Sanctuary by ceilidh

A/N:- Hello, all, and welcome to my latest 'missing scene' story!

This one comes from Reunion, the second episode for the new seventh season. I loved the 'bench-chat' scene between Tim and Ziva, and while I'll always be a die-hard McAbby fan, the idea for this story just wouldn't leave me alone.

Spoilers, of course, for Reunion, with references also to Truth Or Consequences and Probie.

As always, I hope you enjoy!

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Sanctuary

Staring at her reflection, at a frown that hadn't been there that morning, Ziva David watched it deepen. When she'd left to meet Gibbs, she'd felt so sure that he'd reinstate her straight back on the team. But as that day had lurched from one disappointing setback to another, so that hope had steadily faded.

Gibbs' indifference, then Vance's dismissal of her as 'damaged goods' that he still couldn't depend upon, and then Abby's rambling rant – however deserved they'd been, however sweet her 'welcome home' banner, it had all still silently hurt.

The only kindness and concern that anyone had shown her had come from… yes, who else?

Only Tim McGee would put his workload on hold, and go out of his way to join her on that bench. And who else would ask how she was, how things were going, with such gentle, honest sincerity?

Yet even he'd reminded her, with the same sweet compassion, that she was still living in denial. If she'd really left the trauma of those last three months behind her, then… well, she had to prove it. And the only way she could do that was to face its most painful demon, and clear the air with Tony.

Well, she had done all that. She had even done well, surprisingly well, in her first evaluation. But with its result still hanging over her, the fear that it might not be enough still silently haunted her.

With her career, even her right to stay in the country that she'd come to love, as much as its people, still in the balance – no, as she stared morosely into her closet-mirror, Ziva David knew she was still far from alright.

And if she stayed in this damn room much longer, she sourly reflected, she'd kick in its walls. All of them.

Still, at least this Navy lodge wasn't the brutal prison that she'd resigned herself to dying in. Within reason, and as long as she told them where she was going, she was perfectly free to leave it. And yes, she'd probably imagined what she'd seen when she'd told the warden where she was going – but as she signed herself out, Ziva was sure that she'd seen the warden smile in silent approval.

Twenty minutes later, her cab drew up outside a comfortingly familiar, window-lit building. And, just she'd known he would be, an even more comfortingly familiar figure stood outside it –her unlikeliest saviour who paid her fare, and then enveloped her into a reassuring, protective hug.

Finally releasing her, Tim then steered her into the lobby of his condo, and up to his apartment.

To her surprise, he opened its door very slowly, and – yes, how typical of him to think of that too. She wasn't really in a fit state at the moment to be flattened, albeit sweetly, by an ecstatic German Shepherd.

Quietly whispered words around his door would ensure that Jethro was on his very best behaviour – that excitement restrained to the gentlest of snuffling licks, before he followed them to the couch.

By the time Tim returned from the kitchen with a trayful of coffee and the obligatory munchies – yes, she felt safe enough, under Jethro's snuggling guard, to smile back at him, and genuinely mean it.

He'd always been a good friend to her – the fiercely protective big brother that Ari had once been. But for Ziva, he was now a priceless source of strength. A precious anchor in still stormy personal seas.

Even when, as now, silence stretched out between them, she found support just from his presence. Immeasurable comfort just from the arm that still rested, so gently protectively, across her shoulders.

With the patience that was his, and his alone, he wasn't going to force her to talk before she was ready. And this once unthinkable loss of her strength and self-belief was proving painfully hard to confront.

Yet still Tim waited, watching her in silent concern, until she found enough of both to finally speak.

"I – I am not alright, McGee-" she said at last, gratefully settling just a bit deeper into his side – smiling her thanks for the hug that followed, and the smile that gave her the courage to continue

"Yes, I am home. I am safe. I – I owe you, and Gibbs, and… and Tony, more than you will ever know-"

Another pause. Another telltale bite on her lip as she fought to regain a still fragile composure. And when she spoke again, no amount of Mossad training could stop the tremors in her voice.

"But – But the Director is right, I – I am damaged goods. A threat of weakness. A - A liability-"

Those words had been devastating enough the first time. To repeat them was… no, just too much.

For the first time since her rescue, Ziva David broke down, and cried as though she'd never stop.

Watching her fall apart against his shoulder, Tim felt his own eyes sting with helpless sympathy – disbelief and fury respectively taking their place as he made himself a soft but heartfelt promise.

'Tomorrow, Director, you and me are gonna have a little chat-'

However painfully it had come, though, Tim knew this was a vital breakthrough in Ziva's recovery. She'd hit rock bottom. She couldn't fall any further.

The only way that she could go now was up.

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In still puzzlingly blurry senses, Ziva David was convinced that she was being cuddled by a bear. A very gentle bear, though. A bear who was soothingly assuring her that it would be alright.

Wrapped in its subtly muscular arms, she didn't feel threatened. Just very warm. And very safe. And she didn't know any species of bear that had eyes as brightly green, or beautiful, as these.

They didn't smile at you this gently either. And they certainly didn't pass you a box of tissues.

Maybe one day, some hyper-excited zoologist would name a newly found species after him, but – no, in Ziva's still tear-weary eyes, Tim McGee was already a unique, once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

And if just for tonight, if just until this crisis in her confidence was over, he was undeniably hers.

Abby would have plenty to say about that, of course, but… well, that was another day's battle. Besides, she couldn't fight a lettuce leaf right now, let alone a jealous, madly possessive Goth. She didn't dare tell that Goth to wake up, smell the Caf-Pow, and realize how damn lucky she was.

Instead, she gratefully savoured the gentle compassion that could only ever come from Tim McGee.

"I bet that feels better. You've needed to get that out your system for a long time-"

"Yes, McGee. Yes, I have-" Ziva agreed, just as quietly, as she took a deep, calming breath – whatever she'd planned to say next interrupted by a wetly snuffling nose, and gently licking tongue.

She had to smile at that. Even Jethro, in his own uniquely canine way, was trying to comfort her.

There was still a long way to go, of course, but… no, for all that, she'd still turned a crucial corner. A happily wiggling tail on one side, and a proudly approving smile on the other, told her that.

Another hug, another offer of irresistible coffee, and she was ready to face her next demon.

"And I know the Director is right. For so many reasons, I must re-prove myself to you, and-"

Another pause, followed by a flash of the old Ziva David who was fighting, so hard, to come back.

"That is the correct word, yes?"

Technically, of course, it wasn't, and he'd always been the first to fussily correct her, but – well, as a broad grin made it impossible anyway, Tim McGee gladly let that perfectionism slide.

Settling instead for a tactful 'yeah, kinda' shrug, he then sighed as he, too, faced the same reality.

"Yeah, we know that too, Ziva, and… well, you know we'll all support you. All the way-"

That won him a slightly stronger smile, another flash of the spirit that had been so brutally subdued – the lingering strain in her next words reminding him that all that support still might not be enough.

"I – I know, McGee… just as I know the Director will make the final decision on my future-"

'Yeah, and I'm gonna make sure it's the right one-'

He would, too. He couldn't show it, but that 'damaged goods' remark had left him silently seething.

Tomorrow, Leon Vance would find out, the hard way, that his favourite agent was nobody's poodle. For now, though, Tim McGee recognized a sadly common ground, and tried to gently build upon it.

"Yeah, I've been there too, Ziva. Not like this, of course, but… yeah, I've been there-"

Pausing again, Tim glanced back to study Ziva's face, trying to decide whether or not to continue – his turn to find comforting strength now, in eyes that told him she'd remembered, and understood.

"Killing that cop devastated me, Ziva. That week was the closest I've ever come to quitting, but… well, from that time, and quite a few since, I've gone to a place that… well, persuades me not to-"

Ziva stared at that. She knew it was rude, and unsettlingly insensitive, but she just couldn't help it.

She knew that he and Abby often went to church together, but he'd never been overtly religious. Then again, he'd never been in enemy hands before. Or had his enraged captor hold a gun to his head.

Staring death, so terrifyingly in the face, had he prayed? Even if he hadn't, she certainly had.

"Your church?" she asked at last her curiosity piqued even more by his shyly answering smile.

He'd come so far, this unlikeliest hero, but every so often, at times when you least expected it – yes, he'd revert to that sweetly shy genius who could be so brilliant, yet so breathtakingly naïve.

"Well, no, but… well, it gives me strength when I… um… when I need it-" Tim finally admitted – knowing, just from the hope in Ziva's eyes, that she'd already guessed what he was going to say next.

"If it'll help you too, Ziva, I can… um… well, um, take you there-"

Watching her smile back, and rise to her feet, was a promising sign, but – well, it had its downside too. As doggy-hood had taught him, very quickly, standing up meant only one thing to a hyperactive dog.

So when Jethro trotted into the kitchen, and bounced back with his leash, Tim just groaned, knowing it was pointless to protest – the apology he'd had all ready to give her turning, instead, into a surprised but grateful grin.

Ziva was laughing. Really laughing. As Tim McGee now gladly noted, she was on her way back.

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Even if she'd said it to try and ease an awkward moment, Ziva David was a woman of her word. Whether from genuine honesty, or simple cross-culture confusion, she always spoke her mind.

So when she'd told Tony that she considered McGee to be more handsome… well, she'd meant it. Now that he'd lost that extra weight, and toned himself up… yes, he really was quite the catch.

Still a frustratingly cautious driver, though, she noted dryly, glaring at the speedometer in front of her. If she'd been driving, not him, then… well, they'd have been there, wherever 'there' was, a lot sooner.

Or maybe he was just enjoying the journey - this quiet drive through the city's breathtaking sights. Maybe this was his typically sweet way of telling her that, whatever happened, this was her home.

*wuff*

Or maybe he just didn't want Jethro, squished rather snugly between them, to be sick over his lap. Sleek and speedy sports cars, however prestigious, really hadn't been designed for extra passengers - especially those with four legs.

Tim clearly knew this, too, since he now grinned while giving Jethro's ears a gently soothing scratch.

"Yeah, I know, boy. Just a few more minutes, okay?"

Apparently it was, as Jethro now wuffed his agreement and curled himself back into Tim's side.

Watching the contentment on Tim's face as he continued to stroke Jethro's ears, Ziva smiled too – relaxing back into her seat, happy to watch him drive, while his calming presence worked its magic.

However much he'd changed, for all his new confidence and maturity… yes, he was still her McGee.

He'd been the first to welcome her, without malice or misjudgment, into a wary, still grieving team. He'd been a true friend then. Just as she'd known he would be, he was still that true friend to her now

For the life of her, though, she had no idea where he was taking her. What this 'special place' could be. Even when they reached it, she couldn't understand how its world famous significance related to her.

Yes, this was a beautiful memorial to honour its dead, but… well, Vietnam had never been her war.

It means a lot to him, though, she thought, still studying the bittersweet smile on Tim McGee's face – a pride that seemed only to increase as he took her hand and led her onto eternally hallowed ground.

Even Jethro seemed to sense that he'd been brought to a very special, sacred place - keeping to perfect heel at Tim's side, his head bowed, in his own tribute to the reverent solemnity around them.

In silent shame, Ziva then realized that, in all the years she'd been in DC, she'd never come here – her eyes widening, in silently horrified disbelief, as that list of the lost ran on in gleaming black granite.

And on. And on.

That horror must have become more obvious, since a quiet voice now broke into her thoughts.

"Yeah, it's… um… well, pretty overwhelming the first time you see it-"

Still too stunned to realize how uncannily he'd read her emotions, Ziva just nodded instead – her voice, when she finally found it, as hushed in awe as it was choked with reverent respect.

"I – I had no idea, McGee, that… that there were so many-"

"Over fifty eight thousand dead. More than two thousand missing in action-" Tim replied just as softly – that bittersweet smile returning as he reached up to stroke one of those simply engraved names.

"Every American should come here, Ziva, to remember them, but… well, this is my reason-"

Following his fingers, Ziva then stared, in shocked recognition, at one that was poignantly familiar.

'McGee. Benjamin Timothy'

"My uncle… my dad, um… named me after him-" Tim explained through that gently shy smile. "I – I never knew him, obviously, he died before I was born, but I'm… well, dad's always told me I'm a lot like him-"

Still not sure what to say, Ziva finally smiled - saying what she had to say, straight from the heart.

"He would be proud, Tim. So very proud-"

Understandably distracted, it took Tim several seconds to recognize this rare use of his first name. But then he smiled, in a subtly reddening face, as he hugged her back and nodded agreement.

"I hope so too, Ziva. And yes, I know it's a strange place to find it, but… well, whenever I've been upset, or scared, or worried about things, I've always found peace here, as if… well, as if he's here with me-"

"It is beautiful, McGee. So humbling, it is… well, it is a very special place-" Ziva agreed – hesitating for a moment, debating on protocol, before leaning in to gently kiss Tim's cheek

"I – I will find peace too, in this place of such courage of the dead, and pride of the living. This has been a - a privilege, McGee. Thank you for bringing me here-"

Still overwhelmed by this memorial of sacrifice around her, she felt she should say so much more – a smile of gentlest understanding, and a soft kiss on top of her head, assuring her she didn't need to.

Besides, Tim McGee had seen all that he'd hoped, and needed to see, just within Ziva's eyes.

Yes, they were still bright with tears – as his eyes had been when his father had first brought him here. But beyond the emotions that had clearly overwhelmed her, he also saw a spark of precious hope.

She'd regained her perspective. Re-found her spirit and strength. Found her reason to fight on.

It would take time, of course, but… yes, she would get there.

Ziva David would be alright.