A SIGN OF WEAKNESS
Leroy Jethro Gibbs stood in the office of Director Vance, seething. "You knew?" he asked, his voice dangerously low. "You knew and you didn't tell me?"
The director looked a little uncomfortable. Gibbs was his inferior and yet the man could scare the piss out of him. He thought about playing it off for a minute, but the look on Gibbs' face clearly said that he'd be dead before he could finish lying.
"I didn't know much, Gibbs. Just that she was missing and possibly compromised. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe even as good as her father's."
"Huh," Gibbs grunted, showing his true feelings towards the Director of Mossad.
"Cut him some slack, Gibbs! He sent her out an hour after you left Tel Aviv, thinking that staying busy would keep her mind off of your team, and she was missing two hours later. He's pretty torn up about this. He is her father after all." Gibbs only snorted again, remembering how Ziva had described her father when he'd learned her little sister had died. He'd apparently been so upset about it that he'd delayed his scheduled flight to Europe long enough to call the maid and tell her to arrange the funeral.
The first time it was borne of guilt.
One stupid accident, caused by just a little bit of carelessness, which set into motion things he'd never be able to undo. He was ten and his little sister was six. Their uncle had just finished building them a tree house the day before, and even though they had been warned against climbing the rickety wooden ladder without an adult to watch them, he had so wanted to play high above the ground where their mother got drunk and their father acted like it nothing mattered. He just wanted to reach the clouds, because maybe if he could, nothing would matter and then everything would be okay.
"Leroy, Daddy said not to go up there unless he or mommy was watching us!" the little Annika Kelly Gibbs called to her older brother.
"Kel, it's fine!" He yelled at her. "I'm being careful. Now either quit being such a baby and get up here, or go play somewhere else. But if you dare rat me out, I'll never play with you again!"
For a moment she pouted, but he ignored her and climbed the rest of the way to the entrance. Of course she'd follow him, she always did, so he turned to watch her. "See Kel?" he told her, smirking, "You're fine, I told you this was safe."
What happened next would be ingrained in his memory forever. His father walked into the yard and saw Kelly climbing. "ANNIKA KELLY GIBBS!" he shouted at her, startling the jumpy girl. Leroy Jethro Gibbs dove to the doorway, trying to grab his sister's hand before she toppled off, but he was too late. Her tiny hands lost their purchase on the wood, and her startled jump sent her reeling backwards, falling the 20 feet to the ground. Her brother's own momentum carried him through the opening and out of the tree house.
For a moment it felt like flying. Then he landed on his dead sister's body.
"I'm so sorry, Kelly! Please don't leave me, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry!" his little voice broke on his apologies like waves, but his father interrupted him with a slap behind the head.
"Don't apologize. It's a sign of weakness."
"Anything else you care to tell me about my team, Leon?" Gibbs spat. "Like maybe how David's father knew to plan a mission for her when he didn't know she'd be staying?"
Leon Vance knew he'd been caught. Probably Gibbs had known for weeks that the choice to stay in Tel Aviv had been Ziva's and her father's, not his own. But the look in his agent's eyes made him gulp. Oh yeah, he'd known for a while.
"Eli just wanted to make sure of where her loyalties were, Agent Gibbs. She is his officer, and first and foremost she works for him. He asked her to return to him to prove her loyalty and she decided to stay. Her liaison position with NCIS was permanently terminated the day before you left."
"She stayed because she thought we hated her, and she was scared!" Gibbs yelled. "She was too damn scared to even make the choice on her own! She made me do it for her, and since I didn't know, I played right into Eli David's greedy hands! And now what? Where has that gotten us? She'd missing, and he doesn't even care because to him she's just another officer! His own daughter, Leon!"
Director Vance cleared his throat, knowing that what he was about to say would either get the angry silver-haired man to leave him alone, or it would sign his death warrant.
"Precisely, Agent Gibbs," he said coldly. "She is his daughter, not yours. It would do you good to remember that, and not keep using your relationship with her to absolve yourself of the guilt you feel over Kelly and Shannon."
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs was speechless.
The second time it was borne of love.
"Daddy, don't go! No Daddy, please, can't you stay here?" the little girl begged him.
His heart broke at her pleas. There was nothing he wanted more than to be able to stay with his wife and little girl. But he was a marine, and marines went where they were told in order to defend their country. He reminded himself that he was leaving to protect her, as she opened her mouth and he steeled himself for another onslaught of vain but desperate pleas.
"Can't you just tell them you have to stay to watch my dance recital Daddy?" she whispered as tears filled her eyes.
He held her close to him and looked deep into her brown eyes. "I'm sorry, Kel," he told her, unable to make his mouth form a simple "no".
And those were the last words he ever said to her.
He sat on a plane impatiently waiting for them to arrive at the Tel Aviv Airport. Eli David had not been in his office when he'd called. At least that's what his secretary had said, but Gibbs hadn't believed it for a second. He'd hopped aboard a plane to Israel and was now on his way to see the Director. There were things they needed to talk about.
Across the aisle from him sat a red haired woman holding a little brunette girl. She must have felt his gaze, because suddenly she turned around to face him, and her eyes made him catch his breath. They were an intense grey, the same color as Shannon's. The only wife he'd ever truly loved with everything in him.
The third time it was borne of rage. A rage that consumed him like fire and fortified him like steel.
He knelt at his wife's grave and stared at her headstone. His beloved Shannon. The only woman he would ever love. The person who meant more to him than anything else in the world. From the moment he'd met her, his gut told him she was different, and his gut had been right. Beautiful, talented, passionate, and caring. And best of all, she'd chosen him.
But now she was gone, stolen from him by a man who killed her only for revenge. Revenge because she'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time and had dared to right the wrong she'd witnessed. But he would get the man. If it was the last thing he ever did, he swore he would kill the man responsible for the deaths of his wife and daughter.
"I'm so sorry, Shannon," he murmured to the sky.
As the plane touched down in Tel Aviv, his thoughts returned to Ziva. The young Israeli woman who earned his trust in a single moment. And had almost lost it just as fast. No one had managed to wiggle their way into his heart as quickly as she had. Not even his Kate.
He sighed, thinking of her. Four years and still her death was a wound so fresh that he could still feel the cold steel of the blade. When she'd been killed, he'd grown obsessed in a way he hadn't been since Shannon and Kelly. Obsessed with killing a man everyone so ardently defended but his gut told him was a villain. At the time, he'd hated every single person who'd dared defend the man who'd shot his surrogate daughter. But irony does not follow rules, so the man he'd so desperately hated for killing a daughter was the same man who's most despised action had brought him another daughter. And now he couldn't help but feel he was losing her as well. And his heart was weary. He didn't know how many more daughters he had it in him to bury.
The fourth time had been borne of pain.
He glided in to stand behind Jen saying "Afraid I wasn't going to make it."
She turned, a little startled, to look up at him. "Ari?" she asked, fearing the answer, but knowing already in her heart what it would be. If Ari was still out there, Gibbs would be out there trying to catch him, not here at his agent's funeral.
"Ziva's escorting his body to Tel Aviv." He responded as they walked forward.
Somehow, even knowing hadn't prepared her for this, and an expression of mild shock marred her features. He just smiled at her, a little smugly, but with something more… deep sorrow and regret.
Jen placed her rose on Kate's coffin, and left Gibbs alone with her. As he bent down to add his own flower to the growing stack, he saw her laying there, hands folded around her rosary and her medal around her thin neck.
"You're late for my funeral, Gibbs," she said gently, with a mock sincerity.
For a moment it made him smile, remembering all the times she teased DiNozzo and McGee. But suddenly the reality of the situation hit him, and the smile died on his lips.
His face contorted into a mask of pain as he said it.
He stormed in to Eli David's office, slamming the door behind him. "You bastard! Why aren't you doing anything to get her back?"
"Hello to you too, Special Agent Gibbs," the man replied calmly.
"Don't fuck with me today, director." Gibbs hissed through gritted teeth. "Tell me why one of my best field agents is missing and I wasn't notified until this morning!"
If Director David was amused by his visitor's choice of words he didn't show it. Instead, a fabricated look of confusion crossed his face. "Missing, Agent Gibbs? Last I heard, she was right where she was supposed to be."
"And when was that?"
Eli David carefully held the agent's gaze. "A month ago. But this is a dangerous mission. It is understood, though not advised, that she might not contact us until the cell was obliterated. We may not hear from her until her mission is over and she is ready to return home."
"And when exactly will that be?"
At this the Mossad director looked away, and suddenly Gibbs understood. "She wasn't supposed to come back," he breathed. When the Israeli winced a little at his words, Gibbs realized that he understood more about the man in front of him than he'd ever cared to know.
"It wasn't Hadar that ordered her apartment blown up… it was you! She was supposed to be there when it happened! You sick bastard! Your own daughter!"
"She has become a detriment and must be dealt with. I would not expect you to understand, Agent Gibbs, but I do expect you to get the hell out of my office!" Through the anger, Gibbs could see his shame at what he was doing to the people who loved him.
The fifth time had been borne of shame.
It was late, and he was catching up on paperwork. He threw his empty coffee cup into the trash, but the space on his desk was immediately filled by another.
"Thought you might be needing a refill," the man standing over him said.
"Thanks," Gibbs smiled up at his medical examiner.
Ducky turned to go but quickly turned back around. "Today certainly brought back a lot of memories," he began.
"Yeah," Gibbs sighed.
"It also made me realize that since your return I've been acting a little like—"
"Well, something like that."
Ducky paced as Gibbs answered, "I didn't notice." A wry smile lit his face to show that he was just joking.
"You and I have been through a lot over the years," Ducky tried again. "Look, I-I hate to use marriage as an analogy –"
"Then don't." Gibbs interrupted him again. "Just tell me what I did to piss you off."
"The night you retired, you asked me to drive you home. You didn't say a single word the entire trip. No explanation… not even a goodbye."
"I was kinda still recovering from the coma, Doctor."
"And Kelly? Shannon? All those years together and somehow you fail to mention that you have a family."
"Had. I had a family." But after a moment's pause, Gibbs stood and walked around his desk to face his old friend. "You know how I feel about apologies, right?"
"They're a sign of weakness," Ducky said, almost sarcastically.
"Not between friends. I am sorry, Ducky. I shoulda told you." He held out his hand.
"I should have told you something months ago," Ducky responded, taking the hand. "Welcome home."
Gibbs smiled as Ducky pulled him into a hug.
"Where is she?" Gibbs slammed his hands on the table. He'd refused to leave Director David alone until he revealed the whereabouts of his daughter.
Finally, nearly an hour later, the Director sighed. "I guess it couldn't hurt to tell you now. There's no way you'll get to her on time. She's supposedly in a bunker deep in Somalia. Don't bring her body back here. I do not wish it to contaminate the décor."
It took everything in Gibbs not to shoot the man. But now he had an agent to save, and he ran from the room. His team couldn't take another death.
The sixth time had been borne of sorrow.
He went into the deserted autopsy room and pulled out the slab he wanted. He felt a terrible overwhelming sorrow capture him as he looked down at his former lover/boss's face. He cursed her for not telling him about her ill health or her suicide mission to find her father's murderer. He cursed Tony and Ziva for listening to her when she gave them that day off. He cursed Mike Franks not being there with her when the shooting had started.
And he cursed himself for not pushing her until she confided in him.
"I'm sorry, Jen," he voices, and the memories overwhelm him like they always do at her name. Memories of fragile hands searching and caressing in the dark, two bodies rolling around under the sheets. Memories of a time when a man torn by grief and a woman seeking love could find solace in each other, and the love felt at night could be easily hidden from the light of day, tucked away in the desolate abyss of their hearts.
He watched and the team gathered around her bed. She lay still and silent under white sheets, weak and fragile as a newborn kitten.
When he'd arrived at the hospital, the doctors had examined her and thrown words at them like "severe cerebral hemorrhage" and "hypovolemic shock". And though the words themselves meant nothing, the meaning behind the tone and the expressions were perfectly clear. They told him with no room for interpretation, that another daughter had been lost to him. Another little girl he'd been desperate to protect, but because of one stupid misjudgment, he'd let her go. And nothing would ever bring her back.
He couldn't believe he hadn't seen it when she'd asked him to choose between her and Tony, nearly ten months ago. He felt so stupid to have missed it. She'd always known what to say to him; how to push his buttons. When she'd told him to pick between her and Tony, she wasn't asking him to take her over him. She was begging him to leave her behind.
"I'm not sure we can work
together. Perhaps it is best if one of us gets transferred to another
"I need to be able to trust the people I work with. I know you, more than anyone, understand that."
A kiss that signed her death certificate and then "Take care of yourself."
And he'd left her. She who had shot her own beloved older brother to save the life of a man who she barely knew. Her own brother's life taken by her hands for the man who now left her standing on the tarmac.
"I'm sorry, Ziver," he whispered to her lifeless form, before turning and following his crying colleagues from the room, bringing a souvenir with him.
An apology borne of a numbing, soul-stealing grief.
At twilight, a 67 year old man sits on a bench in a park in the rain, holding something in his hands. He does not notice the chill of the drops falling onto his shoulders and soaking him to the bone. He has not felt anything at all in a very long while.
In 67 years, he has only apologized seven times. He sighs as he remembers these, the lost ones who are no longer alive to attest to the fact that he is more than a callous uncaring old bastard. Those who would smile and say that he loved passionately, fought fiercely, and always sought to right his wrongs. The few people he'd trusted enough to let himself care about, even though he'd known it would end up hurting; love in any form always does.
He is tired. Tired of not having friends, not knowing who he can turn to. Tired of remembering a time when the faces of those he'd lost didn't haunt his dreams every night. Tired of sitting alone on a park bench holding a picture of his dead wife and daughter in one hand a small gold Star of David in the other, praying that somehow this small action would make the God he had no faith in change his mind and give them all back to him. But it won't bring them back, just as his whispered apologies didn't all those years ago.
"I'm sorry," he mumbles again, into the cold grey of a stormy dusk, the words tasting like poison on his tongue. A poison that kills slowly, gradually eating away at the heart and soul, destroying the man that used to be and leaving only an empty shell.
A poison that he wishes would just kill him already, but it won't. It just flows languidly through his veins, providing him with the slow torturous death that he's come to accept as his just reward. After all, it is his fault they are dead. As much his fault as if he had pulled the trigger himself.
As darkness begins to fall, the man sighs and stands up.
A world away seven pairs of ethereal eyes watch over him and smile.