Time and Love

By DebC

Author'sNotes: Written for noveltea for fandom_stocking. Girl!Toni 'borrowed' from mediewithher blessings. Spoilers for this season's openers apply liberally. Thank you to Azar and Medie for looking it over and keeping me sane. Sane-er. Sane…ish?

******

She'd done everything she could.

Gibbs knew it. Hell, everyone in the office - everyone who knew Toni DiNozzo - *knew* it. The only one who did not seem to know it was Toni herself, and that's what was breaking Gibbs' heart.

Toni, his Toni who flirted shamelessly with (as McGee would say) anything that breathed, quoted movies faster than Bible thumpers quoted Jesus Christ, and cracked jokes about everything under the sun, had a heart of gold which very few people got to see. And she gave it damn few people without the utmost of caution, especially not after what had happened with Jeanne. She'd hid that precious gold ever since, holding it tightly because she was afraid to love again.

Not that Gibbs blamed her for that.

Love hurt.

Especially when it was unrequited. That, he understood all too well.

For over a year now, Gibbs had watched while biting his tongue to keep from discouraging her tentative steps back towards trusting someone with her heart as Toni's feelings for Ziva became more clear and noticeable. To everyone except Ziva, that is. Perhaps Toni had gotten too good at playing the role of the devil-may-care flirt, and Ziva had never gotten the chance to see past it to get to know the real Toni. But Gibbs saw past it. So did Abby. Hell, even McGee saw it.

Somehow or other, Toni had fallen in love with Ziva.

Her affections, however, were unknown or unrecognized by their recipient and therefore, ignored when Ziva took up with Michael Rivkin. Anyone else would have looked at what happened next and seen jealousy -- Toni trying to get a rival out of the way. Gibbs knew better. There wasn't a vindictive bone in all of Toni DiNozzo's body. Certainly, Toni might have feelings for Ziva, but she also had her duty to her job and to her country. Rivkin was a threat to all three, not just one. Toni had acted from there as much as from anything else.

Explaining that to Ziva, who had just lost the man she loved and whom she'd thought had loved her in return, had been more difficult that Toni had expected. Her attempts had been met with rejection, as Ziva pushed away a constant reminder of her pain. Toni was still reeling from that when the news came that the Damacles had sunk off the Horn of Africa and that Ziva David was reportedly on board.

Toni reacted much as Gibbs had expected her to - in silent denial. Ziva wasn't dead. They would find her. And then when Mossad and everyone else had given up searching, had written Ziva off as collateral damage in an ongoing conflict, it became "I will find her." And that, too, was to be expected. Even as Gibbs forbid her to keep looking, even as he threw other cases and other tasks at her - even the task of hiring someone to relace Ziva on the team - he had known she wouldn't give up until Ziva was safe at home or else a body was accounted for.

When McGee came to him with concerns that Toni would 'lose it' going it alone, he'd given the agent his blessing to help Toni "behind the Boss' back" because Gibbs knew it was what Toni needed. To be backed up by her friends. Letting McGee help her was his way of giving that help, even if he wasn't free to do it publically at the time.

Toni needed to keep digging. To right a wrong she believed she had caused. Ziva was on that ship because of her, because of her overprotective love and unwavering sense of duty. Ziva was missing and possibly in danger because of Toni. Only Toni thought that, of course, but it wasn't something you could say to her and just expect her accept and believe it. She wouldn't, not even if it was Ziva herself doing the telling.

Letting her go undercover with McGee once they finally had found Ziva was hard enough. But Toni had needed that, too. She wouldn't have accepted it if Gibbs had told her to sit tight and let anyone else handle it. She'd have followed whomever they sent and that could have been so much worse than it actually had been.

Gibbs didn't know what he would have done if anything really bad had happened to Toni. She'd been beaten, bruised, drugged, interrogated... and thankfully it hadn't progressed to rape as a method of extracting information. Surely that had crossed someone's mind; it had crossed Gibbs' mind more than once. But once they were back on U.S. soil, both Toni and McGee had been given clean bills' of health.

Physically.

But Gibbs knew that Toni wasn't going to be all right until she had finally patched things up with Ziva. Made things right between them and gotten them back on on track. Friends once again. She wanted to so badly, and only a blind man could look into Toni's eyes and not see the anguish in them every time Ziva gave her the cold shoulder. Ziva had reached out to McGee, Abby... Ducky. She'd gone to Gibbs seeking help to become a full NCIS agent. She pointedly ignored all of Toni's attempts at the simplest friendship. Toni was still a reminder of things Ziva had yet to come to terms with, which still caused her pain.

She'd done everything she could to make it right with Ziva and everything she could had not been good enough, because as much as Toni wanted to make things right and start fresh, it could only happen once Ziva was ready. Gibbs had idea how long that could take, but his heart ached to think of it, for both of them. For Ziva, who deserved a friend as loyal and caring as Toni, and for Toni, who so desperately wanted to be that person for her friend.

Toni tried act like she didn't notice, save for the kicked puppy look in her eyes. Maybe Ziva didn't noticed, because Toni always tried so hard to squelch it around her, but Gibbs sure as hell did and he hated seeing it. It meant a return of the insecure Toni DiNozzo, the one who guarded her heart and mistrusted close relationships.

Gibbs tried to tell himself he only cared because they were his team, and his team was a family. If one of them was hurting, wasn't it his job to do something about it? Right now, two of them were hurting and he was at a loss for where to begin. He could talk to Ziva, sure, but he doubted he could make her understand Toni like he did. That came with time, an open mind and an open heart. Mostly, it came with time.

He could talk to Toni... but talk wasn't what he wanted to do when he saw the confused sadness in her eyes. Talking wouldn't erase her pain and self-doubt the same way that... well, he had rules about that, now didn't he? Rules he'd broken enough times to know that once he crossed that line, it could only end badly.

Toni had had enough bad endings recently, and Gibbs couldn't do that to her again. He loved her too much to do something like that.