He couldn't say he was surprised when he heard the basement door open. It had been a tough case for everyone. A Marine wife was kidnapped, tortured, raped and left for dead by a sadistic killer, one who clearly wouldn't stop with just one victim. He'd seen it in Dinozzo's face as they took her monotone statement, her eyes devoid of life, and her body flinching at the slightest of noises. Listening to the victim recount what happened hit just a little too close to home. As far as he knew Ziva had only shared the truth of her ordeal in Somalia with the shrink as ordered by Vance and somehow he doubted she'd even scratched the surface then but it wasn't much of a leap to imagine her in the other young woman's place as the details of the case unfolded. It was too soon for a case like that and Vance had threatened to pull them off of it but by then they all had a vested interest in getting justice for the victim. And they had; but it still didn't make dealing with the aftermath any easier. Weary was the only way to describe how he felt and boat, bourbon, and basement had become an immediate necessity.
He'd had just enough time to change his clothes, pour the first of what he expected to be several rounds, and pick up his new chisel to work on the frame for the new boat when he heard the door. Frankly, his first guess would have been Dinozzo well on his way to being drunk or possibly Abby still needing to process her emotions. Instead, he was met with Ziva wearing an expression similar to the one she'd had on the flight home from Africa. Dinozzo and McGee had tried to shield her as much as they could as they worked the case but she'd refused their "coddling" as she'd called it and was clearly paying for it now.
He'd maintained his distance from her since their conversation in his basement a few weeks earlier. He'd been over it and over it a thousand times in mind and his gut told him her grief for her brother was real as was her appeal to him as her father figure. There was a voice in the back of his mind, though, that whispered maybe his gut was no longer infallible and no matter how much he wanted to, he couldn't get it to shut up. The immediate trust he'd had in her after she'd saved him from Ari had been destroyed and she was going to have to earn his trust over time just as the other members of the team had.
So, they were starting over. And she was clearly working for it, almost too hard in fact. He sensed it was driven by desperation and he needed to address it but the voice had him avoiding what he knew would be an emotional conversation for both of them. The events of the past few months had him doubting, wondering if the desperation he sensed in her was to gain back his trust or to prove her loyalty to Eli by following yet another of his orders. Had she been tasked with regaining his trust or did she truly need it for herself? He hated that he was even asking the question.
Trustworthy or not, it didn't mean he wasn't still worrying about her. And the look on her face had him very worried. Given the distance between them, he was a little surprised she'd come to him. He suspected she'd talked to Dinozzo some given how well things were going between them. Dinozzo had made a passing comment the prior week comparing a suspect to Eli David and saying he was a "selfish bastard who screwed with his kids' heads and made them earn his love by giving him complete control of their lives" but he'd just nodded his head without encouraging him to continue. He thought it was a pretty accurate assessment of both the suspect and the Mossad director, though. Not surprisingly, she didn't say anything as she came down the stairs. She simply crossed over to the wall, and sat down, her arms wrapped protectively around herself. He started to reach for a jar of nails preparing to empty it but she shook her head.
"Alcohol makes the nightmares worse," was her whispered explanation.
He sighed and slowly walked over to ease down beside her. Sitting on the cold, hard floor for what he suspected was going to be more than a few minutes would not do much to relieve the weary ache in his body but he was hesitant to ask her to move in the state she was in. He settled in next to her, close enough to help her feel safe without invading her space. He was prepared to wait as long as it took for her to admit she was scared and needed his comfort.
When she finally talked, her words were not what he expected. "Why did you save me? If you do not trust me any longer, I do not understand why you would let Tony and McGee put themselves in harms' way for me."
He'd asked himself the same question ever since Vance had told him Eli played him and he still hadn't been able to stop himself from trying to find her. He'd finally concluded that it didn't matter whether he could still trust her or not; he loved her. Looking at her, he knew the situation called for complete honesty and he would give it to her though it was going to cost him emotionally before their conversation was finished. "Two reasons. Dinozzo needed to do it. He was blaming himself again and I wasn't sure he'd survive it this time."
"Oh, you did it for Tony. I understand." By the look on her face, she'd clearly expected an explanation like that; one that confirmed what she already believed: she wasn't worth it.
"Said I had two reasons, Ziver. That was only the first one." It was the first time he had called her by the nickname since she'd been back and it got her attention. "The second reason is because I love you and I wanted the bastard responsible for taking you away from me dead." Even as he said it, he wondered if they were both thinking the same thing. The bastard who was truly responsible for the chasm between them was alive and well in Isreal.
"I do not understand. How can you say you love me when you no longer trust me?" And there it was. The desperation he'd sensed over the last few weeks came through in the bleakness of her tone.
"It's called unconditional love. You said it yourself. I'm the closest thing you have to a father. Fathers love you unconditionally."
"No, they do not. At least not all of them." He expected the words but was glad to hear a bit of the fire back in the voice that spoke them.
"You're right. Loving unconditionally is a choice. Not every father makes that choice. But I did once. And now I'm doing it again. For you." He waited to let the words sink in, wondering how long it would take before she picked up on the reference to his past. He knew just telling her he loved her wouldn't be enough. She had no idea what a father's love was supposed to be. She had never experienced it and that thought alone gave him the resolve he needed to continue.
"Kelly loved being in this basement with me." He saw the shock on her face when he said his daughter's name. "She was a natural working on the boat, too. Even let her use a chisel once. Thought Shannon might kill me. She was afraid Kelly would try to work on the boat when I wasn't here to watch her. But I wasn't worried. We had a rule. No basement without Daddy. She promised me and I trusted her." He saw by the look on her face his use of the word trust had not gone unnoticed.
"Trusted her til the day my CO pulled me off a weekend training exercise to go meet Shannon and Kelly at the emergency room. She'd tried to use a saw and damn near cut the tip of her finger off. Could hear her screaming as soon as I walked through the door. It must've hurt like hell. First couple of days, we'd load her up on painkiller and I'd still spend most of the night holding her, trying to rock her to sleep."
"Did you ever let her in the basement again?" Ziva asked.
"Yea, I did. Loved spending that kind of time with her too much not to. Put a lock on the door, though. Up at the top where there was no way she could reach it. I'd like to think I could've trusted her not to come down here without me again but I wasn't taking any chances she'd get hurt. Asked her later why she did it. Said she missed me while I was gone and wanted to pretend we were together."
He paused and let what he'd already told her sink in before he continued. "See, just because I couldn't trust her any more didn't mean I stopped loving her. She was still my child. Did she have to face the consequences? You bet, and no matter how much it hurt me to watch, there wasn't damn thing I could do about it except be there to comfort her."
"She was an innocent child who made a mistake because she wanted to be with you. Of course you did not stop loving her." Ziva scoffed.
Up to this point, Ziva had remained fairly stoic. Engaged in listening to his story only because she recognized the significance of him talking about the child he had lost. He could see she had steeled herself against letting it touch her heart and her protective barriers were clearly up. She wasn't going to like the next thing he had to say.
"You trying to tell me what happened in Isreal was anything other than an innocent little girl desperately trying to win her father's approval and love?"
"I am far from innocent Gibbs!"
"Whatever innocence you've lost was taken from you by him, Ziva!" he yelled, then continued in a calmer voice. "Him choosing not to love you is his screw up, not yours. You deserve better and now you have it. But it isn't going to be easy. You've got some work to do. You've got to let go of the idea that you can ever earn his love and accept the love you haven't earned instead. You are going to have to let go of your anger and forgive him for not loving you so you can move on. You can't keep letting him control you. And…you're going to have to live with the fact that I've got a lock on the door for awhile. It's on my terms until I'm sure I can trust you again. Doesn't mean I don't love you and want you with me."
"It isn't that simple Gibbs." The defeat was back in her voice and it was heartbreaking to hear.
"He will never let me go. He may act like he will right now but the time will come when he wants something from me again. When he realizes that he cannot manipulate me by withholding his love then he will use my fear of losing what I do love instead. He will threaten to end the liaison position and get me sent back to Isreal or worse, he will threaten your lives…yours, Tony's, maybe even Abby or McGee. Whatever it takes to get me to do what he wants. It will happen all over again and this time I will not have your trust and there will be no one to save me." And with that, the breakdown he'd been expecting since she walked through the door finally came. He pulled her to him and just held her as she sobbed, finally convinced he understood the true source of her desperation. She was deeply afraid of what Eli David could do to her and she felt helpless to prevent it. He waited until she was relatively calm again before he spoke.
"Not gonna happen Ziva. I will always protect you. I'm gonna be watching a hell of lot closer this time and the first sign I see that he's gotten to you, I'm moving in. Not gonna wait for you to come to me like I did before although it would be a helluva lot easier if you would. Isn't gonna just be me either. Tony, McGee, even Abby. Don't expect any privacy because you won't be getting it. Lock's on the door but we love you. We will do whatever it takes to keep you with us. Just keep telling yourself that until you believe it."
She looked into his face for a long time before finally speaking. "I know who I can trust now. I will come to you. And I will earn your trust again."
"I know you will."