By Dawn's Early Light

Hey NCIS fans, are you disappointed that Gibbs missing Ziva's citizenship ceremony hasn't come up? Yeah, me too. So here's how I imagine Gibbs making it up to her, without apologizing or (I hope) breaking character. To my fellow Americans, you might even learn something about your country. :)

Not to brag, but I'm really proud of this one.

As soon as her cell phone rings on her nightstand, Ziva is wide awake; the loud ringtone jars her a deep sleep, but she's alert. She just has time to register Gibbs's name on the caller ID and the fact that it's barely light outside before flipping open her phone. "Shalom?" she says, because she'd been dreaming in Hebrew and her brain hasn't quite switched over to English yet.

"Shalom, Ziva," Gibbs answers, and Ziva wonders if she's still dreaming because Gibbs's voice sounds almost... pleasant. "Listen, I need you come meet me outside the Navy Yard. It's important."

It's important, Ziva thinks, but Gibbs is too calm for it to be an emergency over a case or a hurt team member. She briefly runs through a mental list of other reasons why he might be calling her so early, tempted to ask him, but she knows better than to question Gibbs when he gives orders. Besides, she's already gotten up out of bed. So she says simply, "On my way, Gibbs."

When Ziva arrives at the Navy Yard, she's surprised to find Gibbs standing alone outside the building. There's not another soul in sight, it's still so early. He's holding a coffee cup, as always, and... something else tucked under his arm. As Ziva approaches him, she makes out bright white stars on a deep blue field. It's an American flag, folded neatly into a triangle. Gibbs sees her looking at it, and by way of explanation, he gestures to the empty flagpole in front of the building.

"You know, the Navy Yard has a guy whose only job is to raise and low the flag every day," he tells her. "But I talked him out of raising it, just for today."

Ziva is quiet for a moment, confused. Did Gibbs call her out here at this hour just to tell her that? She remembers the case involving Mike Franks and his family last fall, when he flew to San Diego and called her in to cover at one in the morning. Is this more hazing?

"What is this about, Gibbs?" she asks, starting to feel impatient.

"I let you down, Ziver," he answers bluntly, and she's taken aback. It's the closest she's ever heard Gibbs come to apologizing, breaking his own rule. "I shoulda been at your ceremony. This is about makin' it right."

Ziva remembers how hurt she felt when Gibbs and Tony didn't show up at her citizenship ceremony, and she's touched that Gibbs wants to make it up to her. But she doesn't want Gibbs to see that, so she quickly begins, "Gibbs, you do not have to – "

"You know the photo of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima?" he asks abruptly, interrupting her.

"Yes," she answers after a pause. She doesn't know where Gibbs is going with this, but she does know the photo. She came across it while studying American history for her citizenship test: the group of soldiers stark against the sky, wrenching the heavy flagpole off the ground and into the air. "It is a very famous photo."

"Very famous," Gibbs agrees. As he talks, he takes the flag out from under his arm and starts unfolding it. "Most people know it, but most don't know the story behind it. The island had just been captured. They didn't have a pole, so they tied that flag to a piece of water pipe. So heavy it took six men to haul it up the hill and raise it. One of those men was the son of immigrants. Parents came here from French Canada. Name was Rene."

Like La Grenouille, Ziva thinks. It's strange to remember La Grenouille now – the sight of him in the cross-hairs of her rifle, the obsession in Director Shepard's eyes, the lonely nights when Tony was with Jeanne. The memories are so vivid, they could have happened yesterday, but they feel like a lifetime ago.

"'Nother one of 'em was an immigrant himself," Gibbs goes on. He holds the flag by one end and shakes it out, careful not to let it touch the ground. It catches the light breeze and flutters, its colors dazzling in the morning sun. "A Russian Jew whose family came to America when he was a boy. Passed through Ellis Island. He was killed just a few days after that photo was taken."

This hits Ziva so close that her breath hitches, and she brushes the Star of David necklace at her throat with one hand. She's surprised at how powerful it feels to know that one of the men who raised that flag was a Jewish immigrant – just like her. She smiles, but there's sadness in her eyes. She can't help thinking...

"They were among the lucky ones, then." She says it out loud without meaning to, and Gibbs looks at her questioningly. "Him and his family. They were lucky to immigrate here," she explains softly. "Most Jews in Europe tried to get out before the war but very few were actually able to." And Ziva and Gibbs both fall silent for a minute, thinking of the millions of Jews who died in ghettos and concentration camps, and of this soldier, who escaped that fate only to die in battle.

"And another one," Gibbs says, his voice sober, "was a pure-blood Native American. Member of the Pima tribe. His people were living here for centuries, before this country even was a country."

"They were Marines?" Ziva asks, but she already knows the answer. She can hear in Gibbs's voice the sense of brotherhood he feels with these men.

"Every one of 'em," Gibbs nods. He's been looking away, towards the early-morning mist over the river, but now he turns his head and looks right at Ziva. He smiles at her. "And every one of 'em was an American, no matter where they came from. That's what this country's all about."

As dawn breaks behind her, Ziva feels strange, wild joy fluttering through her chest like a bird.

"They were willing to die for this flag," Gibbs says, and he looks down at the flag in his hands, with its snow-white stars and blood-red stripes, remembering the day he joined the Marines. The day he too became willing to die for that flag. "And now... I want you to have the honor of raising it."

Ziva's heart almost aches in a mix of joy and pride and gratitude. She can't remember when she's ever felt so honored. There have been moments in her life more powerful than this one – the moment when Saleem pulled the bag off her head and she saw Tony's face – but she can barely control her emotions as Gibbs lays the flag into her hands.

And as she fastens it to the pole and pulls the rope to raise it, Ziva feels a new rush of gratitude – she's actually glad that Gibbs missed her citizenship ceremony because this flag-raising, with only the two of them, is just as meaningful. Gibbs doesn't say a word as the flag climbs above their heads into the dawn sunlight, but after it reaches the top, he leans in and kisses Ziva's cheek, and the look in his eyes as is as eloquent as anything she's ever heard.


Important Note: The Russian Jewish immigrant mentioned in this story was Sgt. Michael Strank. From my research, it appears that Sgt. Strank was born to a Jewish family and later converted to Catholicism. He was killed in action a week after the historic photo was taken and buried with Catholic rites in Arlington National Cemetery. There's a cross on his grave, but small stones have been placed on it regularly over the years, in the Jewish tradition. God bless America, and God bless all the men and women in our armed forces who protect our nation.