A/N: Here is the last chapter! It took forever to write, I apologize. Finals have been kicking my butt! This story will continue to stand on its own, thanks to my laziness. And this is also going to be my very last post (for any story) until I return in August. I tried to have this chapter give some closure, I am not sure how well it worked. Love it, hate it, at least it's finished! Please review though-- reviews rock my world.
Have a great summer, and thanks for reading! See you in the fall!
Six Months Later...
Gibbs stood casually in the doorway of the shack, his arms crossed comfortably over his chest as he gazed out across the sand. The sound of waves crashing against the shore eased his mind—a familiar lullaby from those long confusing months after he had regained his memory. That summer had been difficult as he recovered from the explosion that had shot him back in time. The pain of Shannon's and Kelly's deaths had become fresh and agonizing.
A few weeks into his self-imposed exile, Gibbs had realized that he had made the wrong decision in coming here, to Mexico. He needed to keep busy, to keep his mind off his memories. But he had closed the door on NCIS; he had retired, leaving the team in Tony's capable hands. So instead he began building, like he always did, only this time in the open air of the beach, not the dark confines of his basement. Slowly but surely, the pain faded back to the occasional throb it had been before the explosion. But even then, he could not find peace.
He found his thoughts plagued with images of Ziva, flashes of her face crumbling into heartrending sobs as she reopened her own emotional wounds to remind him, and herself, of Ari's betrayal. Every so often he dreamed of that night, and woke up feeling remnants of her body heat from having pulled her to him in comfort. The only difference between the flashbacks and the actual event was that when he woke up amidst tangled sheets, the heavy beating of his heart had nothing to do with the adrenaline of returning memories. Soon, he couldn't avoid thinking about her, even during his waking hours.
He hadn't bothered to look too carefully into his feelings then. With everything else he was experiencing that summer, he had simply added it to the rest and left it at that. Well, almost at that. He could not help but wonder how she was doing. He knew the pain of losing family—he could only imagine how it felt to have been the one to pull the trigger. And he also felt guilt, for being the one to ask her to watch his back. She had no reason to obey his request, except the compulsion to do the right thing. But she hadn't shown any indication that she would even care about right and wrong.
No, yes she had. Her first night in America, he had been privy to her passionate retaliation when he had mentioned the Palestinian waiter of mistaken identity. It had been in that moment that Gibbs had gotten past the stone-cold assassin façade to catch a glimpse of the passionate woman underneath. At the time, he hadn't been able to determine whether it was the smudge against Mossad's reputation or the loss of an innocent life that angered her. If he had been forced to choose then, he would have put money on the former.
But that summer, after a year of working with her and watching her morph from stone cold assassin to confident investigator, he knew that it was the latter. And after that night in the hospital, he knew that she indeed had a heart—a heart too big, too vulnerable for him not to be concerned about how she was coping. He assumed that she was still as competent and professional as ever, but he knew better than anyone how easy it is to simply bury the pain instead of dealing with it.
Several times Gibbs had come close to calling her, but he always thought better of it. No one knew where he was, and only Abby had managed to locate a contact number for him. Selfish as it may have been, he had wanted to keep it that way. So when Camila had told him someone had called for him, he was completely taken by surprise when he had heard Ziva's voice on the other end of the line.
He should have known that her call was not a personal one, but her plea for help made his gut churn, especially when she tearfully asked him to save her. The raw emotion in her voice had been unmistakable, even long distance. He had known at that moment his fate was sealed—he was returning to DC. And he had a sinking suspicion that he would be doing so even if he hadn't been in her debt.
And so he had gone flying back to DC. He helped exonerate Ziva, but it had been her own machinations that had truly ensured her freedom. He had lost faith in her, during those tense minutes after he had told her Eschel's location and the time he actually arrived at the motel. He had thought that she had killed him before the bastard could be brought to justice. But she had pulled through—she became the very embodiment of the investigator he had taught her to be. Even bloody, black, and blue from the beating she took in order to secure the Iranian's confession, she had glowed with pride.
Movement along the shoreline caught Gibbs' attention, pulling him from his thoughts. Blue eyes quickly recognized the figure's gait as she walked barefoot down the beach toward him, sandals in hand. Black curls brushed tan shoulders left bare by the white bikini she wore. A white sarong was wrapped around her hips, blowing slightly in the wind. The entire stretch of beach, familiar as it was, seemed much brighter than he remembered from that summer he had retired. The sun was shining brightly now, reflecting of the white sands to bathe Ziva's lithe frame in a warm glow.
About fifty yards from the shack she stopped and turned to gaze out at the sea, letting the incoming waves cover her feet with sand. She turned briefly to toss her sandals farther up onto the dry sand, out of the reach of the gently surging water, before returning her attention to the sea.
Her profile was serene, and Gibbs knew she was deep in thought. With a grin, Gibbs left the porch and crossed the sand to meet her, immediately wrapping his arms around her waist from behind. She leaned back into his embrace, enjoying the feel of his skin against her bare midriff.
"What are you thinking?" he asked softly, his voice a whisper in her ear. As much as he hated to admit it, it had become difficult for him to guess what was on her mind lately. He knew he could simply wait for her to come to him, instead of asking, but he had realized that vocalizing his queries not only gave her a chance to confide in him, but also let her know that he wanted to hear her thoughts.
Sometimes she would be thinking of the past, of good times with her family, or she would be thinking of recent events, the traumatic events that had forever altered their lives. And other times she would simply give him a vague "nothing", and he would leave it at that. He never felt the need to pressure her to talk—she would come to him when she wanted to. He was willing to listen, whenever she needed him. This time, however, he seemed to be in luck.
"I am thinking about that day, a couple of months ago," she responded. She turned her head to look at him. "Do you remember? It was raining, and I had gone out for a run."
"Uh huh," Gibbs said, recalling the day easily. "You scared me that day." Her eyebrows rose in surprise.
"I scared you? But I did not threaten you. In fact, I was glad you had found me."
"You were awfully close to the edge of that cliff."
"So? I was not going to fall—" Her eyes widened. "Oh. You thought I might jump."
"Not really," he assured her. "But that's what a person's mind first jumps to when someone is that close to the edge, especially after what you had gone through."
"So your fear was a leg jerk reaction?"
"Knee jerk," he corrected, "and yes. I know you better than that. You're not a quitter." She smiled at him in response, and then turned back to look at the ocean. "Why were you thinking about that day?" he asked, guiding them back to the original topic. "Something about it bothering you?" It was a moment before she responded.
"It is just that… I think I made a mistake." Gibbs waited for her to continue. When he was met only with silence, he gently continued to prompt her.
"You don't blame God anymore?"
"No," she said, "that is just it. It was not about faith. It was—" she halted, abruptly changing her mind. "Never mind," she said with a slight shake of her head, "it is silly."
Gibb bit back a sigh. Of course she thought it was silly. She had been away from Mossad for a while now, but she still had trouble vocalizing thoughts that were heavy with emotion. And if his suspicions as to what was bothering her were correct, her thoughts were indeed emotional. His hand reached into his pocket, where his fingers immediately located a familiar metal shape. He had taken to carrying it with him everywhere, waiting for the right moment to return it to her. And he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the moment had come.
Hooking a finger around the delicate chain he withdrew the pendant from his pants pocket. In a smooth movement he brought his arm up to dangle the familiar Star of David pendant in Ziva's field of vision. She pulled back slightly to focus on the swinging charm, but in an instant she had recognized the gold star. Her hand came up to touch it, but hesitated a few millimeters shy of the gleaming metal. She turned to him, and as he gave her a soft smile, he saw her eyes had widened in surprise.
"This is mine," she stated, her voice soft. Her eyes flicked back to the necklace. Her brow furrowed. "I threw it away that day. But I knew later that I was wrong to have done so." She fell silent as she focused entirely on her pendant. When Gibbs moved to clasp the necklace around her neck, she didn't resist, instead moving her dark curls aside to give him easier access.
Once the star was safely secured around her neck, the fingers of her right hand immediately sought out the familiar lines. She turned in his arms, her left hand gripping his shirt tightly as she pressed herself as close to him as she could. His arms tightened around her, returning her somewhat unorthodox embrace. Her forehead rested against his chest, and his hand came up to stroke her hair. They remained like that for several long moments, until Ziva turned her head to the side to speak.
"That day," she said, her voice just loud enough to be heard above the waves, "I was so overwhelmed by everything—" Gibbs momentarily flashed back to that rainy day, when he had only been able to watch as his lover had finally broken under the weight her traumatic injuries, both physical and mental. Then he blinked, and focused once more on Ziva. "I threw away this necklace because I was angry with God. But in that moment I forgot that I did not wear this necklace as a symbol of my faith." She sighed.
"The star is Tali's. It was the only thing recovered from the bomb site. I kept it, and wore it to remind myself of why I was fighting. The chain Tali used was ruined in the blast, so I replaced it with one that belonged to my mother." Gibbs was instantly glad that he had simply replaced the clasp (which had broken when Ziva had yanked the necklace from her neck), instead of simply purchasing a new chain altogether. "I had thrown away the only things I had left of my family. I was so stupid." She looked up at him. "Why did you keep it? How did you know--?" When her query was met with an arched brow and a familiar quirked smile, she rolled her eyes. "Ah yes," she said with a wry grin, "your gut."
"Uh huh," he said. He smiled at her for a moment before pressing a kiss to her forehead.
"Thank you," she said, her voice raw with unguarded emotion. His arms tightened around her, pulling her closer.
"You're welcome," he returned softly. He kept her close for a few moments more, before he pulled away. "Let's go inside," he said, his right arm remaining around her waist to guide her towards the shack. She went with him without resistance, still grasping her newly recovered Star of David between her right thumb and forefinger. The porch creaked ominously beneath their feet, but Gibbs knew it would hold their weight, having built the supports for it himself the last time he was there. As they moved into the darkened entryway of the shack, they both became instantly aware of a faint buzzing noise that reverberated against the wood-paneled walls. They looked at each other in question.
"You said no work," Ziva accused, a smirk crossing her features.
"Not mine," he said. "Turned it off before we boarded the plane."
"Well, I turned off my cell—" Her eyes widened. "Hold on," she said, quickly disappearing into the bedroom, where their belongings were currently residing. Gibbs followed, leaning in the doorway to see her pawing through her backpack, digging to the very bottom of the bag, and finally pulling out a non-descript, yet unfamiliar cell phone. Briefly glancing at the caller ID, she flipped the phone open, answering with a sharp "yes".
Silence fell as she listened to the person on the other end of the line, answering only with an occasional murmur of affirmation. After a few minutes, she shut the phone closed, ending the call. She stared at the small phone in her hand with a blank gaze. Her eyes only lifted when Gibbs shifted his weight against the doorjamb.
"Sorry," she said. "I had forgotten about this one." When she saw his inquisitive gaze, she elaborated. "It is one I never use. Officer Bashan issued it to me. I keep it charged and in my day bag at all times. The only person who knows the number is Bashan. That is why forgot about it. It is for emergencies only." She looked back down at the phone in her hand, almost as if in disbelief.
"What did he want to talk about?" Gibbs asked, not bothering to clarify which 'he' he was referring to. For a moment or two, Ziva didn't answer, and Gibbs wondered if she hadn't heard him. But then she finally spoke.
"My father is dead," she said quietly, slowly shifting her gaze back to him. Gibbs' brow furrowed in concern.
"Don't look at me," he said, risking a bit of levity. "I have an alibi."
"No," she said, not registering his humor. "He was found dead in his office earlier this morning. A heart attack."
"Heart attack? Didn't think a guy who could shoot his daughter without blinking would be taken down by a heart attack." They had long ago abandoned attempts to tiptoe around what had happened in the warehouse, after Ziva had become irritated with everyone's attempts to avoid the subject. Now they spoke openly about it, both of them comfortable with the blunt references.
"He wasn't," Ziva said, surprising Gibbs. "The autopsy will not clarify whether it was natural or not. Not that such clarification is needed."
"Metzada? Or foreign operatives?"
"Komemiute is very good at what they do," Ziva corrected, using the official term for Mossad's elite team of assassins. "Even if someone bothered to look deeper, they would not find anything to suggest anything other than a natural death."
"They've named a successor already?" Gibbs asked.
"Yes," Ziva answered. "Officer Bashan is no longer with the Embassy here in America. He has returned to Israel as the newest Director of Mossad." Gibbs' eyebrows arched. "Do not look so surprised, Jethro. He should have been made Director long ago, or least Deputy Director. He is a good man, and a better officer. He will be a good Director."
"And let me guess," Gibbs said, a grin gracing his features, "his first act as Director was to clear your name, reinstate you, and renew your citizenship." A moment passed, and then she beamed at him.
"I can go home," she said. Her eyes twinkled at him in excitement. The change in her demeanor was palatable. The weight of the past few months had vanished, and to Gibbs she looked years younger. For a moment, he could see the woman from the picture he had seen in the hospital, smiling in Shmuel's arms. She stepped towards him. "You can come with me. I can show you my home… You can see Haifa and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem."
"I did say I wanted to see Israel with you, didn't I?" he said. She nodded, smiling as she stepped even closer. "Well then I guess it's decided." Her smile grew even more. "We're going to Israel."
She swiftly closed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around his neck. She pressed her lips to his, her eyes closing as she enjoyed the contact. She could feel the heat of his touch slowly bleeding into her, warming her from the inside. However, even in the summer heat of the beach, she was not uncomfortable. A faint breeze had managed to find its way inside the house, tickling her senses. Happiness bubbled up inside of her, and when they broke apart for air, she gave him a sharp but playful nip on the ear, making him grunt surprise. He looked at her, but she was already gone, pelting full speed back outside.
Gibbs took off after her, grinning madly. He watched as she smoothly hopped the porch rail to drop gracefully to the sand below, not breaking her stride at all. He followed, though taking the jump to the sand with more care than she had. His longer legs allowed him to quickly catch up with her, and as soon as he was within reach he flung his arm out, catching her around the waist. Their residual kinetic energy spun her into him, and he was unable to keep himself upright as she barreled into him with a playful shout. Gibbs twisted as they fell to the sand, forcing them to land with Ziva beneath him, immediately putting her in a prime position to be at his mercy.
But before his calloused fingers could even brush her surprisingly sensitive sides, Ziva had efficiently twisted beneath him, using her body weight to throw him off. He rolled with it, and soon Ziva was sprawled on Gibbs' chest as his back pressed into the soft sand. Her hands gripped his wrists tightly, keeping them away from her bare skin. Brown eyes twinkled down at him as she sat up, straddling his chest as her rested in the sand on either side of him. Her brows arched as a small smirk twisted her lips, her head cocking jauntily to the side in a clearly smug and superior motion.
When she leaned down to place a sultry kiss on his lips, he retaliated, wrapping his arms around her, trapping her against his chest as he quickly rolled over, again pinning her beneath him. His wrists now free from her grasp, he brushed a lock of sandy curls from her cheek, giving him an unobstructed view of her easy gaze, while his other hand pillowed the back of her head. He knew that she would not try to force him off of her this time—her limbs were lax against the sand, and her eyes conveyed such an honest contentment that he could not help but relax as well.
He found it ironic, really, how the last time he had been on this beach he had been so broken, and now, with Ziva, he felt complete again. Same place, but two very different times, two different people—he was not the same man who had retired four years ago. He had changed too much to not admit it. And looking down at Ziva, he saw changes in her as well.
Physical scars aside, the woman lying beneath him was completely different from the girl who had come to NCIS that stormy night. And despite her mature confidence, a girl she had been, in her own way. She was experienced in the ways of the world, yes, and had seen more of the world in her twenty-some years than most people saw in their entire lives. But she had been so reserved, so guarded, that she hadn't really been experiencing the world at all. But now, gazing up at him, she was completely unguarded. Where she had previously striven to hide her emotions, she was now allowing him to see her to her very core. There was just the slightest hint of sadness in her gaze, but it was eclipsed by her mirth at the situation, and the love she felt for him.
Upon recognizing the latter emotion, Gibbs felt a twinge deep in his core. It was a familiar sensation, but one he had not felt in a while. He had first felt it when he had received his eagle, globe, and anchor on Parris Island, when he had first become a Marine. He had felt it when he had stood at the altar, gazing at Shannon as he lifted her veil. And nowadays he felt it only sporadically, when his team exceeded everybody's expectations. It was honor—he felt honored, seeing the love in her gaze. She had chosen him, allowed him to love her back, when he had not given her any reason to do so, and when she could have had her pick of any man she met. It was pride as well. He was proud to be the one she had chosen, the one who was able to care for her when she needed him. And proud that she wanted to be the one to be there when he needed her.
"Hey," he said softly, drawing her eyes to his.
"Mmmhmmm?" she murmured, her lips still smiling. He took one of her hands in his, tracing the slender lengths of her fingers. He grasped the base of her left ring finger between his thumb and forefinger.
"You're missing something here," he said, showing her the bare skin. He watched her brow furrow for a second before realization dawned. The shift was subtle, but he could see wonder begin to creep into her gaze as she returned her eyes to his.
"I am?" she asked, her voice soft.
"Uh-huh," he returned, smiling.
"Yeah?" He couldn't hide his growing grin, warmth spreading swiftly through his core.
"Yeah," she confirmed, grinning broadly herself. "Yes. Definitely." The corners of her eyes crinkled with joy, and Gibbs responded with by pressing his lips to hers once more, this time more deeply than before. She responded by wrapping her arms around his neck, one hand cupping the back of his head. When they parted, Gibbs rested his forehead against hers, breathing deeply as he savored the contact. His eyes closed, letting her scent of flowers and spice wash over him.
"I love you," he whispered, so soft she almost missed it. She smiled.
"I love you too," she whispered back. "I love you too."