Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I don't even own the plot. I just play with them when the mood strikes.

She was waiting for him when he got home.

He'd driven the whole way without breaking the speed limit once, not because he cared but because he was too busy replaying those last moments – the door swinging open, and then the sight of that terrible vest and the bright red button. Cassidy's face, and the spark that lit her eyes as she faced down the man responsible for destroying her team. The door slamming, and then the explosion and that fatal red light as it glowed by the baseboard. He would never forget the smell of charred flesh, or Tony's eyes, devastated at the loss of a woman he could have loved, haunted by the horrors of the day. He would never forget Ziva's face, slowly going chalk white under her tawny skin, and he would never forget staggering with the knowledge that if it hadn't been for his weekend plans, he might very well have been the one making that desperate dash through the door.

That mental video was still playing in his mind as he swung the door open, but he snapped out of that fog when he saw her standing in the doorway, sympathy in her eyes. Her hair had tumbled down about her face, strawberry-blonde waves framing beautiful blue eyes and a smile that quirked at the oddest moments.

He needed her now.

He yanked her against him, buried his face in her shoulder, and they collapsed on the big leather sofa where he trembled and shook, unable to cry – with grief, and a terrible relief that his team was safe, with the unreasonable guilt gnawing at him, telling him he should have figured it out sooner while his rational mind coolly informed him that he could have done nothing of the sort no matter how hard he tried.

And then he couldn't think about anything except the woman in his arms, soft and slender and oh so there.

And the only thing he could whisper was a hoarse "thank you," but he didn't have to say anything more, because she could see everything else in his eyes and that connection, that knowing, was what had been missing from his life for so long. And she was here, and he thought maybe, maybe, the whole point of the tragedies in his life had been to bring him right here, right now, with her, just the two of them together while the rest of the world went on around them.

It had taken him all of five seconds to figure out that while he liked her in the uniform, he would like getting her out of it even more.

It had taken him five minutes at work with her to realize that she was smart as a whip and as driven as he was.

It had taken him five days to figure out that besides being tough, hardheaded, and stubborn, she was a woman who had been alone her entire life, and that he didn't want her to be alone anymore.

He wanted her to be with him.

But it had taken him five months to figure out that he couldn't live without her.

And now, as he held her, he realized why. Because she had the strength to carry him when he couldn't carry himself, just as he could carry her. And because she had enough love to forgive his commitment issues and his scarred heart – enough love, even, to love him because of them.

And he knew that in the morning he would have to face the grief and the anger and the fear, but here, tonight, with her, she could shelter him.

She could protect him from the storm. In the shelter of her arms, he could look past the good, the bad, and the ugly to the candle in the darkness. And though he knew with the light came the dark, he didn't have to face that tonight. The world could turn without them tonight.

His team was alive. His team was safe. Life would go on.


A/N: This does not take place in the same continuity as my other Gibbs/Mann stories.