By Gunnery Sergeant
Sequel to "Night of Shame, Night of Joy"
Set during "Aliyah", about four months after the events of the previous story.
The Mossad HQ in Tel Aviv had been built with functionality in mind. The building was tall, imposing, but plain, with only a few concessions to aesthetics.
It was also crowded with soldiers and officers and clerks, which made it almost impossible for Gibbs to find a quiet place where to be alone with his thoughts.
The last 48 hours had been hectic and given what had happened, it would be almost a miracle if they all would leave Tel Aviv relatively unscathed by those events. He had no idea of how the relationship between Tony and Ziva would come out from this mess.
Gibbs sighed as he leant against a balustrade and looked down at the small patches of greens scattered in the inner courtyard of the building. He wasn't a man used to second guessing himself and he wasn't going to start now.
Telling DiNozzo to stay on Rivkin had been the right decision. Tony deciding to confront Ziva about the fact the signal of Tabal's laptop was coming from her apartment had not, but in the younger man's defense he hadn't expected to find Rivkin there.
Gibbs wondered where Ziva had been, since she had left the office before him, but hadn't showed up at her apartment until after Tony had arrived and he and Rivkin had fought.
In other circumstances, Gibbs would have thought he knew the reason of her silence—but not this time. Because that night, her usual reason for reticence had been home with him, chattering non-stop about his visit to the Smithsonian Museum with his class.
A small smile appeared on his worn features as he thought of his son, the boy who in the four months had had known he existed, had managed to heal Gibbs' wounded soul more than eighteen years and three ex-wives had ever done.
Binyamin Eitan Gibbs, formerly David, was an incredible child. He was smart, funny, intelligent, but most of all he possessed a heart of gold. He was the sweetest kid Gibbs had ever met, full of trust, ready to forgive, easy going, sensitive, sunny.
If not for the DNA tests proving unequivocally Ben was his and Ziva's son, he would suspect there had been some mishap at the hospital when the child had been born, because his personality was so different from his parents'. However, Gibbs was not going to complain, since he benefitted from Ben's disposition.
The first time they had met, the very night Ziva had revealed to him that he had a son, Gibbs had felt terribly awkward in Ben's presence. Despite his usual knack for dealing with children, he had found himself at loss of words. Because this had not been just any child, but his son, whose conception had happened...well, in circumstances Ben was far too young to know.
Gibbs had desperately wanted to do the right thing, to say the right words, but he had only managed to stare at the blue eyed, brown haired miracle in front of him.
And then Ben had approached him and said, in heavily accented English, "Mom says you are building a boat in the basement. Is it true? How do you plan to get it out?"
Those questions, so foreign in the somber mood of the encounter – or at least Gibbs had thought the moment should have somber and solemn – had snapped him out of his daze and he had knelt to be face to face with Ben.
"There's a way to take it out. Do you want me to show you?"
Bed had nodded eagerly and had taken without hesitation the hand his father had offered him. Together they had walked toward the basement, Gibbs shortening his strides so that Ben's limping leg wouldn't be too strained.
They had stopped atop of the stairs, and he had explained to his child how he took out the boats...
Gibbs smiled, as he remembered how wide Ben's eyes had been as he listened—and how excited his son had been just three days before, when they had moved the upper portion of the "Kelly" out of the basement and taken it to the marina, where the lower part of the hull had been stored for the past year and half.
As a matter of fact, they had been sitting on his worn couch, discussing the assembling of the "Kelly", after the SecNav had gone away, when a phone call from Ziva had alerted Gibbs of what had happened between DiNozzo and Rivkin.
Gibbs had listened to the call pulling on his best poker face, because he hadn't wanted to alarm Ben. Then he had called Ducky – the only one who knew of his son, because he was aware of the circumstances of his conception – and had asked his old friend if he could take care of the child, since he had no idea of when he could have returned.
Ducky had agreed, not only to take care of Ben during that night, but also to look after him when it was decided both Ziva and Gibbs would leave for Israel.
His cell phone chirped and brought him out of his memories and as he looked at the caller ID Gibbs saw it was Abby's lab number. He hoped she had some good news for him.
"Hey, boss. How's Tel Aviv?" McGee answered.
"Forget Tel Aviv. How's Tony? How's Ziva?" Abby's voice intruded. "Are they talking yet?"
"They're fine, Abby." Well, as much as possible given the situation. Tony had just played Eli David very well, making him admit Rivkin had working under the older man's orders while in America, but it had yet to be seen how DiNozzo would come out from all than mess. As for Ziva…Gibbs frowned when he caught a glimpse of her on one of the emergency stairs. She seemed to be looking for something—or someone.
He decided to follow her as he continued to listen to Abby's excited babbling about Israel, her voice full of her usual vitality. Sometimes, in days just like this one, when he felt each of his fifty years, he wished to have just a fraction of her energy.
"The case, Abby," he said bringing her back of track.
"McGee and I, we've been working on Rivkin's computer, and...We're doing fairly well. With a little luck, I think we'll make our 24-hour deadline."
Gibbs nodded as he kept to following Ziva, being careful not to be noticed.
"Boss," interjected McGee, "I ran the back-trace on Ziva's cell. Most of the calls check out."
"Most?" Gibbs stressed the word.
"Well, she did make one call from her car two nights ago to a highly encrypted phone, Israeli registered. Call was placed just after midnight."
"Six hours before the bombing," Gibbs commented as he finally saw where Ziva was going into a small inner courtyard. He could see that her eyes were locked on a man having a smoke there.
"Which means either Ziva really upset someone or...she was somehow involved," completed McGee, despite Abby's attempts to silence him, "I traced the Israeli phone. It's registered to-"
"Officer Amit Hadar," Gibbs answered, prompted by his gut, as he realized who the man Ziva was closing on was—fast. She looked furious, and putting away the phone, he quickened his steps, because he had no idea of what she was up to.
Gibbs arrived to the garden just in time to see Ziva hold Hadar in death grip to his neck. He approached slowly, not wanting to be seen. As he walked closer, their voices became louder and clearer.
"You tried to protect Rivkin, but in truth, you are the reason he's dead," Hadar was saying, "Rivkin killed that American agent. You knew this! And still you did not report him!"
"I called you and I told you to remove him!" Ziva exclaimed and Gibbs nodded to himself. Here there was the explanation for her late night phone call.
"Too late! By then, we could not get him out of the country. All we could do was clean up after him. And you," Hadar answered, his voice lowered as he became aware of Gibbs.
"Damn you! Do you realize my son could have been in the apartment when the gas blew it up?" Ziva almost shouted. "He could have been the one to ignite the explosion! Did you think of it?"
Hadar looked at her, then at Gibbs, making him realize the Mossad Officer was aware of who Ben's father was.
"I knew the boy wouldn't come home. There were men ready to stop him should he return unexpectedly. Here, take this," Gibbs saw Hadar pass a folded piece of paper to Ziva. "There is no one left to blame. Stop looking."
The Mossad officer walked away as Gibbs stepped closer to Ziva.
"Hadar set the fire," she said, her voice devoid of emotion.
"Covering for Rivkin."
"I was betrayed...by Mossad, by my father, by Tony," Ziva's eyes took a very cold look as she added, "Who's next? You?"
Gibbs didn't answer to her accusation, but his gaze hardened as he stared at her.
Her defiant, angry look deflated and she looked down at her shoes, as if she were ashamed by her words.
"Forgive me, Jethro," she said softly, facing him again, "I know you would never do it. If not for me, for Ben."
Gibbs nodded curtly, "Yeah."
"Have you heard from him?"
"I talked to Ducky just after our arrival, while you were with your father. He said Ben was still asleep, because yesterday evening they stayed up late playing Scrabbles." Gibbs smiled briefly, "According to Ducky, Ben won by composing a word no eleven-year-old kid should know. He didn't say what it was, but he wondered from whom our son learned it..."
Ziva smiled proudly, as her tense posture relaxed a little. "He is a resourceful boy." Then she sobered again, "I must go. My father wants to see me."
Gibbs just nodded, and watched as she walked away, until she disappeared from his sight. He knew she was hurting badly, and he longed to be able to help her, but he wasn't sure it would be possible. He was very fond of her and trusted her on the job, but the truth was he knew very little about Ziva. Oh, she talked a lot during the evenings they spent together with Ben, but she said very little about herself. He never pressed for more, given the fact he too wasn't exactly open about his past, but he wondered about her, about what had shaped her.
Gibbs rubbed his face. God, he was tired. He needed a coffee—a real one, not that dirty broth he had been served earlier.
Then after throwing a glance to the Mossad Officer who had been discretely following him since they had stepped into the building, Gibbs smirked and began to formulate a plan; because there was no way in hell security was going to stop him from finding a Starbuck's cafe.
As he shouldered his backpack, Gibbs was about to hope that would be the last time he would set a foot in Israel. But then he remembered Ben had expressed the desire to visit the country along with him, because the boy wanted to show to him all his favorite places in Haifa, and introduce him to his friends there.
Thinking of his child made Gibbs quicken his pace as he walked toward the plane waiting for them. Tony and Vance were already boarding and the sooner they left that place, the sooner they would be home.
He was about to step on the ramp when he noticed Ziva lingering, hesitant, near it.
"Plane leaves in five minutes, Ziva," he said.
"Not without us, it doesn't," she answered and Gibbs stopped walking, sensing there was something up. "I think it is best if I simply speak from the heart."
"Well, yeah, it usually is," he encouraged her, wondering what this was about.
"It's Tony. I am still not convinced that he has been entirely truthful about Michael's... Rivkin's shooting."
"He gave you his word," Gibbs reminded her gently.
"I am not sure we can work together. Perhaps it is best if...one of us gets transferred to another team."
"Transferred?" Gibbs repeated surprised. He hadn't seen it coming.
Ziva nodded almost imperceptibly. "I need to be able to trust the people that I work with. I know you, more than anyone, understand that."
Gibbs looked around as he collected his thoughts, and saw the way Eli David was looking at them. He looked like a vulture eyeing a dying animal, and he didn't like it a bit.
"Listen Ziva, this isn't the time or the place to have this conversation. We'll discuss it at home, when we're more rested."
"No. I need an answer now, Gibbs." Ziva insisted, tilting her head in a stubborn way.
"I can't give it. Not now."
"Then, perhaps it's best if I don't go back."
"What?" Gibbs exclaimed, stunned.
"I'll stay here," she clarified.
He pulled her closer by the elbow and throwing a look at Eli David he hissed, "What about Ben?"
Ziva stiffened. "You'll have good care of him." She took out a sealed envelope from her bag and showed it to him. "This is a document stating that you have now Ben's full legal custody."
Gibbs' hand almost shook as he took the envelope. "Why are you doing this? What's going on?" he asked, needing to know.
"Nothing. My father wants me back. He told me I had to choose between Mossad and NCIS, and I chose the former. But I don't want to see Ben dragged into this world too. I want him to grow up like a normal child, away from my father's scheming. He will be safe in America with you."
Gibbs was by now past being shocked. He had regained control over his emotions, and his brain was working frantically to come up with an explanation for what was going on.
"How long have you been planning this, Ziva?" he asked. "Is this the real reason you told me about Ben?"
Ziva didn't answer, just kept staring at him.
Gibbs shook his head, frustrated. "What do I tell him?"
"That I have been given an important job here. That I love him and will come to visit as soon as I can," her voice was clear, calm, showing none of the inner turmoil Gibbs thought she had to feel.
As for himself, he didn't know what else to say. She had made her decision and he knew her well enough to know she wouldn't change her mind. Thus, after giving a final look at Eli David, he bent forward and kissed her cheek.
"Take care of yourself," he murmured, before turning around and boarding the plane, as he wondered how he would give the news to Ben.
When the plane landed, Gibbs told Vance and DiNozzo he would see them the next day at the office and got into his Challenger before any of them could reply.
As he drove in the heavy traffic in the direction of Reston and Ducky's house, he thought of how best to break the news about Ziva to Ben. The child loved his Mom even if, often time, they behaved more like siblings than mother and son, perhaps because Ziva had been so young when she had him.
But whatever the relationship between them, it was going to be hard for Ben to know she had stayed in Israel, and Gibbs wondered if he would be enough to fill the void. His son seemed to love him, but there was no point in denying they had known each other for only four months and that he wasn't the warmest or most demonstrative of men.
He loved Ben with all of himself and would die for his child, but being a parent wasn't an easy task and he was still adapting at being a father again. With Kelly, everything had been so gradual. He had learned about her little by little as she grew up and her personality developed. Ben instead was another story. His personality was already defined, and he was so different from Gibbs.
Would he be able to give his son what he needed? He hoped so. Hell, he had to. Ben was too important to screw up.
When he reached the Mallard residence, Gibbs rang the door bell and made an effort to push his worries away.
Ducky opened the door and smiled upon seeing him. "Welcome back, Jethro. How was it in Israel? Is Anthony still in one piece? And Ziva? How is she?"
Gibbs didn't answer, but Ducky knew him well enough to read his silence.
"Oh, not good, huh?"
Not now, Gibbs mouthed, when he saw his friend was about to talk again, because he had just spotted Ben walking into the hallway.
"Dad!" the child exclaimed, walking as fast as he could toward him.
Gibbs couldn't suppress the twist to his heart being called "dad" always caused. It felt so damn good to hear that word again.
"Hello Ben," he answered, wrapping his arm around Ben's shoulders as his son embraced his waist, looking up at him with shining eyes and a toothy grin. "Go to gather your things and thank Ducky for his hospitality. We're going home."
Gibbs and Ducky watched Ben walk away from the hallway and reappear a few minutes later dragging a bag that was too big for him.
"What did you put in it?" Gibbs grumbled good naturedly as he shouldered it, "Bricks?"
"Just stuff," Ben shook his shoulders. "Ducky loaned me some books." He turned to face the older man and offered his hand. "Thank you for your hospitality, Doctor Mallard. I enjoyed myself a lot and I hope I will be able to visit you again soon."
"You're welcome, Binyamin," Ducky answered, shaking the offered hand, as Gibbs fought not to smile at the very formal salute. "I will keep the Scrabbles board ready for your next visit."
Ben grinned and walked toward the car and after another meaningful glance to Ducky, Gibbs followed him.
They got into the Challenger and as Ben fixed his seat belt he asked, "Is Mom waiting for us at your house?"
Gibbs' hands tightened on the steering wheel and he made the effort to relax his grip as he answered softly, "No, Ben. She's still in Israel."
"Oh." Ben was silent for a few moments, and then asked, "Why?"
"She has work to do there," Gibbs explained as he drove along Ducky's driveway.
"For Grandfather Eli?"
Ben took a worried expression. "I don't like it when she does it. She goes away for months without telling me there, and when she comes back, she is so silent...and does not laugh." He swallowed so hard Gibbs heard him. "Can't you do something, Dad? Bring her here? You are her boss."
Gibbs stopped the car and looked at the face staring at him hopefully, hating the words he had to say. "Not anymore." He saw his son's features cloud with disappointment. "She decided to stay behind, Ben. But your Mom is smart and resourceful—and she loves you. Very much. I'm sure she will return soon."
"You sure, Dad?" Ben looked at him, his eyes so full of trust in him that Gibbs' heart ached.
"Positive," he answered, hoping with all of himself to be right.