This story was written for the talented and winsome Elflordsmistress. I am not sure it's really what she wanted. But I tried, ELM, I tried. The need to TIVA is just too strong in me.

I do not own NCIS or any part thereof.

RULE #12

Gibbs stood up straight, stretching out his back, resisting the urge to moan out loud. He'd been down here for hours working on his new boat. Five months and he only had the barest skeleton completed because he had let his anger and pain control him during the early stages of construction resulting in having to scrap his work totally, have to buy more lumber. Not once, not twice, but several times. He wasn't used to losing control. It was a new experience for him and he didn't like it.

But this boat, the Jenny, like the woman herself didn't cooperate, didn't follow his lead. He had worked through the pain and the anger, regret too, a sense of guilt and frustration, of missed opportunities over the years; it all went into the Jenny making it as difficult to construct as their relationship had been to manage. All the time he cut, planed, hammered, or sanded the same thoughts circled over and over in his mind until he felt like ripping the wood apart with his bare hands and no amount of bourbon could slow down the emotional whirlwind.

How had he driven her away when they'd been so in love? Why when she had come back into his life so unexpectedly had he not pursued her when it was obvious they both still felt the connection, the fire? Why did she keep the whole damned Frog business so hidden, using Tony thoughtlessly and dangerously; not like the Jen he remembered at all? Why hadn't she told him when she found out she was dying? Why, God why, had she chosen to die alone in the desert with only Mike Franks of all people at her side? Why had she sent Ziva and Tony away, two of the best agents he'd ever trained? If they'd been there she would have survived, he knew it in his gut. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. Too many questions. No answers.

Sometimes he thought he could hear her speaking softly behind him, a hint of amusement in her voice. Sometimes she'd be laughing outright at him. He'd turn, sure she'd be there in the earliest hours of the morning when he'd been drinking since the evening but she was never was.

He picked up his heavy coffee mug and drained the last sip of bourbon from it and reached to pour more but stopped as he heard a soft footstep above his head. He looked toward the staircase and saw Ziva. She walked determinedly down the stairs, her face showing nothing. No emotion. It'd been a while since he'd seen her in full Mossad mode; really not since he'd gotten her back on the team after the break up.

Gibbs glanced at his watch, almost 1 a.m. He knew it had to be important for her to be here. Ziva hated his basement. She never came here voluntarily. This was where she had killed her brother to save him, a man she barely knew. He knew, too, she still dreamed about it because he still dreamed about it and about the back of Kate's head exploding and stippling DiNozzo's face with her blood. He remembered the soft song Ziva had sung to Ari as he'd left them alone, the man's blood spreading over the floor and the girl sitting slumped on a stool, her gun held heedlessly as she mourned her brother's death. He'd touched her hand in passing, one warrior's acknowledgment of another. Ziva might be the one person in his life who had a sense of duty and justice as strong and as painful to bear as his own.

She came silently to stand in front of him. He looked at her steadily. She was unreadable when she wanted to be except now - now he saw something she couldn't quite hide in her eyes…something angry, lost, hurt, but most of all he saw determination to do whatever she had come to do. He reached over to his work table and dumped nuts and bolts out a Mason jar and held it up to her.

"Wanna drink?"

She shook her head and he poured himself another two fingers into his mug. Then he patted the sawhorse he sat on in invitation for her to sit down by him.

Ziva shook her head again and finally spoke.

"I am returning to Israel. I am ending my liaison position as of now. Here is my badge."

She took her shield off her belt and held it out to him. He made no move to take it from her and sipped from his cup. When he didn't take it she seemed momentarily at a loss and her look softened but then the Mossad agent came back, in control. What the hell was going on with her? It'd been a long time since she'd been like this, not since back at the beginning of her time with them when Abby and Tony resented her for not being Kate. He had to admit he had too. McGee had been the only one who showed her any welcome. But she stayed the course despite the antagonism, won them all over and when Vance had sent her back to Israel last May he knew she had not wanted to go.

During the long summer he had missed "his" boys, DiNozzo and McGee, but he'd been surprised at how much he'd missed Ziva too. When she became "his" girl in much the same way Abby was "his" girl he wasn't quite sure but it had happened and when he'd gotten her back and she had flung herself into his arms in an unexpected hug he'd surprised himself by hugging her back like she really and truly did belong to him. She was his in the same way the others were his; his to protect, his to teach, his to care for in his own rough fashion.

And now she was handing him her badge? He knew she didn't really want to go back to Mossad. What the hell had happened to bring this on? He suddenly heard Jenny say "careful" as clearly as if she had been standing by him whispering in his ear. He took a sip from the cup.

"Talk to me, Ziva," he said, not moving to take the badge.

"There is nothing to say. I have decided to return to Mossad, to Israel."

She did not look him in the eye but looked around the room her eyes coming to rest on the floor space where Ari had died.

"I do not belong here. I have never belonged here," she said in a soft voice. "It is past time I returned."

He set the cup down next to him on the sawhorse and stood up, took two steps toward her and stopped in front of her forcing her to look at him.


This time she didn't look away.

"I have to go. There is no other way. I have to leave. Take the badge, Gibbs."

She thrust it at him and he still didn't take it.

"Why do you have to leave, Ziva?"

He could feel Jenny's presence right by him almost touching him.

"Talk to me."

She turned away. He saw her shoulders slump. She walked to the boat and rubbed her hand over the ribs, stroking gently.

"I do not wish to say why I am leaving. You do not need to know."

Now he began to get mad and he walked to her and pulled her around by the arm until she faced him again.

"You're not leaving until I get a straight answer, Ziva."

She tried to shrug his hand off her arm but couldn't.

"Let go of me, Gibbs. You know I can hurt you."

Her eyes were hot with anger now.

"And I can hurt you, too, Ziva. Why not just tell me what's got you so set on leaving?"

Suddenly he had an idea.

"Is it something DiNozzo did? He finally piss you off enough you have to leave?"

Her eyes went wide at Tony's name and he saw something there but it was hidden quickly.

"Tony did nothing. It is my decision. Now will you take my badge?"

"No. I won't. It was DiNozzo wasn't it?"

She pulled her arm again and he let her go.

"What the hell happened, Ziva?"

Again he heard Jenny's voice, "Jethro…"

He ignored her as he had done so often while she was alive.

"Ziva," he commanded.

"Tony kissed me."


Of all the things he'd expected to hear as the cause for her leaving this was the last one. He wasn't blind despite what his team seemed to think. He saw the way she looked at her partner sometimes, and how those looks were returned. He had seen the pictures of her Tony had posted on his bulletin board on the Seahawk and remembered pinup-type pictures Shannon had sent him in Kuwait; pictures he had treasured and looked at everyday. A kiss was not exactly unexpected.

"And?" he said.

"He kissed me and then he pushed me away."

"Oh," was all he could say. Now that was unexpected.

She began to walk away from him, around the boat.

"He pushed me away because of your stupid rule."

She stopped and looked over the skeletal boat at him.

"You and Jenny. You broke each other so badly you could not put yourselves back together again. You made that stupid rule when Jenny left you after you would not or could not let her in all the way. I know, Gibbs, I know. Jenny often spoke of you after we became friends. You were her one great love, did you know that? You were the one she would have been willing to change for, to give up her ambitions for but you never let her in. You never let her really into your heart and she knew it. Your walls were too thick and too high. Do you know how much you hurt her once again when she found out about your wife and daughter? You sent her down the path that took both of you away from love and into loneliness."

Her voice had risen in volume and she seemed to realize it. She took a deep breath and when she spoke again the words were softer but no less painful to hear. She resumed her walk around the boat.

"You made the rule out of your heartbreak without thinking things through. How many other lives have you sent down that same pain-filled path you now send me down? How many, Gibbs?"

He blinked. Jenny whispered in his ear, "oh, Jethro."

"That damned rule, Gibbs, it prevents Tony from even exploring what we might have together. He respects you so much, loves you like a father; he will never go against you or your rule. Not for me."

Tears were slowly sliding down her face now.

"One more added to your toll, Gibbs, maybe two. But there's still hope for Tony. I pray there is, anyway. He deserves to be happy. One of us needs to be happy."

His own anger had grown with every word she said.

"Rule 12 is to protect you, David. Protect you and Tony from this very thing. You ruin your partnership when you get involved. Don't fall in love with your partner. It's a damned good rule. It's to stop the pain before it starts." he yelled at her. "Follow the rule and nothing bad happens."

"Not true, Gibbs," she yelled back, now in front of him again. "Not true. We followed the rule. We never dated. We only worked together everyday and saved each other's lives and I came to know him and love him. Just like you and Jenny did."

She choked up and stopped talking. She rubbed her sleeve over her face.

"Just like you and Jenny."

He stared at her. Her words echoing, causing pain as they repeated themselves inside his mind, his heart.

"Whether he cared for me even a little I will never know. Thanks to your rule, Gibbs."

Ziva threw her badge at his chest and he caught it on reflex. She turned to leave and then stopped. Tony stood on the bottom step looking at her. She closed her eyes and turned to face the wall, her back hunched as if warding off a blow. Tony spared a single look at Gibbs then crossed to Ziva. He didn't say anything but put his hand on her shoulder and turned her toward him. She wouldn't look at him. He took her chin in his hand and lifted her face.

"Open your eyes, Ziva," he said. "Look at me."

Slowly she did as he asked, her cheeks still wet. For long moments they looked in each other's eyes silently. Gibbs had always been impressed with how much they communicated without words. No other agents he'd ever worked with were so in tune with each other when in action. They never seemed to need to give verbal cues to each other. Pretty damned amazing considering how much DiNozzo talked any other time. Now he saw them in a different kind of action and he could only think back to the first night he and Jenny had made love and how little talking there had been; only feelings unspoken yet communicated fully through touches, actions, looks. At the end, right before she left, there had been no touching, only talking and love lost. His fault? Her fault? No one's fault? God only knew.

He watched Tony move in closer to Ziva and touch his lips to hers, tentatively at first and then more firmly. He put his arms around her and pulled her close. Ziva put her hands on his shoulders. The kiss deepened. Gibbs closed his eyes, remembering. They looked so right together.

"Like us, Jethro. Let them have their chance. They deserve it."

He took a deep breath. He could have sworn he smelled Jenny's perfume on the air.

Tony pulled back from Ziva, giving her one more look. Then leaving her he walked to Gibbs, taking his badge out of his pocket.

"I admit it, Boss; I always ask myself first 'what would Gibbs do?' But here's one time I don't want to be like Gibbs. I don't want to throw away what may be my one true chance at happiness through pride or anger or following a rule that probably never should have existed."

Tony looked back at Ziva and gave her a smile then looked at Gibbs again no longer smiling.

"I'm not you, Gibbs. And Ziva's not Jenny. We deserve our chance. If Ziva leaves, I do too. I don't know what we have here, where it'll lead us, but I know we have to find out. We can't do that and follow your rules. So here's my badge."

He held the golden shield in its leather case out to Gibbs, his green eyes steady and clear with the bold look Tony got when he knew he was right and chose to stand up to his boss no matter what, no matter the anger or the consequences coming his way.

Gibbs opened his mouth but no words came out. Tony waited, badge in hand. Gibbs made no move to take it. Finally, he reached out and put it in Gibbs' hand, the hand still holding Ziva's badge. Then he nodded. He turned and walked back to Ziva, taking her in his arms again. Ziva smiled at him, the smile a thing of beauty full of love and happiness. Gibbs had never seen Ziva smile like that. Tony and Ziva turned around together and headed for the stairs.

"Don't let them leave," she said in his ear and in his heart. "They're not us, Jethro. They don't have to be us."

"Wait," he said.

They turned back, still holding onto each other. He walked over to them and picking up Tony's free hand gave him the two badges.

"No grab ass at work. Keep it all out of the office. I don't give a damn if it's bad or good."

Tony and Ziva looked at each other and then at Gibbs. Tony's smile started out small but got as big as it could. Ziva looked like she might start crying again but then she moved away from Tony toward Gibbs and put her arms around him and hugged him. After a moment he put his arms around her and held her tightly pulling her face into his chest and feeling her breath on his neck. He closed his eyes.

"Boss," Tony said.

Gibbs opened his eyes and motioned Tony toward him. Reaching up he slapped DiNozzo on the back of the head when he was in range and then pulled him into the hug he shared with Ziva. They stood like that for a moment then Gibbs broke away.

"Go on, get out. It's Wednesday. I don't want to see either of you in the office until Monday, understood?"

Ziva frowned but Tony's eyes lit up with understanding.

"Got it, Boss," he said. "And thanks."

Tony took Ziva's hand and tried to pull her away but she didn't move.

"Gibbs, I am sorry I said those things to you; those things about you and Jenny. It was wrong of me."

He shook his head.

"No, Ziva, you weren't wrong. You weren't entirely right but you weren't wrong."

Tony pulled on her again but she resisted for a moment and put her hand up gently to pat Gibbs' cheek then followed her partner, soon to be lover, up the stairs. Gibbs stared after them until his eyes burned. He smiled sadly and said into the empty basement, "We'll see, Jenny. I hope you're right."

He heard her laugh and he thought he felt the softest brush of her lips as he picked up a sanding block and went back to work. Something told him he'd have an easier time from now on with the Jenny. As he rubbed the sandpaper slowly over the wood he remembered her waiting for him, sitting by a little table at their favorite sidewalk café in Marseilles, her red hair glinting in the late afternoon sun, happiness in her smile and her love for him on display for all the world to see.