that was taken care of he pulled out a crumpled list with the addresses of every second hand store in the district on it and they started with the closest one.

For the remainder of the afternoon they were in and out of the truck about ten times and slowly the bed began filling up with things Leyla and Amira needed for their new start. At every store while Gibbs and Leyla looked at the selection and either approved or discarded items, Celeste would take charge of Amira and the two of them would spend time in the book and toy section. As someone who had grown up surrounded by every kind of literature, the redhead had made it her personal goal to at least start Gibbs' goddaughter's collection today.

Whenever they found a few things and went up to the cash register Gibbs pulled out his wallet, ignoring Leyla's protests. Finally, after the fourth time, she put her hand on his arm. "Thank you for wanting to be so generous Gibbs, but we do have money." The details she shared with a heavy heart, gaze drifting out the window. "Mike increased his life insurance after Amira was born and we moved in with him. He made sure we would be taken care of. Because of that I can stay home with her this year until she is old enough to start school. Then perhaps I will find a job, something to make me feel useful."

He stared seriously into her eyes. "This is what Mike would've done. You repay me by taking good care of that little girl and bringing her to see me as often as you can, okay?"

Tears wet her eyes but didn't fall and Gibbs realized she hadn't grieved at all in front of them yet. With Amira sharing her bed last night he wondered when she had given herself the chance to cry for Mike, if she had at all. "Very well. And thank you. Mike was right to suggest you for her godfather. There is no better man."

Gibbs knew he didn't deserve what she thought of him, but today he'd take it.

After their final stop at the last stop on the list they did a dollar store run to get some things for the kitchen, then made their way to Wal-Mart where they could hit groceries and household goods with one shot. Celeste again took Amira with her and together they picked out some books, stickers, colouring books and crayons, and a couple toys so she would have something to do at the apartment. These purchases, just like the used books, came out of Celeste's pocket along with a cute purple tote bag for the little girl to carry her new things in. The smile on her face was a reward well worth the money spent and the older woman finally felt like she'd done something to help when they met Gibbs and Leyla back at the front to leave.

Many trips were needed in from the truck - which Gibbs and Celeste took care of while Leyla directed where items should go and started organizing her new home. They'd ended up with a rocking chair, dresser, a small kitchen table and chairs, two stuffed chairs for the livingroom with a matching loveseat that was on hold until he could go back and pick it up with an empty truck. A bedframe and mattress for Leyla that he willingly put together, and a crib mattress Amira could use to sleep on for now since she was such a little thing.

All blankets, sheets, pillowcases, towels, and cloths that had been purchased where taken to the laundromat two blocks away and done in one load in the industrial sized machines so they'd be clean for use tonight. Rugs were laid out, dishes, cups, mugs and utensils washed and dried and put in their correct places, and the brand new kettle and microwave positioned on the kitchen counter. Cleaning supplies were stored in a narrow closet, beds made up once everything was brought back from being washed, and everything else folded and neatly placed in the linen closet.

Groceries were unpacked, a simple meal started, and the cupboards and fridge began to not look so bare. One framed picture Leyla hadn't been able to walk away from was hung above the table courtesy of Gibbs' screwdriver, a small stereo so it wouldn't be so quiet in the apartment, and a small rack to hold Amira's newly acquired books and toys that would do until they were more settled. Finally Leyla took a step back and looked around, a genuine smile on her lips. "Thank you both so much. I do not know what we would have done without you."

Gibbs put his arm around her and kissed her temple. "Anything you need, ask."

The hour was growing late and the little one struggled to keep her eyes open. Before they could leave Amira tugged on Leyla's skirt and the woman bent down to her level. Amira whispered something in her ear and Leyla smiled. "She would like Papa to tuck her in tonight."

Celeste had never seen Gibbs so close to tears as when his goddaughter voiced that request. Swallowing hard, he lifted her into his arms. "Wanna sleep in your new bed honey or with Mama?"

She dipped her chin. "With Mama."

He rubbed her back. "Sounds good to me. Let's go find you some pjs and Mish, can't go to bed without him."

Amira's lips curved up and he was thankful to see more of her personality shining through. "Mish is already in bed. He needed a nap and then he wouldn't get up."

Gibbs chuckled. "Cats are like that I guess."

In the room they were sharing he opened the bottom drawer and let Amira choose a pink nightgown covered in purple hearts. The clothes she'd worn went carefully in a basket that served as their laundry hamper right now and then she pulled the nightgown on herself but needed a little help from Gibbs to make sure it was the right way around. He folded down the covers, scooped her up and lay her gently down, tucking her and Mish up tight the way Kelly always asked him to do. He kissed her forehead and started to stand but she worked her arms loose and looped them around his neck.

"I love you Papa Gibbs."

Those words in a child's voice took him back to so many bedtimes with his little girl, but not enough by far, and this time he had to wipe away a tear and struggle to get his emotions under control as he dropped a kiss on her forehead and repeated the sentiment with great feeling. Closing the door halfway as he left, Gibbs took a moment before rejoining the woman. He and Celeste said goodbye to Leyla and welcome home and it was a quiet drive back to his house.

Celeste offered a hug without him asking and Gibbs fell apart in her arms, completely overcome by the events of the past few days. She guided him to the couch and held on tight while he cried, telling him that it was okay, that she would never think less of him for grieving. He ended up slipping into an exhausted sleep with his head in her lap, fingers carding gently through his hair over and over. She was so thankful to have come. No one should ever face a loss alone.


Tony got home from the funeral and let Meira out to do her business in the yard, then quickly shed his formal clothes and crawled into bed with his wife. He kissed behind her ear and spoke very softly because she already had her hands up to protect against unwelcome sounds. "The saddest part was when Gibbs handed the flag to Amira." He sighed. "That little girl isn't even five yet and she's already lost two of the most important people in her world."

Ziva removed one hand cautiously and realized that the noise bothering her earlier had stopped. "They have Gibbs, just as we do. At least they are not alone."

Meira came through the door and flopped unhappily down on her cushion, since she wasn't allowed on their bed. But it was obvious she knew her human was hurting and didn't like being so far away.

He trailed his fingers down her cheek. "What do you need?"

She wrinkled her nose. "A pill." It was a hated concession but a necessary one if she hoped to be even mediocre company for her husband today.

Once she took that Tony propped himself up on one elbow beside her. "You gotta be getting hungry honey, how about something simple like toast?"

Shaking her head would not be wise, so Ziva just gave a quiet, "No thank you." In this state she hardly wanted to move, making herself care about food enough to eat wasn't going to happen.

He considered the options. "I could do you one better - we've got smoothie ingredients."

One shoulder shrugged. "Maybe later." Which only made him worry more. She hadn't eaten much at all for the last two days and he didn't like the reminder of Somalia.

They lay together in the dark solace of their room for awhile longer but eventually Ziva needed a change of scenery. It was after noon now and the time finally registered. "Can you help me shower and wash my hair?"

Tony grinned. "Like I ever say no to sharing the shower."

She sighed. "It is not for fun Tony."

He claimed her lips for a quick kiss. "Yeah, but you're still naked and that works for me. I can handle lending assistance to my lady."

Rolling her eyes wouldn't do her head any favours either, so she snorted instead and made her way to the bathroom. Half an hour later in yet another pair of pyjamas but with clean hair finally she felt marginally better, however she only lasted upright for about five minutes before the dizziness got the best of her. Tony saw her cradle her head and grabbed one of the throw pillows to cover his lap, bringing her down to rest on it.

She whispered 'thank you' and he cued up the DVR with some of his stuff, since she wasn't supposed to do anything that required concentration - including watching TV. Ziva drifted off again and he kept his touch very gentle as his hand ran down her arm and up her back in a continuous circle. When he was absolutely positive she was deeply asleep, he grabbed his phone from the end table and turned it back on. Four missed calls from a blocked number assured him that the new SecNav hadn't given up easily but he deleted the messages without even listening. He still wasn't interested.

Instead Tony scrolled through his contacts and chose Mark and Cassie's home number. His best friend answered as he always did, "Reece residence."

Tony sighed and rested his head back on the cushions. "It's been a rough few days Papa Smurf."

Mark paused the movie he and Cassie were watching and nodded. "Armchair shrink is in buddy, what's going on?"

"Where do I start?" He thought about the events of the past two days but it felt so much longer than that. "We finally wrapped up the serial killer case."

"That's usually a good thing."

"After he took Ziva hostage as a diversion."

"Oh." Mark exchanged a startled glance with his wife, who was sitting close enough to hear. "Wow, didn't see that coming. Is she okay?"

"Yeah, us either." Tony's gaze fixed on his wife. "He clipped her pretty good with his gun, gave her a concussion. She's feeling kinda crappy right now."

"I don't blame her." Mark hesitated. "Did she...was it..." He was at a loss for how to phrase the question. "Is it worse because of what she went through that summer?"

He gave a weak chuckle. "Funnily enough it's me that's flashing back to the desert, not her. The similarities aren't there for her, just me."

"How bad?"

"Pretty intense nightmare a couple days ago, took awhile to shake. At least she's here when I wake up now." Mark had heard about what things were like for him after Ziva was declared dead and he had to wake up without her every time.

"Is there anything we can do D?"

Tony shook his head. "I don't think so, just wanted to let you know. Obviously we won't be at basketball tomorrow."

"You're getting better at advance notice," Mark joked, then got serious. "I'm really glad it turned out okay."

"Yeah," he breathed, "so am I. You'll never know how much."

At that point Cassie took the phone from her husband. "Hi Dante."

"Cass," Tony smiled. He knew if she was nearby she wouldn't let Mark get away with hogging the whole conversation.

"I wanted to tell you something Ziva shared with me the first time she had a bad month after she got home."

"Okay. Shoot."

"This won't be exact wording, I'd have to go look it up. I wrote what she said in my journal because it sounded so sweet. 'I like when he holds me. Tony runs his fingers through my hair and massages my head until I forget how much it aches. Sometimes he kisses my eyelids when he thinks I'm asleep.' I just thought you should know what she thinks when you take care of her."

Tony bent over and pressed his lips to his wife's hair. "Thanks sis. That was really nice. I'll definitely keep it in mind seeing as she's using my lap as a pillow right now."

"Give her a hug for me. Tell her we'll be praying. For you too."

"I will. And thanks, from both of us."

"Take it easy D," Mark instructed, getting his phone back. "We'll check in with you in the next couple days."

They hung up and Tony not only did everything Cassie had told him, but ever so gently he began rubbing Ziva's neck and focusing on the muscles there. He was one hundred percent certain Gibbs hadn't meant to let that piece of information slip, but if he'd said it obviously he knew from experience that it helped. And right now he wasn't about to turn down anything that would bring a small measure of comfort to his wife. She was, after all, his greatest treasure and he intended to spend the rest of his life treating her that way every time he had the chance.


A/N: Well, we finally made it. There were some days and weeks it felt like we'd never get here, but this is officially the end of MIT Part 5. I'm taking two months off starting now so I can work on the part that comes next - What Lies Between - which will cover the summer while Tony's away on assignment. I hope to be back with the first chapter by the first week of July. Thank you all so much for your support and for continuing to follow MIT even when my posting was rather inconsistent at times. It's been a long two years but you guys stuck by me and I really appreciate the loyalty. There's lots more story to tell so hang in there and hopefully I'll se you all back this summer! Lots of love ~Aliyah