A/N: Thanks for reading! Sorry for the delay in posting. This story was harder to write than I anticipated. I appreciate all of the feedback.
"I am not damaged goods."
The sentence hung there. A hundred thoughts raced through his mind as he searched for the appropriate way to respond to her bleak statement. A hundred things he could say.
But he said simply, "I know."
He stood up and gently tugged her to feet. She had resumed her blank staring. Gibbs placed a finger under her chin and looked into her tear stained face. She wore the same dazed look she had when they had found her. He took her hand and led her upstairs.
He sat her at the kitchen table and turned to make them some coffee. His back to her, he jumped slightly when she unexpectedly began to speak.
"Gibbs, do the others know?"
He sighed and brought the coffee to the table and sat down with her. Cocking his head to the side, he studied her, unsure of how to answer.
"Do they know the specifics, Ziva? No. Do they suspect? Yes."
She looked away and swallowed audibly. He covered her hand with his own.
"They can only imagine what horrors you faced. They do not know for sure. No matter how terrible they could imagine it to be, they will never know what you experienced."
Dragging a hand across his tired eyes he continued, "Hell, Ziva, even I can't imagine how horrible it was and I have heard the specifics."
Ziva jumped to her feet so quickly, her chair slipped backward and crashed to the floor.
"Do not feel sorry for me, Agent Gibbs," she forced out, anger rekindling a fire in eyes that had seemed lifeless since her rescue in Somalia. The sudden spark of anger, of life, warmed him, although he let nothing show on his face.
"Sit down, Ziva. Is this really this time for a pissing match?" his voice steady and calm.
She picked up the chair and sat down, her defiance and anger evaporating as quickly as it had appeared.
"Accepted," he cut her off.
She gave him a tentative smile. It was slight, but it was a start.
"Look Ziva, nothing I say can lessen what happened in Somalia."
But there was so much he wanted to say. So much he couldn't say. He wanted to tell her that everything was alright now. He wanted to tell her that he could make it better. He wanted to tell her that she would move on. But all of that was a lie.
He wanted to tell her that he didn't see her any differently, but he did see her differently. He ached for her and he wanted to protect her, shield her as her own father had failed to do. He could say none of those things.
So he merely said instead, "I'm so proud of you, Ziva."
She stared at him, her mouth opening and closing several times as though she wished she could say something but the words were trapped in her throat. Her eyes glistened, but she did not allow a single tear to fall.
Finally, she said, "I think that you are the first person to be so, Gibbs." She gave him a crooked half smile. He did not believe that statement to be true, but he knew that she believed it, so he wisely chose not to argue the point.
They finished their coffee in companionable silence. Several times Ziva began to speak, thinking to obtain reassurance from Gibbs that he did not think less of her, but she stopped herself each time. She would get through this and he would guard her secrets.
Gibbs eventually tucked her into bed in his guest room. He turned to leave, but she stopped him.
And he did. He lay down on top of the comforter with which he had bundled her and wrapped his arms around her as an added layer of protection.
The next morning Ziva crept out of his house before dawn broke, leaving Gibbs to pretend that he still slept. He did not try to stop her. He knew that they most likely would not speak of any of this again. Just as he knew that the moment Ziva walked out into the chilly morning, she would begin to rebuild her life, all traces of vulnerability filed and stored carefully deep within her.
A/N Thanks to KindleLyn for noticing that my page had been taken over by italics. ;)