Title: To Belong
Pairing: Ziva David/Jethro Gibbs NCIS
Rating: NC-17 That's right. I wrote het!smut. *flail*
Disclaimer: NCIS is not mine. No infringement intended, no profit made.
Spoilers: Not in this one, but in the first part, titled "Coming Home" Which I suggest you read, or this won't make much sense.
Summary: A direct continuation of the events in "Coming Home"
Thanks you's: To serenitymeimei for bribing the muse. To jaina47 for that one line that I just had to use, and especially to ariestess who found time in her busy schedule to beta. She did not see the final draft so comma errors are my fault entirely. And I am fond of commas ;p
A/N: Although I try to stay as true to canon as possible, for the arc of this story, timelines and facts may have been er, squidged a bit.
It is strange the ways in which the reaching of a destination can affect a person. Sometimes, no matter how long or grueling a journey, its ending can be disappointing, even devastating.
That is not the case, here.
All my life I have struggled to find my place. Growing up, I believed that it was my father's approval which would make me whole – that would give me the sense of belonging I so desired.
As I grew older, I realized that such approval would always come with conditions and caveats; with 'strings' as Tony might say, and so I looked elsewhere to belong. I looked to the camaraderie of others like me: agents of Mossad, patriots, assassins, those who spent their whole lives walking alone.
When my father sent me to the United States - to NCIS - I did not seek to fit in. I believed my time in Washington would be fleeting and inconsequential, merely a slight detour on my journey to somewhere else, somewhere better.
I was so busy looking for a place to belong, it nearly took me too long to realize I had already found it.
She wakes every time he moves, but each time, his hands soothe her back and stroke her hair and she returns to slumber. Only once does he leave the bed, pressing a gentle kiss to her temple. In the soft dark place between oblivion and waking, she hears his voice. The words are too soft to understand, all but the phrase,
"I don't care what you tell him DiNozzo." It makes her smile briefly. Only briefly though as her thoughts and memories follow the name. Tony. Another wound she will have to heal eventually. But not now. Now she is still in survival mode. Now she has to decide the next step.
As if in response to her thoughts Gibbs returns. The bed dips under his weight but he doesn't reclaim the spot next to her. Instead she feels his fingers brushing the hair from her temple. Blinking lazily she looks up at him.
"Think you can eat something?" Simple and direct. Almost the Gibbs she is used to and it brings a second smile to her face, this one nearly full. The muscles feel strange however and her expression fades.
The exhausted woman settles for nodding.
"And…a shower would be nice," she rasps, licking dry lips.
Now it's his mouth that quirks; not quite a smile either, but the attempt is there.
He nods toward an open door. "Towels are in there." His eyes are soft on her face for a moment, and then he leaves, Ziva assumes to the kitchen. To another person their exchange might look cold and full of avoidance, but for the dark haired woman the silence is comforting. Gibbs has always given her the space she needs and this is no different. She came to him and he is here. For now, they need nothing more than that simple truth. When the time is right she will tell him what happened.
Levering herself out of the warm cocoon of blankets, Ziva hisses softly as her body protests. The rest has been good for her, but she's gotten stiff, and the few steps to the bathroom are far more uncomfortable than they should be. Forcing herself to ignore the protestations of her body, the injured woman flicks on the light switch and feels her lips quirk. The bathroom is Spartan and spotless. She doesn't even know why she thought it might be different.
The towels are indeed present - a square folded fluffy pile on the counter. Moving slowly, she undresses. Stolen clothes are discarded with distaste in the corner and Ziva avoids looking at them as she turns the shower on. They are a reminder of what happened, of her weakness and vulnerability and she is already moving forward.
Hot water on her skin goes beyond 'good:' it's sensual, luxurious, wonderful, and a thousand other adjectives she can't bother to identify. Weeks of sweat and filth and fear and pain wash from her in a cascade of clear drops. Ziva uses the soap and shampoo already there and breathes deeply of the scents she associates with Gibbs. She also steals his razor and shaves, gaining an almost animal pleasure from the small rituals of safety and civilization.
The water is beginning to cool when she finally steps out, toweling her hair quickly and patting her body dry, careful of still tender injuries. The whirring of the fan is the only sound as the agent closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Lungs draw easily and there is only the faintest ache from her bruised ribs now. It's a good sign. Her body is healing. Eventually, only memories and scars will linger. But for now…
Letting the towel fall from her fingers, Ziva opens her eyes and stares into the slightly foggy mirror.
Her reflection stares back.
At least she can recognize it. In truth there was a part of her that wondered if the change which took place in her heart and mind - indeed perhaps her very soul - might be reflected in her physical appearance. But there is no evidence of that.
Instead she sees only herself. Dark hair, tangled and wet, still falls down below her shoulders, resting on light olive skin. Dark, nearly black eyes stare back at her unblinking. There are new shadows within them perhaps, but they have always held secrets. As for the rest…
Her hand reaches up as if of its own volition to touch the fading cuts on her shoulders, the bruises on her stomach and ribs, the cut above her eyebrow. On and on she catalogues a litany of evidence of her ordeal. She touches each one: marking, remembering…and forcing those memories aside.
It is only the beginning of a process; another first step on another journey. One that is not wholly unfamiliar. She has been down this road before. Not as far, but the path is clear even if the distance and time it will take to travel it are not.
She is steeling herself to turn around when she hears his footfalls and looks up. The door to the bedroom is open and he is standing there, his eyes burning and his jaw clenching. Their gazes meet in the mirror and for an instant neither moves. His tension fills the cooling air around them as he makes his own accounting of her injuries. Even well on their way to healing they stand out on her skin; mottled greens and yellows and vivid red lines. Ziva watches in the mirror as rage sparks in his eyes. It is nearly palpable and she knows that some of it is directed inward - that he blames himself for what was done to her.
That, she must put an end to quickly.
Turning slowly and ignoring the fact that she is still naked, Ziva steps into his personal space, holding his gaze with her own. Reaching up slowly, she cups his cheek with one hand and shakes her head ever so slightly.
"This is not your fault."
"Shh. Gibbs. The ones who did this to me are dead." She doesn't mention the satisfaction she felt at killing them. He is not unfamiliar with the concept.
He replies harshly, emotion and regret making his voice rough. "You never should have been alone. I never should have let you go," And there it is. He blames himself for not protecting her, but more than that, he blames himself for letting her leave. This time apart has not been easy for either of them. Even if she is the one who bears the physical marks, she can see in his stormy eyes his pain.
She merely arches one eyebrow. "And just how, exactly, do you think you would have stopped me, hmm?"
It takes a moment – a long, taught moment as he struggles with the truth of her words – and then his mouth quirks ruefully. The anger melts from him: not gone but receding, and Gibbs shakes his head. They made mistakes. It's in the past. She is here now, and nothing else matters. All this passes between them on the strength of a soft touch and fierce gazes.
Neither can bear the emotional burden for long, and both are experienced enough not to try. They back away from the moment slowly and Ziva understands that this conversation is not over, merely tabled until such time as they have the strength to return to it.
With the charge in the air dissipated however, the fact that she isn't wearing any clothes suddenly becomes glaringly obvious. Dropping her hand, Ziva moves away, heat suffusing her cheeks. Gibbs moves quicker. With a gentleman's grace he averts his eyes, snagging a large towel and wrapping it carefully around her. The clean cotton is soft and smells of laundry detergent and like a child she brings the corner to her face, inhaling deeply, the scent triggering some deep-laid feeling of safety. Her eyes closed, his next touch surprises her. Another towel is wrapped around her hair and he gently rubs it dry before tossing the fabric away and running his fingers through the tangled mass.
As wet as it is, the motion should pull but he is infinitely gentle as he arranges the thick strands away from her face.
It has been so long since anyone has touched her like this. Not with heat or intent but with simple care, and it sends warmth through her tired body. Eyes closed, she turns to him and his arms wrap around her, pulling her close. She presses her cheek to his chest listening to the steady beat of his heart. It is a tangible proof that she is home. That she no longer walks alone.
How long they stand like that is immaterial but Ziva's stomach gets tired of waiting and the grumble separates them, an embarrassed smile on her face and an understanding one on his.
Gibbs hands her a robe from the back of the bathroom door and then nods toward the kitchen.
"Chow's ready." His tread is soft when he leaves and Ziva wastes no time in stealing one of his old t shirts from a drawer and wrapping the worn cotton robe around her before following.
Once, the intimacy – the domesticity – of this moment would have been awkward, but Ziva can only smile softly as Gibbs pours her ice water and waits for her to start in on the stew and bread in front of her. She does, and even though it probably comes from a can, it's the best meal she's had in ages.
Neither speaks until she's done, but with rest and food in her system, Ziva's mind will no longer let her avoid what is coming.
"Does anyone know I am back?"
"No," he shakes his head.
She quirks an eyebrow and Gibbs merely shrugs. They don't need to know yet…and I'm not ready to share. At any other time she might marvel that she can read his body so easily. Now it is merely one more bit of proof that she was right. That this is right.
"I don't give a damn what Vance knows."
His voice is hard and Ziva understands something has happened between the two men.
"Vance told you what my father intended with Ari, did he not?" she guesses, watching him closely.
His reaction is subtle, but she hasn't been observing him all these years for nothing. There are so many answers she could give. So many things she can tell him, but looking at the stormy depths of his eyes, Ziva knows that there is really only one iright/i answer.
And for that, she must go back into the past, no matter how painful it is.
"My father created Ari, did you know?" Her voice is hollow, distant. Dark eyes look somewhere beyond his shoulder, into a past he can only imagine. A past, it seems, she is about to reveal something of.
"He arranged to have Ari's mother killed, and made it look like the enemy."
"Yeah, I remember." Gibbs just hadn't believed; hadn't wanted to give that bastard any excuses for the pain he had inflicted and the lives he had taken. He still didn't but it explained a few things.
"He underestimated Ari." Her voice becomes hard; sharp as the knives she was always fond of carrying and now her dark gaze focuses on his face. Gibbs sees the tempest raging below the surface, pain and anger swirling in the depths of her eyes.
"As he underestimated me." Each word is clipped and precise and there is something in her voice he has never heard before when speaking of the man who is both her father, and the head of one of the most dangerous organizations on the planet: certainty.
Or rather, there is a lack of something.
There is no conflict in Ziva David's voice any longer.
He searches her face and sees only anger. It lends her a fire he hasn't seen in too long, and even though a part of him knows damn well he's not going to like where this conversation is heading, Gibbs can't help the surge in his heart at the fierceness that straightens her gaunt frame and clenches her jaw.
She has always been beautiful in her anger.
"When my father sent me to you - to NCIS - it was supposed to be a temporary mission. He knew that Jenny," here she pauses for a moment and they both look down, remembering the woman who had been such a part of both their lives, albeit in very different ways. "He knew that Jenny and I had worked together and his…goal," she spits the word. "Was to gain her trust."
"You were incidental." She looks up at him.
The truth burns, even after all this time: that Kate had been little more than collateral damage in a much bigger game. His jaw works, but Ziva's eyes are already unfocused, gone again to the past.
"What he didn't know. What my father thought I could never learn…is that I knew. I knew what he had done to Ari. And I knew why he was sending me here."
Now she looks at him and her expression is raw. Guilt, regret and anger mingle on her delicate features.
"I knew, but I did not understand. I thought, I thought Ari was playing my father. I truly thought it was not possible that he killed your agent…that he killed Caitlin…in cold blood. Not until I heard him in your basement. I did not believe Ari would play into my father's hands that way. That he would have made killing you so…personal."
She swallows and struggles with her words.
"Until that moment I had faith in our father. I came to your house only to prove you wrong, believing that Ari would explain everything. I had - perhaps - some doubts. You had given me that much, but I did not believe."
"And in the end, your father got what he wanted."
"Yes," He can hear the shame in her voice now.
"Yes, he did, but, when he recalled me…I did not answer."
This is news to him.
"You were recalled."
Ziva nods. "Yes, I was never supposed to be assigned to NCIS permanently. After…after I shot Ari, I confronted my father, angry that I had been used, that my brother had to die. His response…was not what I had hoped for."
"In the end, he simply could not make me return without causing undue trouble. At the time, I stayed with NCIS out of spite. I wanted to anger him…I had no idea what it would mean for me." Her voice breaks and she is silent, waiting. Her gaze is fixed on her hands, avoiding his eyes. It's not an image he enjoys, seeing her apprehensive like this, but he can't bring himself to say anything. Not yet. Too much lies between them: too much death, too much pain, and all of it built on a lie.
True, and not true.
In the end, he feels too much for her, and he has the answer he needed. She didn't betray him. If their meeting was built on a lie, it wasn't hers, and everything since that day has only been them.
He looks at her, thin and tired, sitting in his bathrobe, in his kitchen, battered and uncertain, and he wants, needs to fix it: to ease the hurt in her…and in himself.
Perhaps its time to start over, again.
His hands cover hers and she looks sharply at him. He doesn't say anything. He's never been good at words. Instead he leans forward and slowly presses his lips to her forehead. Those rich, dark eyes flutter closed and relief sweeps her features. She twists her hands and threads her fingers through his, squeezing gently, hopefully.
"I never betrayed you," she whispers.
"I know," he assures her, and then, because he can't stand it any longer, he kisses her. It's a moment of weakness, but as his lips press against hers, gentle and searching and as she responds, he refuses to regret it.
There is a second where they can take it further or back away, and though her hands grip his and her lips are so soft, he pulls away. Now is not the time.
"Come on. You still need to rest." And he needs to hold her, even if it is only as she sleeps. He needs to reassure himself that she is alive, and whole and here.
"There will be repercussions," she tells him. He simply nods. They both know that things are going to be rocky, and more than likely dangerous.
He knows this, and yet, as he looks at her, he can't bring himself to fear yet. They are together, and together, they are a force to be reckoned with.
"But not today."
She tilts her head, acknowledging the logic.
"No, not today."
He doesn't offer, but when she holds out her hand, he doesn't hesitate to slip into the bed, cradling her in his arms. Even though their skin is separated by fabric, the heat of her body is wonderful and comforting and though she is the one supposed to be resting, he feels his eyes grow heavy and doesn't fight it, sliding softly into sleep with the feeling that something in the universe has righted itself at last.
When she wakes again it is dark out. Evening or the early hours of the morning she cannot tell. Her body's rhythms are still out of sync with this time zone. It doesn't really matter though. For once she has no need to move. Her body is warm and she is safe and the only pressing matter is the next breath she draws.
Turning her head, Ziva looks at the face of the man she is curled against. In the dim light from the streetlamps outside, his worn features are shadowed but she can make them out well enough. He looks peaceful, the rest taking away unkind years. His chest rises slowly, evenly with each breath, but Ziva doesn't believe he is really asleep. Still, if he doesn't mind the charade, she certainly won't destroy it. Rare is the opportunity to watch Leroy Jethro Gibbs at rest.
Dark eyes trace the line of his brow, the faint wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, his strong jaw, his lips….
Vivid and visceral, the memory of his lips against hers at the dinner table blooms in her mind. The softness, the heat, the merest brush of their tongues all comes rushing back.
It might as well be a catalyst.
Suddenly Ziva is all too aware of the way her body is pressed against his and she nearly gasps as awareness and arousal sweep through her. Part of it is reaction, she understands this. She is alive and whole and has suffered greatly. But that's not all of it. Not even close. This is not the fleeting physical want for intimacy with anyone however, but a keen, almost cutting need for the man next to her: not lust but desire, and she feels it, not just in her blood and skin, but in her heart.
And Ziva is done denying her heart.
What is between them is like a precious stone. Not in the sense that it is beautiful or valuable – though it is, to her at least - but in that it is complex. Each facet at once revealed and obscured by the others, and by whatever light finds it.
Here, in the muted darkness, she sees the want underlying so much of the tension – and the trust - between them over the years.
Just as it seemed to earlier, her hand moves without conscious control. Only this time she is not touching reminders of pain. This time, as her finger traces his lips with a ghost of a touch, she touches pleasure. His eyes fly open but he says nothing as she cups his cheek. She can feel the sudden increase in his heartbeat against her chest and it makes her smile just a little. She hasn't even started yet.
Moving slowly, she inches her way to his mouth and is rewarded with the tiniest intake of breath before she presses her lips to his.
His mouth is soft, warm, inviting. She keeps the kiss sweet, reading his body's reactions. His hands grip her arms in reflex, but his hold is gentle. Surprise yes, but he's certainly not pushing her away.
Still, he would not be Gibbs without his gallantry.
"Ziva, no, you're hurt…" he pushes her away, or tries to. His voice is thick and it trails off when she kisses him again, slipping her tongue past his lips, pouring her assurance into the meeting of their mouths.
Still, despite the clamor in her blood, in her heart, she owes him more than this, more than just using him. And in truth she wants more. This is about so much more than just physical satisfaction. So she pulls back.
"Yes, I am hurt. I have been hurt for a very long time." She swallows, her chin lifting slightly out of unconscious habit as she holds his eyes. They are clear and bright and so beautiful: not for their color, but for the soul she sees in them, and for the way they look at her, as if she is the only object to behold in all the universe.
"You cannot hurt me more than what was already done," she continues quietly, watching his face. "You cannot, and you will not, because I want this. I need this. I need you." The last is said so softly, the air barely stirs, but the words themselves have a profound impact on him.
Ziva watches, waiting as he takes her words into himself.
She doesn't wait for long. When all is said and done, Leroy Jethro Gibbs is a man of action.
She sees the very instant when he accepts what she's offering, and asking for in return. His worn features soften and his eyes shine softly in the fey light. His touch when he reaches for her is tender, almost reverent. Callused hands cup her face, thumbs tracing her cheek bones as if memorizing them. Dark eyes are shuttered as she sighs softly, giving herself over to what has lain between them, unspoken and ignored and locked away for so long.
It begins gently, so gently. He is still careful with her as they shed their clothes, and it makes her heart ache when his fingers caress the bruises that the still on her body with a delicacy few would guess he possessed.
Ziva isn't surprised though. She has always known that his capacity for devotion and caring equaled his more deadly abilities.
Nor is she surprised that the tenderness is quickly burned away as the fire of long denied passion and newfound need rises between them, eclipsing everything. Pain fades along with the past until all she knows is the heat of his mouth, the feeling of his skin against her, his hands on her body and breasts, and the electricity racing through her blood, making it sing.
He worships every inch of her body, driving her to a point of frustration, until she is ready to pin him down and just take him when he finally relents. Grey eyes, stormy and darkened with passion, hold hers as he enters her, slow and deep. Her nails dig into his shoulders, feeling distantly the flex of muscle as he holds himself above her. Her body bows, legs wrapping around his hips. The pleasure is nearly overwhelming and her head thrashes; dark hair a shadow on the pillow as slowly he begins to move inside her.
They fit, almost as if made for one another and she can tell he feels it too, can see it on his face and in his eyes. And then she doesn't see any more, because she's holding on too tightly and he's moving, deep and slow until it's the only thing she can feel.
Her release is like a great wave, crashing over her and sweeping him along.
When her senses untangle themselves he has pulled her on top of him, his arms holding her tightly, as if she might disappear. They are both breathing hard, and with languor in her blood and his grip on her body, she feels more alive at this moment, more whole, than she has in…she cannot remember. She only knows that it is right. Her heart slowing, Ziva raises her head, looking at him, finding his eyes on her.
"Just promise me one thing." His voice is soft.
She tilts her head, waiting.
"No more leaving. You belong here." He doesn't say 'now' because they both know the truth. She's belonged here since the beginning.
Her heart lifts, and as strange and unfamiliar as the sensation is, Ziva recognizes it as joy. Pure, unadulterated joy.
"Yes, I do," she replies.