A/N: This is something a little different than what I usually do. It was really more of an experiment. Here is how this fic is going to go down: In each chapter, Ziva is without one of her five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Yes, I realize speech is technically not one of the five senses, but in my head, "hearing" is really more of a "sound" sense... which would include speech AND hearing. Don't worry, hearing will have its own chapter. Each chapter is unrelated to the other and can stand alone-- I am grouping them into one fic for artistic purposes.

So here is the first chapter "Sound, Pt 1". Beware, this is a very long chapter.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!


Gibbs looked over at the desk next to him, and felt the familiar jolt of realizing it was still empty. It had been four months since the desk had last been used, but Gibbs still hadn't gotten used to the absence. Being at the Navy Yard almost let Gibbs forget what had happened, almost let him believe that nothing had changed. But at least once a day he looked over and remembered that she was no longer there. Her desk remained empty, and no one had suggested he fill it. Tony and McGee still felt the loss as well—every so often he would see one of them turn towards her desk, a question or joke on their lips, only to freeze before ducking their heads as they went back to work.

But today, it was not her absence that reminded them that things would never be the same. They had stumbled upon their current case early the day before, discovering a random print at the scene of petty officer's murder. It didn't make any sense, but the connection had been made, and they had called in the only person who could possibly shed some light on the matter.

The elevator dinged, and Gibbs heard an energetic Abby call out in excitement.

"ZIVA!"

Gibbs stood and turned towards the elevator to see the happy Goth engulfing the smaller woman in a crushing hug. After a long moment the scientist released her, giving Gibbs a chance to see his lover for the first time that day. After having pulled a seemingly endless all-nighter, the sight was a welcome one, and blue eyes took in her form as hands began to fly.

She was clad casually in a pair of dark jeans and a blue blouse that was insulated by a tailored brown leather coat that came down to her hips. Her hair fell in loose waves about her shoulders, framing cheeks that were rosy from the crisp autumn air. A scarf completed her ensemble, looped once around her neck. It obscured the garish scar that Gibbs knew was there, hiding the reason that Ziva's hands were currently moving rapidly as she exchanged pleasantries with Abby. Abby was responding in kind, her fingers moving slower than when she signed to Gibbs so that the Israeli could keep up.

"Ziver," Gibbs said, making his way over to the two women. Both looked up at his approach, an expectant smile on Ziva's face as she looked at him. He tenderly ran a hand down her arm. "How're you doing?"

She pursed her lips as she gave a slight roll of her eyes, her brow arching skeptically. She didn't need words to tell him to drop the pretense. He didn't call her in to ask about her health. He bit back a smirk as he crooked a finger at her, leading her back towards the squad room. She followed obediently, dropping her bag on her desk as she pulled off her coat to drape over her chair. She left her scarf in place, and gave a nod of greeting to McGee and Tony who welcomed her with excited tones and broad smiles. Gibbs quickly brought their attention back to the reason she was here.

"We were called out to a scene yesterday," he said. Ziva's gaze turned to focus on him. "We found a print that didn't belong. The scene was fresh; TOD twelve hours before we got to her." Ziva's hands moved in question. "Petty Officer Third Class Julianne Hughes. Stationed at Norfolk as a radar operator." He watched her hands move again, this time a little more hesitantly as they formed unfamiliar words. "Cause of death was exsanguination," he answered. He pressed the clicker once, sending a crime scene photo up onto the plasma, one that depicted a grisly corpse—whose throat had been slashed ear to ear.

He glanced at her to find her expression had hardened, her eyes darkened to the point they were almost black. He understood her reaction; he had felt the same way when he had first seen the butchered woman. Her eyes closed for a moment before she opened them once more, her anger shifting to annoyance. She motioned to him, conveying her thoughts in choppy movements. He shook his head.

"You're not here to give insight to the victim," he assured her, pressing the clicker once more, isolating and a enlarging a fingerprint. "This was found at the scene." He clicked again, displaying a ten-card with a name and current address. "Belongs to Andrew Jennings."

He watched Ziva freeze, her eyes glued to the plasma. She gripped the edge of her desk tightly, her knuckles white. She took a steadying breath, her eyes closing against the onslaught of memories he knew must be surging to the surface. He knew they were there—he had had his own to stamp down when he had first seen the monster up on Abby's screen. He also knew that while those harrowing 48 hours had been the worst experience of his life, he only knew half of the story:

"Where the hell is David?" Gibbs barked, marching into the squad room, fresh cup of coffee in hand.

"Dunno, boss," Tony replied. "She hasn't been in yet."

"Well, she's two hours late, Dinozzo. You think about calling her?"

"No answer boss," came the response. "I left probably ten messages." Gibbs' brow furrowed. She was never this late without checking in, and she had never violated rule number three before—it was unlike her to be unreachable. He quickly came to a decision.

"McGee!"

"Yeah, boss," the young agent replied, looking up from his computer.

"Trace her cell, her car, anything to give us a location."

"On it."

"Dinozzo!" His senior field agent stood, ready for his instruction. "As soon as we get a twenty, you're with me."

"Boss, both her cell and her car are in the back lot of a coffee shop on E Street." Gibbs recognized the location—Ziva often got a tea there on her way to the Navy Yard. Still, it didn't sit right with him.

"McGee, stay here. Keep the lines open, answer any and all of the desk phones. She calls, or she moves, you let us know." Gibbs tossed his coffee in the trash bin beside his desk before motioning for Tony to follow him to the elevator.

Ten minutes later Gibbs screeched to a halt in front of the coffee shop. Dinozzo followed him out of the car and around to the back lot. Guns drawn they approached Ziva's grey sedan cautiously, eyes scanning for anything out of place. It wasn't until they breached the far side of the vehicle that Gibbs' gut clenched in paralyzing fear.

Lying on the gravel six feet from the car was Ziva's sidearm. He had quickly swept the area, and about ten feet in front of her sidearm was a knife, a set of keys, a cell phone, and a second gun—Ziva's backup. A little to the left Tony found her credentials, discarded haphazardly. At that point Gibbs' scout sniper training kicked in, and his keen eyes picked out the subtle indentations in the spread of gravel, tracing her footsteps, then a stranger's, terminating in the telltale tracks of another vehicle, now long gone.

Pulling out his own cell, Gibbs called McGee, telling him to look for any traffic cams that might have picked up images of a vehicle pulling out onto the street. There wasn't an exterior security camera for the back lot, so they had nothing on the make and model of the getaway car, or on how the perp had managed to snatch Ziva without spilling a drop of blood.

It would be another four days before he would find out that Ziva had been approached by the perp, asking for directions to the nearest subway terminal before revealing a dead man's switch clutched in his fist. He had claimed he had planted explosives in the coffee shop, and that should she resist in any way, he would blow the building. He had then instructed her to slowly place her NCIS-issue Beretta on the ground, keeping her hands visible at all times. She had done so, then followed his instructions to step forward six paces before relieving herself of her keys, knife, backup gun, and her credentials. Finally, she had been ordered to cuff her hands behind her back as she knelt, giving him free reign to quickly frisk her, finding her lock-pick gear, which he pocketed before pulling her to her feet and pulling her over to his own car.

He had then pushed her into the trunk and shut the lid before driving off. He had taken her to a warehouse, and then tossed a flash-bang into the sedan, which, even in the trunk, had been enough to disorient her so that the perp was able to pull her from the trunk bind her ankles with duct tape. After dragging her into a back room and pressing another piece of tape to her lips, he had proceeded to call Gibbs directly.

Gibbs had been in the process of briefing Vance on the situation when his phone had begun to buzz on his hip. Flipping it open, he had abandoned the Director's office to return to the squad room.

"Gibbs," he said shortly, his tone sharp.

"I have something of yours," a deep garbled voice growled into his ear.

"Where is she?" Gibbs demanded, jogging down the stairs as he motioned for McGee to begin the trace on his phone. The voice chuckled in amusement.

"Not yet, Agent Gibbs," it said. "You have to follow the clues, first. And you don't get your clues until you do something for me."

"I wanna talk to her," Gibbs demanded, taking in McGee's frustrated expression as he struggled to get location of the caller.

"I don't think so."

"I don't do a goddamn thing for you until I get proof of life." A long pause followed Gibbs' angry words, and for moment thought the man was going to hang up on him. Finally, the man spoke up again.

"Well, why didn't you say so?"

Gibbs heard the sound of footsteps on concrete as the man moved. The phone rasped in Gibbs' ear as the other end of the line was switched to speaker and set on a hard surface. Gibbs' ears strained to hear any sound from Ziva, but instead heard the ominous sound of metal dragging against concrete. Then the sound of something being swung through the air traveled over the line before something solid connected with flesh. Gibbs had been in enough fights to recognize the muffled sound of a bone snapping under the heavy blow. The man swung a second and third time, and on the third blow, a muffled moan traveled across the line.

"How's that for proof of life?" the man said, picking up the phone once more. Gibbs remained silent. "Now you get to do something for me. Reopen the case file of Corporal Bronson. They never caught the real killer three years ago, and rumor is you're the best in the business." The line fell quiet as Gibbs refused to either deny or reinforce the claim. "I will call again in six hours. If you have made progress in the case, I'll let you talk to her. If you haven't, well-- I will give you more 'proof of life'."

With that the line went dead. Gibbs looked up, only to see McGee shake his head in defeat: the trace had been fruitless. He shut his phone with a snap, taking a deep breath to steady himself.

"McGee, keep on the caller, see what you came find out from the number, and then go through traffic cam footage."

"What about us boss?"

"We get to open a closed case file."

They opened the file and quickly determined that Corporal Bronson had been little more than a convenient suspect. He hadn't had an alibi for the time of death of his coworker, and had been reported as having had a less than friendly relationship with the vic. Minimal evidence had been found, but it had been enough for the Corporal to be convicted. The investigation had been sloppy, and within moments of opening the file Gibbs knew they were going to have to start at the very beginning.

The anonymous caller remained true to his word, calling every six hours to check on their progress. He was never satisfied enough with their work to allow Gibbs a chance to speak with Ziva, but had only been 'disappointed' twice. Gibbs made the mistake of protesting against the first of the resulting beatings, which had only spurred the man to give three extra swings of what Gibbs deduced to be a metal pipe.

Forty six hours after Ziva's disappearance, they finally stumbled upon a break in the case. The victim, a female Lance Corporal, had joined an online dating site using a false identity, and had arranged to meet another member of the site in person on the night of her murder. McGee was able to trace the account information to Andrew Jennings, a surgeon who had lost his medical license after multiple claims of malpractice. All trace of him had disappeared six months ago, except for an old warehouse he had inherited from an uncle that had not been sold off with the rest of his property when he had disappeared.

This time, the entire team went to chase the lead, following Gibbs' gut feeling that there was something more to Andrew Jennings than simply being a person of interest in a years-old murder case. The warehouse was in the middle of Northern Virginia, in an area that was industrial and saw little traffic. They called in the location to the local authorities on Gibbs' orders; he had a gut feeling that Ziva was here. If she was, the perp was too, and he wanted to be found. He wanted a confrontation, and Gibbs was not about to pull any punches. It was going to end with someone bleeding. And if he was wrong, then Ziva still needed medical attention, if the phone calls' "proof of life" sessions had been any indication.

They entered the warehouse warily, guns drawn. The place was empty, and Gibbs quickly spotted a corner that was hidden from view by what looked to be a protruding office. There was no evidence that Ziva had ever been there, let alone still in the building. A quick signal to the others sent the younger agents out in fan, sweeping slowly through the open space. Before they were able to get a glimpse of the hidden corner, the door to the office swung open. Three guns trained on the opening portal, freezing when the familiar form of Ziva emerged. Relief flooded Gibbs when she met his gaze, her eyes clear and alert. But then concern took over as he saw the swelling under her eye from a growing bruise, the tape over her lips, and the limp of her gait as she was pushed forward by a shadowy figure that held a knife to her throat while using her as a shield from both their eyes and their bullets.

"Agent Gibbs," the figure said, the male voice much less impressive than the scrambled timbre Gibbs had communicated with over the phone. "Your reputation is well deserved. I thought it would take you at least a week to get this far. I intended to be gone by then. Would have left your agent here as a little present, for a job well done. But it wouldn't be the proof of life you had been hoping for." Gibbs could hear the smirk in the man's voice. "But the day is still young."

"You killed Lance Corporal Campos." The man merely chuckled. "Why the sudden need to get credit? Why this way? Why not just go to the press?" Gibbs fired questions at him, keeping the man's attention on him as Tony inched slowly around the side, trying to get an angle on the perp. However, Jennings was planted firmly in the doorway—until he moved, any shot they attempted would have to go through Ziva first.

"If I went to the press I'd be nothing more than an amateur attempting to ride the coattails of Corporal Bronson. But if you figured it out on your own, you would know the truth, and Bronson would have been freed. Then the press would have gotten wind of it—NCIS would have been humiliated, and I will be plastered on every television screen in America."

Gibbs tuned Jennings out, instead focusing on Ziva. She met his gaze again, and when he arched a silent brow at her in question, her eyes narrowed. Her eyes flicked away, and Gibbs knew she was running through her options. She knew she had to get out of Jennings' grasp before the team could do anything. A moment later she looked at him once more, and then, gave the smallest of nods, so small that Jennings didn't notice the motion. Gibbs nodded in acknowledgment, sending a quick look to McGee and Tony, both of whom gave him glances of understanding as they kept an eye on Jennings.

"And you, Agent Gibbs, you would be heartbroken upon discovering Agent David's broken body—" Jennings didn't have a chance to finish before Ziva sprang into action.

Her head snapped back to collide with Jennings' nose while her foot slammed down on his instep. The shock and pain was enough for Jennings' grip on her cuffed wrists to slacken and the blade at her throat to fall away for Ziva to move away. But Jennings recovered too quickly, and he had snatched her back before she managed to go more than two steps. Gibbs did not have a chance to fire before Ziva was back in his line of sight, and he could do nothing more than watch as the knife came back up, but this time did not stop as soon as Ziva was immobilized.

Rage burned in Jennings' eyes as he slashed the knife viciously across Ziva's throat. Red clouded Gibbs' vision when he saw Ziva fall, shoved away in disgust as Jennings realized his human shield was no longer a bargaining chip. The man tossed away the knife, staring with a growing grin as blood pooled on the pavement.

"No!" Gibbs' vision tunneled as he sprinted to where Ziva lay motionless in a growing pool of blood. He didn't see Tony and McGee swoop in to force Jennings to the ground, shouting at him to not move, daring him to look at them wrong, pressing their weapons to his skull. He didn't hear Jennings' maniacal laughter echo throughout the warehouse as he realized that his plan had worked out better than he thought it would.

He fell to his knees beside her, rolling her from where she had fallen on her side so that she was laying face up. It meant she was laying on her cuffed wrists, but that was the least of his worries as he saw the jagged slash that tore her throat open from ear to ear. Gibbs fought to breathe, time slowing down as he saw blood fly from her wound as she struggled to breathe. Then his mind went into overdrive, and he pulled the tape from her lips, allowing her to suck in a ragged, soundless breath. But then she choked, blood flying from her lips as blood flooded her mouth.

"Oh God, Ziva." Gibbs' voice was little more than a whisper as he yanked off his jacket and polo before pressing the shirt to her wound, draping his jacket over her in the same movement. "Stay with me." Her eyes opened, and fearful brown eyes met his. Her lips moved silently as they shaped an all too familiar name.

Jethro.

"I'm here, Ziver." In the distance, Gibbs could hear the growing wail of sirens speeding towards them. "The ambulance is coming, you just gotta hang on for just a little bit." By this time, McGee had approached, and gentle hands reached under her slim frame to unlock the cuffs binding her hands. Within moments her arms were free, and Tim's soft touch moved them out from under her. One of Gibbs' hands was pressing the bloody polo to her throat, but his free hand immediately sought hers, clutching it as much for his own comfort as it was to reassure her.

Her grip was weak from her arms being immobile for the past 48 hours, but Gibbs barely noticed, his own grip tight enough for both of them. He heard her breathing becoming even more labored as blood from her wound trickled its way down her throat and into her lungs. By now his shirt was soaked, but he did not have a chance to have to think of something to replace it with before the ambulance pulled up and McGee called for the paramedics to come quickly.

Before he fully registered what was happening, Gibbs was shoved aside as the paramedics took over, transferring Ziva onto a gurney and quickly moving her into the ambulance. They had rolled away, sirens blaring, before Gibbs found the strength to tear his gaze from the pool of blood that was working its way into the fabric of his pants as he continued to kneel on the cement floor.

It had been for months since that day. Four months since he had managed to pick himself off the warehouse floor to follow the ambulance in his own car. Four months since he spent six more hours waiting for news of Ziva's condition. Four months since the doctor had come out to tell him that Ziva was going to make it.

Four months since he was told that she would never speak again.

Ziva had reacted typically for someone who had lost their primary mode of communication. She had been shocked at first, then had alternated between bouts of anger and depression. But when she reached some semblance of accepting her plight, she had focused on working around it. She quickly became frustrated by the slow pace of having to write out what she needed to say on a pad of paper, and within two weeks of learning she would be without her voice for the rest of her life, she had wrangled Abby into teaching her sign language. Gibbs had also helped her learn, spending long hours going over the signs again and again until she memorized them.

Ziva had thrown herself into learning the new language, preferring to focus on the symbols than on what she had lost. But she still had yet to fully accept the loss of her voice, frustration overcoming her on many occasions when she found she could not properly express herself. She'd had to take to keeping a pen and paper on her at all times in case of emergency, and she resented having to rely on such primitive means of communication. She smiled easier nowadays, but her mood could turn equally dark at a moment's notice, as evidenced by the stormy gaze she turned on him once she looked away from the familiar picture on the plasma.

Her fingers flew in jerking motions, her anger and fear evident.

"He's still in jail, Ziva. We called and confirmed with the warden this morning." Fingers flew. "No, I don't know how his print got into the middle of my crime scene. That's what I was hoping you'd be able to help us out with."

She pushed away from her desk, crossing the squad bay aggressively. She shook her head, her lips mouthing the words her hands formed. Blue eyes tracked their movement, working to piece together her increasingly disjointed motions.

"I know you didn't work that case," he said, his voice growing frustrated. "If we had found anything in our investigation as to why someone would plant Jennings' prints, we wouldn't need you here right now. But the only piece of evidence we have is this goddamn print and we need to know if there was anything you heard during those two days that could indicate he was working with a partner."

She met his gaze, her lips parted slightly, as if ready to say something more. But she thought better of it, her mouth closing into a thin line as she pulled back slightly. The confrontation had left her posture, and she seemed to settle back on her heels, her gaze lowering as she gently shook her head. Her fingers flickered softly, brushing across her cheek to indicate one of the multiple injuries she had sustained at the business end of the heavy metal pipe they had found.

"There has to be something you remember," Gibbs replied. He believed what he said—he had witnessed the nightmares she had about those missing 48 hours, which told him that the memories were there; she just didn't have a good enough reason to dig them up from her subconscious. "A name, something he said. Did he receive or make any phone calls while you were with him?" At this she cocked her head with a slight roll of her eye, her brow arched in an expression that clearly said "dumbass". Gibbs gave his own eye roll as he realized his mistake. "Besides the ones he made to me, Ziver. Did he tell you where you where he was going after he left the final clue?"

Instead of immediately responding, Ziva closed her eyes. Gibbs watched her take a breath, and let her have a moment to think back to four months ago and search for anything that could help them. Her eyes flew open a moment later, and she formed a single word.

"River?" Gibbs clarified. His brow furrowed—it didn't make any sense.

"Boss, the nearest river to the warehouse was the Potomac," McGee offered. "It flows to the Chesapeake, which in theory could have given him access to the Atlantic, but as an escape route it's unfeasible. He'd have to go through Great Falls before he hit the bay."

"Or maybe he had one of those river house boats," Tony spoke up. "You know, hide out there, then pick up anchor and move whenever someone got too close."

"The Potomac is mostly too shallow for something like that, Tony," McGee contradicted. Gibbs' eyes were pulled away from the arguing agents by the sight of Ziva pulling out her pad of paper. She scribbled something on the blank paper before she displayed it to Gibbs.

"Not river," Gibbs said. "Rio." McGee and Dinozzo looked at him. "He was going to Rio." Ziva nodded, a triumphant smirk on her lips, which disappeared a moment later. She scratched something else onto the paper.

Doesn't help, Gibbs read. He looked at her expression once more, finding her features apologetic.

"Do you remember anything else, Ziva?" She looked away, her eyes unfocusing once more as she delved into her memories. She began to shake her head in a negative, but then froze, her eyes wide. Her pen flew for a split second before the pad was presented to Gibbs once more.

He said his "boy" was going to meet him there.

"Uh, Jennings didn't exactly sound like the type of guy who had homeboys, boss," Dinozzo said as he saw the hastily written words.

"And none of his records showed that he was in regular contact with anyone."

Ziva shook her head.

Not "homeboy"… son?

Gibbs' eyes flashed to his other agents, who after a moment of hesitation scrambled to find the information.

"No record of a kid, Boss," Tony said.

"I've got a list of prior acquaintances from his jacket, boss," McGee said. "We only tracked down about a third of them before we found the warehouse. I'm running them all through the database now." He tapped briskly against the keyboard for a few moments before his computer beeped. "Thirteen names boss," he said. "Eight are female, Jennings' former girlfriends. Five have kids, but three of them have other men listed as the fathers… That leaves two: Catherine Bates and Vivian Hunt. Neither have a father listed on the kids' birth certificates. Bates has a three year old girl… And Hunt has a 19 year old son named Andrew. Still lives at home in Bethesda."

"You two go and bring both Hunts in for questioning," Gibbs ordered, triumph seeping into his tone. Both agents were already reaching for their go-bags, and within moments were abandoning their desks. McGee was the first to hesitate before doubling back to wrap Ziva in a hug.

"Great job Ziva," he said. Tony was there as soon as the younger agent released her, and pressed a chaste kiss to her temple.

"Good to see you back, Zee-vah," the senior field agent said tenderly. Ziva smiled in return before playfully rolling her eyes and pushing both men away. She waved them towards the elevator in silent command, and they obeyed with matching grins.

As the elevator closed with a ding, Ziva turned once more to Gibbs. With a smile on his lips he stepped closer to her and gave her a reassuring hug of his own.

"You're amazing," he said softly. He felt her sigh against him. When she pulled away a moment later, he couldn't help but notice she looked drained. "Why don't you go down and visit Ducky?" he suggested.

Gibbs knew that Ziva's patience for ducky's notorious ramblings had begun to wax and wane since her injury, as she had become somewhat of a captive audience. She no longer had a voice to interrupt the medical examiner with, and Ducky was often too engrossed in his tales to notice her disinterest. But today, Ducky's ramblings may prove to be a welcome distraction from the case.

Ziva seemed to agree, as she nodded and began to make her way towards the elevator that would take her down to autopsy.

"I'll go with you!" Abby exclaimed excitedly. The Goth had been quiet since her initial outburst at Ziva's arrival, watching the agents work towards a lead. Now she linked her arm through Ziva's who gave a tight lipped smile in return. Together they turned to leave.

"Ziva," Gibbs called after them, causing them to turn back to look at him. "Proud of you," he said simply, capturing her gaze with his. She regarded for a moment, then gave a single nod, the corner of her mouth curling up in appreciation, though her eyes still remained guarded.

Then they were on their way, Abby chattering as they walked. Gibbs watched them go, only turning back to his desk once they were out of sight. This case was going to be closed, he declared silently to himself, and soon. The last thing he had wanted was to pull Ziva into an investigation, especially one like this. The desire to kill Andrew Jennings flared within, after months of focusing on Ziva's recovery than on thoughts of vengeance. He only hoped, for Jennings' sake, that they closed the case before they were forced to question Jennings himself. Incarcerated or not, Gibbs wouldn't be able to guarantee the bastard would survive the visit.

******

The ride down to autopsy was filled with idle chatter from Abby. Ziva listened, not bothering to watch the Goth's hands as they formed the words. She knew that Abby signed to help her become familiar with ASL, but her mind was elsewhere, lost in thought until the doors slid open.

Ziva stepped out of the elevator, Abby clomping along beside her as they passed through the pneumatic doors that allowed them access to the morgue.

"Ducky!" Abby called, pulling the Scotsman's attention from the corpse he was in middle of stitching up. The elder man quickly passed the needle and thread off to Palmer as soon as he caught sight of the two women.

"Abigail! Ziva!" Ducky exclaimed. "Delightful to see you my dear." He pulled off his soiled gloves and scrubs before moving to wash his hands. "To what do I owe this pleasant surprise visit?"

"Ziva's here to help with a case," Abby answered for the Israeli. Ducky had experienced difficulty learning to read sign language, a fact he jokingly attributed to his growing age but ultimately acted as barrier in the instances Ziva was without pen and paper. "She helped them find a lead within like, fifteen minutes of getting here, after the rest of the team had been working for seven hours and coming up with zilch. It was awesome."

"It seems you have not lost your touch," Ducky remarked to Ziva, drying his hands with a paper towel. He waved both women towards his desk, where he pulled out a portable tea kettle and moved to fill it with water.

"IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU BACK, AGENT DAVID!" Palmer shouted from his position next to the body. "THINGS HAVEN'T BEEN THE SAME SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE!" His voice echoed loudly throughout the morgue. Ziva's lips pressed into a thin line, her eyes hardening in annoyance. Palmer failed to notice. "I MEAN, AGENT Gibbs HAS ALWAYS BEEN… BRUSQUE, BUT LATELY HE'S BEEN EVEN MORE CURT THAN USUAL!" He paused, but didn't look up from his task of stitching the body closed. "NOT THAT IT'S A BAD THING, NECESSARILY—" The young assistant tried to backtrack, but failing as he looked up to find three pairs of eyes staring at him, nonplussed. "WHAT?" he shouted.

Ziva's hands moved quickly, punctuated by forceful, deliberate motions, clearly agitated. Abby snickered as she read the silent words, but did not translate. Palmer's gaze remained clueless as he failed to understand the signs.

"WHAT?" he asked again, his overly loud tone still clueless.

"Stop shouting, Mr. Palmer," Ducky said, his voice sharp. "Agent David is mute, not deaf." A moment's pause of incomprehension passed before the doctor continued. "There is nothing wrong with her hearing—there is no need to shout." Palmer's eyes immediately widened.

"Oh, I didn't mean to… I mean… I'm so sorr—" Palmer's blundering died off as he realized he was dangerous close to digging himself an even deeper hole. Ziva's expression softened, her eyes crinkling in amusement at Palmer's characteristic reaction.

"Are you quite finished, Mr. Palmer?" Ducky's tone was still laden with disapproval. Palmer froze, and barely managed to stutter a few vowels before the older gentleman lost patience. "With the body, Mr. Palmer!"

"Oh! Yes, doctor, all finished."

"Go take your break, Mr. Palmer," Doctor Mallard ordered. "In fact, take an extra hour."

"Yes, doctor," Palmer replied. Within moments he was discarding his gloves and smock as he hurriedly left the room. As soon as the pneumatic doors whooshed closed behind him, Ducky returned to his task of putting water on to boil.

"Oh, Jimmy," Abby remarked thoughtfully. "He's lucky he's so adorable when does that." She glanced at Ziva. "Still, I'm glad he's not my assistant." Ziva grinned broadly in response. "Well, I have to get back to my babies," Abby said. "Come see me before you leave, okay?" Ziva nodded in acquiescence, and was consequently pulled into yet another hug. "It's so good to see you," the Goth whispered. Then Ziva was released and the scientist was prancing from the room. "See you later, Ducky!" she threw over her shoulder, the doors closing behind her before the doctor could respond.

"Sometimes I wonder where that girl gets her energy," Ducky remarked bemusedly. "And then I see her with a Caf-Pow and I cringe at the thought of such a volatile combination of sugar and caffeine." He offered Ziva his spare desk chair. "And I apologize for Mr. Palmer's insensitivity."

Ziva waved the apology away. She was too familiar with Palmer's awkward social interaction to be offended. Ducky took a moment to observe the young woman sitting across from him. He took in her scarf, knowing the hidden scar was well healed. She had lost a bit of weight, but not enough to be worrisome. Her skin was a healthy pallor, but the doctor could not ignore the fatigue in her posture, the reserved nature of her gaze.

"You appear troubled, my dear," Ducky said. Ziva met his gaze for a moment, attesting to the truth of his observation. "Anything you would perhaps like to share?" A moment of hesitation passed, and then her brow arched expectantly, a mischievous glint in her eye as she looked at him. Ducky was all too familiar with this particular expression.

"Ah," he commented knowingly, "a test of my skills." Since Ziva had lost her voice, Ducky had been forced to use his powers of observation and deduction to gain insight into her state of mind, as her ability to communicate had been severely stunted. It had become something of a game now; if Ziva felt comfortable sharing with the older man, he would do his best to deduce the source of her troubles, and exercise his ability to read body language to sense if he was warm or cold.

"A recent development," he inferred, "as you were unafflicted when I paid you a visit last week." He looked at his subject, and saw no indication that he was wrong. "Perhaps the reason of your visit this afternoon." Ziva's gaze flicked away briefly. Ducky regarded her. He was close, but not quite on the money. "Or the visit is the source of your troubles." Ziva nodded once, her lips pressed together tightly. Ducky thought back to what Abby had said, and then pieced together the facts.

"Ah," he said in realization. "The case that Jethro picked up yesterday—the murdered petty officer." Another nod. "I have not yet had a chance to autopsy the poor woman, but if I recall correctly, my preliminary observation…" His voice trailed off as he recalled the image of the bloody corpse that had been left behind—complete with mangled throat. "Oh, my dear," he said, unable to keep the pity from his voice. "No wonder you're troubled. I don't doubt seeing the victim awakened some unpleasant memories for you." Ziva's brow arched, accompanied by a noncommittal shrug.

"But," Ducky continued, "it is unlike Jethro to brief you on the case simply because of the similar traumas… In fact, I believe he would try to isolate you from the case for that very reason." Ziva lifted her hand, waggling her fingers at the elder man. After a moment, comprehension dawned. "He found fingerprints," he stated, earning a nod of confirmation. He paused, his brow furrowing in concern. "Not yours…"

Ziva shook her head emphatically, her brow furrowed to reinforce the negative.

"Well, then," Ducky continued, "whose prints were found that would have caused Jethro to need your insight?" He watched Ziva carefully, noticing the slight hesitation as she debated revealing any more. But then she took a steadying breath, her expression relaxing somewhat as she lowered her inhibitions.

Her left hand came up and moved in a smooth slashing motion across her throat. She met his gaze, as if to prove to him that she was no longer self-conscious of her injury. Surprised confusion hit the doctor with a jolt as he realized the implications behind her simple motion.

"Andrew Jennings?" Ziva nodded. "But, he's still in prison!" Ducky exclaimed. Ziva's brow rose, her jaw set as she brought up her hands in a motion the doctor read as 'don't ask me'. Clearly, she was just as confused as anyone else, and despite her calm demeanor, perhaps the slightest bit afraid.

"Do not worry, my dear," Ducky said. She looked at him with a muted, guarded gaze. The disguised vulnerability of her posture gave rise to an intense desire to reassure her, an instinct Ducky was glad to oblige. "Nothing will happen to you," he said, reaching out to cover her hand with his. "Even if you did not have a whole team to protect you, Jethro will not allow harm to befall you."

Ziva's gaze shifted, her head falling slightly to the side as a mirthless smirk curled at her lips. It was then that Ducky realized the naïveté of his words; it had been because of the team's, Jethro's, inability to keep her safe that had resulted in the loss of her voice in the first place. Not that she had ever suggested that it had been the team's fault she had lost her voice. But Ducky knew that each member of the MCRT had felt guilt for being unable to find her sooner, or to keep the knife from stealing her voice. Finally, Ducky felt the need to shift the conversation.

"You know, my dear," he said softly, "you needn't feel obligated to wear that here." He motioned towards the scarf that was still wrapped around her neck. "You will not find any judgment when you are with me, nor will you have to suffer any curious stares."

She regarded him for a moment, before giving a half-nod, as if recognizing some veiled challenge. She removed the garment in question and draped it over the back of her chair, revealing the still-pink scar that tore across her throat. He knew from seeing her chart while she was in the hospital that had the gash been situated a millimeter to the left or to the right, one or both of her jugular arteries would have been nicked. But she had been lucky, as the knife had only sliced through her larynx, severing both laryngeal nerves and cutting through the small artery that supplied blood to the voice box and the surrounding muscle.

The blood loss from that single artery would have killed her, had Gibbs not reacted as soon as he did or the doctors not been as skilled as they were. But for all their skill, they had been unable to resuscitate the drained muscles of the voice box, nor had they been able to repair the larynx itself. And so she had been forced to accept her new handicap, and would forever bear the scar as a memory of what she had lost.

Ziva settled back in her chair, crossing her arms as her gaze dared Ducky to make a sideways comment, or let his gaze linger too long. When he remained silent, and his eyes never left hers, she smiled. Any tension that had built between them melted away, and Ducky took in the mirthful twinkle in her eye as he poured her a cup of tea—jasmine, her favorite.

"Actually, the color of your scarf reminds me of when I spent a summer in Spain before my first year at Edinburgh. Oh it must have been some thirty years ago now, but there is one instance I recall quite vividly…"

*****

Gibbs was reviewing the crime scene photos, looking for anything they might have missed the first go-around, when his phone buzzed on his hip.

"Talk to me," he barked into the phone, not bothering to check the caller ID.

"We made it to Vivian Hunt's place, Boss," Tony's voice said over the line. "She hasn't seen Andy Jr for four days. And has no idea where he is."

"Well, bring her in anyway, Dinozzo."

"We were going to, but we wanted to get a look at the kid's room before we left… Boss, this isn't good."

"What did you find?"

"A scene from Memento, boss, except this guy has his obsession all over his walls, not his skin. The crazy's all here, though." Tony paused, but continued before Gibbs lost his patience. "Boss, this guy has newspaper clippings from four months ago. Ziva's name is underlined, circled… We've got dozens of recent photos, here, all from a telephoto lens. This guy has been watching her, boss, as early as two months ago." Another pause. "It's not pretty, boss. This guy obviously blames Ziva for his Dad being in jail… he's out for blood. Her blood."

"Dammit!" Gibbs muttered, closing his eyes against an impending migraine. "Take photos, bag anything that could tell us where he went. Then get your asses back here with the mother." With that he snapped the phone shut and tossed it back onto his desk. He ran a calloused hand over his face, his mind racing through his options.

He was going to keep her safe, that much was certain. He had several ways to ensure that would happen, but none of them would make Ziva herself happy. She was going to fight him at every step, and he knew her already shot nerves would be unable to remain patient for long. And since her attack four months ago, her temper had only become more volatile. Gibbs also knew that she would not appreciate being kept out of the loop.

He picked up his desk phone and dialed Ducky's extension. A brief conversation had the medical examiner promising to escort Ziva up to the squad room, collecting Abby on the way. Minutes later, all three of them entered the squad room. Ziva's eyes flicked quickly to the plasma as her hands formed a brief question.

"Dinozzo and McGee are on their way back with Vivian Hunt," he replied to her query, "but Andrew Hunt has been in the wind for the past four days."

"So Andrew Hunt is really Jennings' son?" Abby asked. Gibbs nodded.

"Dinozzo found evidence at the house that confirms it until DNA proves otherwise. But I'd put money on it telling us what we already know."

"What did they find that makes you so certain?" Ducky inquired. Gibbs looked at him, then to Ziva as he hesitated, reluctant to share the news. After a long moment, he finally bit the bullet. He clicked once, pulling up the crime scene photos once more.

"This was not a crime of passion," he said, turning away from his audience slightly to focus on the pictures. "It was a message." He glanced at them and saw shocked horror creeping onto Ducky's and Abby's faces. Ziva remained stoic, though his keen eyes saw her jaw clench tightly.

"For us?" Abby whispered. Gibbs couldn't answer that—it could be for them, or it could be meant for Ziva herself, warning her of what was to come.

"Andrew Hunt is going to finish what Jennings started," he said, evading the question. He caught Ziva's gaze. "He's been watching you, Ziver." Her expression didn't change, and he quickly realized it was not a surprise to her. "Did you know?"

She bit her lip as her hands moved slowly, tentative. She felt as if someone had been watching her from time to time, but she had never been able to spot anything out of place.

"Why the hell didn't you tell me?" Gibbs couldn't keep the accusation from his voice, and Ziva bristled in response. Her next signs were sharp, defensive.

"Don't spout the shrink's lectures at me," he said. "I don't care if paranoia is 'normal' after traumatic experiences; you should have told me anyway. At least then—" he cut himself off abruptly. She regarded him coolly, and then her expression shifted from stony resolution to warm understanding. Stepping closer, she touched his arm softly before signing again. He shook his head, brushing away the reassurances. "I should've noticed something, Ziva. I should've seen this guy following you around. If he was following you, he was following us." He met her gaze once more, seeing the concern in furrowed brow as she regarded him silently, hesitant to respond.

It was then the elevator doors opened, and Tony disembarked, escorting Vivian Hunt as McGee followed, carrying a box full of bagged and tagged evidence. With a jerk of his head, Gibbs motioned for Tony to take Mz. Hunt to the conference room. The senior field agent obeyed, guiding the woman through the squad room. As they passed Ziva and Gibbs, the Israeli tilted her chin up to glance up at the team leader, exposing the angry scar she had forgotten to re-cover with her scarf.

The woman's green eyes caught sight of the disfigurement, causing her freeze as her eyes widened. Ziva noticed the reaction and regarded the woman with a frosty gaze.

"Are you Ziva David?" Vivian Hunt asked, her tone tremulous. After a long moment, Ziva responded with a nod, her face remaining expressionless as her eyes remained glued to the woman. "I remember reading about you, in the newspaper. The articles said you were injured, but I didn't realize it was so…" Her voice trailed off, and Ziva arched an unimpressed eyebrow at her. "The newspaper said Andrew Jennings…" Again, her voice trailed off. Impatient, Ziva elbowed Gibbs lightly and jerked her chin at the woman, prompting him to ask the question they needed an answer to.

"Mz. Hunt, is Andrew Jennings the father of your son?" After a moment's hesitation, Vivian nodded.

"Yes. We had broken up before I realized I was pregnant. I didn't list him on the birth certificate because I didn't want him to have any obligation to stay in our lives." She paused. "I never told Andy who his father was, but I think he found out on his own. When he was nineteen I found him looking through an yearbook in the attic… Andrew had written a note in the cover, and I think Andy tracked him from there." She wrapped her arms around herself. "When Andy saw the article about Agent David and how Andrew had been arrested, he was so upset. He didn't eat or sleep for days… He started to change after that." Her eyes drifted back to Ziva's scar as her fingers came up to brush against her own throat. "I… I am so sorry…"

"Mz. Hunt," Tony interrupted, sensing the dangerous path the woman had wandered onto, "why don't you follow me to the conference room. We just have a few questions for you about your son's whereabouts." Gently but firmly, he took the woman by the arm and guided her out of the squad room. As soon as the woman was out of sight, McGee set the box of evidence on his desk. Abby was immediately on him, pawing through the bags as she quickly scanned their contents. A moment later Ziva was next to her, taking a handful of photographs to peruse. Her gaze was impartial and analytical, the mask of a competent investigator, as if the subject of the pictures were a stranger, and not herself.

Gibbs strode over and plucked the photos from her grasp, tossing them back into the bin before taking the whole thing and shoving it into Abby's arms.

"You're not investigating, Ziva. You're too close."

Her irritation returned, and she signed rapidly in choppy strokes. Gibbs saw the validity of her claim, but he brushed it aside in favor of protocol and her own protection.

"I asked for your help before I knew it was warning for you to watch your back, Ziver," he argued, his voice unyielding. "This guy is gunning for you, and the more you know, the more danger you're in." Ziva rolled her eyes. "Mossad or not," he continued, responding to her silent retort, "I am not risking your life by getting you overly involved. I'll keep you in the loop, but you're not on the case."

Fire flashed in Ziva's eyes at his declaration, but before she had a chance to respond, another angry voice thundered through the squad room.

"Agent Gibbs!"

All eyes traveled upwards to find Director Vance glaring down at the team, his teeth grinding on a toothpick.

"My office, now!" Gibbs took in an annoyed breath, but swallowed his insubordination as he obliged after the slightest of hesitation. As he climbed the stairs, Vance glanced at the rest of the team. "All of you," he added gruffly. The team shared a nervous glance before obeying.

As soon as the doors closed behind them, Vance tore into Gibbs.

"You wanna tell me why I had to find out from my secretary that Ms. David is being targeted by a perp, Gibbs?" he demanded, eyes flashing. Gibbs arched an eyebrow, but remained calm.

"I only found out myself a half hour ago, Leon," he replied coolly. "You were my next stop." He eyed the Director. "Might wanna think about giving your secretary a raise though."

"I'll take it into consideration." The director's tone softened slightly. "This is a highly volatile situation, Gibbs."

"I realize that—"

"No you don't," Vance interrupted. "Agent David has sensitive information that is important to many powerful countries." Gibbs blinked.

"This isn't about international intrigue, Leon," he said. "We know who the threat is, and we know the motive. Andy Hunt wants revenge, not secrets."

"You don't know for sure," Vance contradicted. "What's your plan of action?"

Gibbs hesitated for a moment, debating which route to go. In his silence, Tony spoke up.

"What about round-the-clock shadow surveillance, boss?"

"Lockdown is safer," McGee offered. "Less time in transit means less of a threat. There's existing surveillance and 24 hour guard presence. Plus, it's familiar territory."

Gibbs shook his head. He was about to respond when he noticed Ziva waving to get his attention. As soon as she had it, her fingers flew in a flurry of motion, her brow furrowed in anger. Her displeasure at the situation was tangible, but Gibbs found himself unreceptive to her request.

"Ziva, I'm not going to risk this guy getting his hand on you just because you're too damn stubborn. You're getting protection," he stated. Normally he would have tried to honor her requests, but the memories of the events from four months ago overshadowed his better judgment. Ignoring the burning anger he saw flare up within her, he turned back to McGee.

"This guy managed to tail her for months without her spotting him," he continued. "He's good. He knows where she works and where she lives. I wouldn't be surprised if he were able to infiltrate the building—mail clerk, delivery boy, intern…" He looked at Vance. "Safehouse. In-house protection maintaining visual contact at all times."

"I'll do you one better," Vance responded. "Witness Protection. I can have a Marshall down here within the hour." Gibbs shook his head.

"No-go. She stays in the city, and we'll have to be able to have contact with her as the case progresses."

"Her safety is more important than the case, Gibbs—"

"I'll keep her safe," Gibbs replied. "In the safehouse. We'll use one we haven't used for the past six months, in case Hunt surveilled her before Jennings."

"Ummm… Gibbs?" Abby's voice went largely unnoticed by the two arguing men.

"Minimal contact. She doesn't leave the house, for anything," Vance demanded.

"A given."

"Not good enough," Vance decided. "In house protection, with additional protection on loan from the FBI."

"Umm… Gibbs?"

"Not now, Abs." Gibbs turned back to Vance. "It's not an FBI case."

"Jennings took David over state lines into Virginia. That gets their foot in the door. NCIS takes the lead, FBI helps with protection and legwork." Gibbs hesitated.

"Protection detail gets approved by Fornell."

"Done."

"Which safehouse—"

"Gibbs!"

"WHAT, ABBY?!" The Marine's bellow thundered in the crowded office, shocking the rest into silence. Abby looked at him in surprise for a moment, her eyes wide, before she answered.

"Where's Ziva?" she asked, her voice small.

The question hit him with a jolt, and his eyes scanned the room for the Israeli. His rapid search yielded no sign of her, and he cursed silently under his breath as he rushed from the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of her from the mezzanine… but she was gone. He pulled out his phone and speed-dialed her cell attempting to hear it ringing somewhere in the squad room, but it went straight to voicemail.

"I guess the protective detail only works if you can keep track of her," Abby said as she approached, accompanied by Tony and McGee. Gibbs ignored the comment, instead firing off orders.

"McGee, track her phone and her car. Dinozzo, get on the mother, she has to know something about where the kid is. Abby, start going through the evidence; look for anything that might tell you where he'd take her if he got hold of her."

The team scrambled into action. Within moments McGee had a fix on both Ziva's cell and sedan; neither had the building. Gibbs felt a wave of relief before he marched swiftly out of the squad room, leaving the others to complete their assigned tasks.

He sprinted towards the car park, aiming to intercept her before she had a chance to drive off. But she he reached her car minutes later, there was no indication she had been there since she had first arrived that afternoon. On his way back up to the squad room, he checked both autopsy and Abby's lab, with the same results. It wasn't until he was just about to reach the squad room when he recalled the courtyard: it was enclosed on three sides by Navy buildings, including NCIS on the west side, and at the heart of the base, meaning everyone who had access first had to get past security at the front gate, as well as a second checkpoint some 300 meters from the NCIS building.

Turning on his heel, Gibbs quickly made his way to the ground level, bypassing the elevator in favor of the stairs. He took them two at a time, and didn't slow down until he made it to the courtyard. He was immediately rewarded by the sight of Ziva sitting on an iron bench beneath a bare-branched dogwood. Her forearms were resting on her knees, her hands clasped together. Her long hair fell over her shoulders, hiding her face from his view, but her posture was relaxed—waiting.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked gruffly as soon as he was in earshot. Her head lifted at his approach, her expression stony. She did nothing in response, except scooting to one end of the bench: a silent invitation for him to join her. He obliged, sitting next to her on the cold metal. He forced himself to take a calming breath before speaking again. "I'm trying to keep you safe, Ziver," he said. "Running off makes that a little hard to do."

She signed briefly, her expression unchanging.

"You're getting it, Ziva, whether or not you think you need it." His tone left no room for debate, but when Ziva's eyes narrowed dangerously, Gibbs thought of another tactic. "Do it for me. I need to know you're safe so I can focus on finding the Petty Officer's killer." He looked her in the eye. "Will you do that for me?"

She regarded him carefully for a moment. For a moment, he thought she was going to flat out refuse, but then something in her eyes shifted. Her fingers slowly moved, her signing carefully thoughtful as she compromised. Gibbs grinned in acceptance as he went through the motions of negotiating.

"No. You stay at NCIS but you don't work the case." She leaned back in response, her arms crossing over her chest in defiance. He sighed. "Fine. But you only help Abby. No questioning witnesses. But she gives me updates on the hour and if she thinks you're having difficulty handling it, you're up in the squad room making copies." He was rewarded with a triumphant smile. He returned it until he saw her add another requirement, and he frowned in concern.

"You trying to tell me the deal is only good for twenty four hours?" She nodded. "No dice," he said firmly. "You're staying in the building until Hunt is apprehended." Ziva shook her head adamantly. "That's the deal, Ziver: take it or leave it."

She eyed him for a long moment before her fingers formed signs he didn't immediately recognize. His brow furrowed in confusion.

"Another inspection?" he clarified. She shook her head no, then repeated the symbol. When he still could not comprehend it, she added a few more. His eyes widened. "You mean re-evaluation?" He made the correct sign with his own hands. Ziva nodded, her expression creasing once more into a smile. "You want to re-evaluate in twenty four hours and then decide if the protection is still necessary?" Another nod.

Gibbs knew that they probably have to have the same conversation again if he agreed to the arrangement, but at the same time, he knew that it was the only way he would get her to go along with the protection detail at all. At least this way he would be able to keep an eye on her himself. After moment more of consideration, Gibbs finally came to a decision.

"Deal," he said, extending his hand to her for a shake.

She took the offered hand in a firm grip, their joined hands moving up and down in a congenial manner before she leaned in to kiss his cheek. Then she stood and made to leave the courtyard, making no move to wait for him to act as her escort. He stood smoothly and snaked out an arm, catching her by the waist as he pulled her back to her.

"And where do you think you're going?" he asked, their noses almost touching. "We had a deal." He watched her smile as she pushed away playfully. She quickly signed that her go-bag was in her car; she wanted to get it now so that she could change her outfit later. He nodded. "I'm going with you." She rolled her eyes at him, her fingers flashing. "I don't care if the parking garage right next door to the building. It's too dangerous."

Ziva's jaw tightened slightly in annoyance as she rapidly signed for him to stop over-reacting. She then instructed him to meet her in the squad room, as she would be stopping by before heading to Abby's lab for the remainder of the day.

Knowing he risked having her bolt for real, Gibbs decided to let it go and let her have her last few minutes of freedom. He nodded in acceptance, bestowing a brief kiss to her forehead before pushing her towards the garage in question, with the declaration that she had ten minutes before he came after her.

She smiled in return, and he then turned to head back into NCIS to wait for her. He waited for the elevator for several moments before he decided to beat the crowd and made his way to the stairs. He was almost to the third floor when his cell phone buzzed on his hip.

"Gibbs," he answered gruffly.

"Boss, we sent a BOLO on Andy Hunt around to the local LEOs and base security," McGee's frenetic voice came across the line. "We already got a hit from security…" The younger man paused nervously.

"Boss, Hunt came on base fifteen minutes ago."

*****

Ziva strode purposefully to the visitor's space she had parked her car earlier that afternoon. As she pulled her keys from her pocket, she heard the minute scuff of movement behind her. She did not break stride, instead continuing her path to her car while her free hand surreptitiously retrieved her cell phone from her pocket and dialed Gibbs' number. She put it on speaker before smoothly depositing it on the rear bumper of the car parked next to hers as she passed.

She moved to the back hatch of her grey four-door to remove her go-bag, but paused as she inserted the key, looking for a reflection of movement in the door's tinted rear window. Her stalker's rush almost took her by surprise as she caught sight of him at the last moment.

His attempt to body slam her into the vehicle was thwarted by her swift sidestep, but the attacker reacted much more quickly than she anticipated, managing to grab a fistful of her hair and slamming her head into the hatch, stunning her for a split second before she lashed out with a booted foot, catching her assailant in the thigh, a few scant inches from his groin. The grip on her hair slackened, but the hand itself had got tangled in the strands, keeping her head a captive for the brief moment her attacker was distracted by the pain of the blow. Then the grip tightened once more and pulled her head down to meet his rising knee.

Her cheek and nose exploded into fiery pain, and she barely noticed the hand in her hair working its way free, only to grasp her shoulder and spin her around. The man's other arm a snaked around her other side, and her keen eyes spotted the familiar glint of the knife in his hand as it came up towards her throat.

She reacted instinctively, her head snapping back to collide with her assailant's own nose as her hands came up to block the knife-wielding arm. His wrist was captured in a vice grip, and with a sharp twist, the small bones under her fingers cracked. Her free hand caught the knife as it fell from his useless fingers, then she pivoted while she maintained her grip on his wrist, fracturing both ulna and radius in one swift motion.

She held the knife in her left hand, the blade pointing away from her in modified warrior's grip. The serrated edge faced her opponent, but it was the hilt of the knife she slammed into the tender nerve just under the man's armpit. Her boot darted out as he dropped, crashing into his sternum with explosive force, followed by another rapid kick to the face. In the blink of an eye, she had swooped in and perched on the man's chest, seeing for the first time that her attacker was little more than a boy.

But that realization slipped by her with little consequence as her vision tunneled and she brought the knife up to press against his throat.

********

Gibbs sprinted towards the parking garage, listening to the sounds of the fight coming through the phone. It had been unnerving to hear so little sound—he was used to hearing Ziva's fierce shouts when she struck out, a habit resulting from years of training. Without her voice, he was uncertain of who was getting the worst of it, or how bad the damage was going to be. But it wasn't until all sound on the other end ceased that the blood froze in his veins.

Moments later, he burst out of the stairwell and into the parking garage, gun drawn.

"ZIVA!"

He quickly scanned the garage, but when he didn't see anything, he ran towards where he knew the visitor's parking to be. As soon as he rounded the corner, his gut clenched.

Ziva was kneeling on a prone figure, her right hand flat against his chest as she pinned him to the pavement. As he got closer, Gibbs saw that her left hand was curled tightly around the hilt of a knife that was digging harshly into the fragile skin of his throat. It was enough to render him immobile, but had yet to break the skin.

"Ziva," he said again, this time more calmly. He stepped forward slowly so as not to spook her. She didn't even look at him, her focus glued to the boy on the pavement. Gibbs could see the fire in her eyes, and instantly realized that she was on the edge of returning the injury Andy Hunt's father had bestowed upon her four months ago.

"Stand down, Ziva," he said. His voice was firm, but it fell on deaf ears. Gibbs knew then that approaching her as her boss was the wrong way to get through to her. "Ziva, listen to me," he said, his voice softer. "You don't want to do this." She gave no indication she was listening to him, but he pushed on regardless. "This punk isn't worth it, Ziver. Don't throw away everything for the sake of vengeance—it's not worth it." She blinked, but didn't move. Gibbs stepped closer, his gun trained on the perp. "Let go of the knife," he coaxed, taking another step close. "I've got him, he's not going anywhere."

He moved one more step closer, putting him within arm's reach of both Hunt and Ziva. He debated who to reach for first; the perp didn't seem to be going anywhere, but at the same time, Gibbs knew reaching for Ziva could push her over the edge.

Ziva made the decision for him, sliding the knife out of arms reach as she rolled off her attacker and inched away until she came to a stop a few feet away. Gibbs reacted quickly, rolling Hunt over and slapping the cuffs on his wrists, broken bone or no, as he dutifully recited Miranda. The kid didn't resist or say anything at all during the process, instead simply lying there on his front as Gibbs glanced at Ziva.

He took in the blood dripping from her nose, and the growing bruises on her forehead and cheek. She was sitting on the cold pavement, her arms wrapped loosely around her legs as she let the effects adrenaline fade.

"You okay?"he asked from where he knelt next to Hunt. She looked at him for a long moment before finally nodding in affirmation. She didn't break eye contact as her lips twisted into a tired smirk, a single eyebrow arching in a muted amusement as her fingers moved fluidly through the air. Gibbs read them, and then let out a laugh of relief.

What took you so long?