Epilogue

Lights flickering. Red and blue lights. Voices yelling. Voices trying to help. Friend crying. Someone dying. Blood pooling. And a voice. A demanding voice. Demanding life. Demanding survival. Demanding that she did not leave. No arguments. And she did not want to argue.

"Ziva stay with me."

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Pain shot through her head as she slowly open her eyes. Moving her head slightly, she tried to see where she was, but all she could make out were blurred and muted colors and shadows. And then one of the shadows detached itself from the rest.

Ziva attempted to move away from the ominous silhouette, a small sound escaping from her lips, a sound of terror.

"Easy, Ziva. Easy." As the shadow came closer, it solidified into the one person she found herself desperate to see.

"Gibbs," she sighed, relaxing. She felt his hand brush through her hair, the other rested on top of hers, his thumb caressing.

He settled down in a chair that had obviously been there for a while; his coat was folded over the back. His face was gaunt, drawn from worry and lack of sleep. She reached up, dislodging his hand and caressed his face, worried for him. Seeing his hand move up, Ziva felt the pressure as he pressed her hand against his face, not letting her move away.

As her vision focused more, she could start to make out other shapes and figures. Ziva could see Tony sitting in the corner, Abby curled on his lap.

Gibbs chuckled. "Tony hasn't let her go since we found you. Well, once so that the paramedics could check her out. But other than that, she's either been in his arms or wrapped around him like that," he said, gesturing to the two in the corner.

When he did, Ziva saw Abby get off of Tony's lap, walking towards the hospital bed she was laying on.

"Hey hero," Abby teased a little. "You saved my life, you know? Almost got yourself killed in the process, though."

"Hey, Abby," was all Ziva could manage to get out. Everything was still too raw, still too painful. "What happened? What happened after…"

"After you risked your life for mine by charging him?" Like Ziva, Abby couldn't bring herself to say Raub's name. And Ziva didn't know if either of them ever would. "Are you sure you want to know?"

Ziva nodded slowly, careful not to move too quickly. "I need to know. I need to finish this." At her words, she felt Gibbs move closer, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, and Tony come up next to Abby, wrapping his arm around her waist.

Taking a deep breath, Abby started talking, "When he came in, I thought it was Gibbs for a second, busting in to save us both. But when it wasn't, Ziva, I got so scared. And when he took out his knife, I thought that was the end. But then the most glorious sound broke my terror. It was you, you screaming in rage and fury. The look of fear, Ziva, on his face…"

Abby stopped there, taking a deep breath. She turned into Tony, as his arms came around her and pulled her in tight as shudders wracked her body.

"Abby," Ziva said, concerned. "If you cannot go on, I understand."

"No, Ziva. For both of us, I need to talk about this one more time. To finish this," she echoed. Continuing, still with Tony's arms around her, Abby went on. "He grabbed his gun and turned to shoot you. But when her pulled the trigger, he got a knife to the chest and you fell to the floor. Ziva, my heart broke seeing you there and not being able to get free. But then our heroes showed up. Gibbs burst through the doors, Tony and Tim right behind him. Tony freed me and Gibbs…Gibbs dropped to his knees. And he hasn't left your side."

Abby smiled fondly at Gibbs, still clinging in his own way to Ziva. "He kept shouting at you to not leave him. Then he started yelling at the paramedics to save you. He even shoved his way onto the ambulance. But the hospital staff drew the line when you were in surgery. He stayed outside the door though, never taking his eyes off of you. Almost like, if he did, if he turned from you, you'd fade away and leave us.

"But you're awake now. You're not critical anymore. And you're here, with us, together and safe." Tony pulled her in tighter to him, if that was possible.

"Thank you, Abby. Go now. Go and sleep. Its over." She watched Abby and Tony walk off, the woman leaning on the man. Before they left the room, Abby stopped and turned back one more time.

As they looked each other in the eyes, Ziva felt overcome by the sense of sisterhood she felt with Abby. Their ordeal, however hellish it had been, had brought them together closer than any friend or true sister could ever be. And when Abby gave her a little smile, Ziva returned it with a nod of her head.

When the two finally left, Ziva felt a weight lift off her shoulders, a pain lifted from her heart. It was over. Truly over. And with that, she let the tears fall.

As the sobs over took her body, she felt the bed dip as Gibbs slowly climbed in with her, carefully holding her against him. As he kissed her hair and held her, Ziva did not fight the sorrow. It was cleansing, the tears and the release. She clung onto Gibbs, wincing when she felt the stitches pull.

As her weeping died down, Ziva put at hand down near her hip, looking at Gibbs in confusion. She had expected her wound to be higher up, closer to her heart.

Covering her hand with his own, Gibbs answered her unspoken question. "You never gave him time to raise his weapon. Best guess is, he saw you let go of the knife, so he fired. The bullet entered low on your hip, on the right side. It passed through the curve of your pelvic bone and exited out the back. Ziva…the bullet…did something unexpected." He almost hesitated to tell her, but she had to know. The final piece of the puzzle was gone. "When it exited out of the back of your hip, it took out his brand. The words are gone, Ziva. His brand, his mark of Black Orchid, is gone."

He held her tightly again as her body shook with her sobs. It was done, over. But it wasn't over between the two of them. And he was going to make sure she knew that, when she was stronger.

As her body stilled, he felt Ziva relax in his arms and finally drift off to sleep.

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She woke up safe, in the arms of her hero, as Abby had labeled him. Ziva knew he was awake, and that he had probably been so most of the night, always her protector, guarding her even when she slept.

Over his shoulder, she could see the sun, rising beyond the window, as it bathed her room in reds and golds. A new day, a new start, without the darkness of the past coloring it in shadows.

Looking up into Gibbs' watchful eyes, Ziva smiled as the rays hit his silver hair. "Hello," she whispered, suddenly unsure of herself. When she had been taken the second time, they had spent the night together, seeking acceptance in each other's arms.

But now, with the treat over, would he still want her?

He saw the brief shadow pass over her face. A remembered pain? Or worry for the future? Because he knew her to always look towards the future, with only consideration for the past, Gibbs guessed that she must be unsure of him.

"Don't," he started, brushing a gentle hand over her face. "Don't doubt me now Ziva. What we've started…is only the beginning. But now that I have you, I'm not going to be letting you go so easily. I'm afraid you're stuck with this old man."

"Not an old man, a fox, yes?" she tried teasing, trying to find her way back to him.

"An old fox then," he returned her tease as a compromise. "But an old fox who will follow you anywhere. No use running, Ziva. You're stuck with me."

"Yes, sir," she answered as if she was behind her desk again.

"Be careful, Ziva," he warned with a low growl. "You calling me sir, while we're in bed, it does things to me, honey." Having her safe and in his arms was causing the entirety of his protective nature to rear its head.

Seeing the glint in his eye, Ziva finally smiled, a beautiful, full smile, the first one he had seen on her face in too long. "Yes, sir," she repeated as Gibbs lowered his head to hers, their lips meeting in a bone-melting kiss, sealing their fates together.