Disclaimer: I do not own or pretend to own any of these characters or events. I just live out their emotions on paper.

Author's Note: First ever NCIS fic. Would love feedback. Please be constructive. :D

The Face of a Father
by Dax's10thHost

I can bear it in some way

I can stand in some way

It would've hurt less if we didn't meet at all

"Take care of yourself."

The words sounded in Ziva's ears, masking the growl of the plane's idling engines. They echoed, but she couldn't comprehend. No matter the repeats the four words ran, no matter the finality their syllables carried, her tumultuous thoughts wouldn't allow them in.

"Take care of yourself"—

—and he was gone.

Ziva, her mind empty, and yet so cramped she could barely think to draw a breath, stared unseeingly at the tarmac's baked black surface. The fierce heat radiating from it backhanded her incessantly, but it roused no action from her.

She simply stood, trying. Trying to comprehend, trying to make sense of her world. Her world that, even now, was raining down about her like shards from that bloodied glass table. The table that—that—

She jerked her head up sharply, as if stung.


Stunned. Stunned by the emotional shockwaves rolling over and around her, under and into.

"Take care of yourself."

She wanted to drop the cumbersome satchel weighting her arms, to run after him and shout, "Wait!"

But she couldn't.

"That is it?" she wanted to scream above the roar of the hungry plane. " 'Take care of yourself'? Don't you have something more for me? An order? a request? a plea? Don't you love me? Am I that replaceable? Don't I mean more to you?"

All this and more she wanted to cry after him, over him, to him, but she couldn't. Her deadened limbs, limbs stiffened in the throes of suffering, refused her a final plea.

She gazed at the hulking monster ahead, watching as it swallowed its victim. Its final victim.

His tender kiss lingered on her cheek, as if to remind her of his reluctance, his unuttered plea for her to sort through it all and run after him, calling above the jet's roar that she was wrong—she could work with Tony; she really did trust him, deep down inside, away in some locked corner of her heart just waiting to swing open given the key of time.

But she couldn't. Because remnants of his gaze—the piercing empathy coloring his eyes, spilling over into the beloved, trusted lines of his face.

Unblinking, Ziva stared at the plane as its cavernous belly disappeared behind the hostile, unrelenting metal of the door and taxied down the runway, leaving behind it air laced with distrust, longing, heartache.

For a long moment she stood there, frozen to the superheated asphalt, words, emotions, and pain swirling inside her at dizzying speeds. Then, as the plane lifted from the earth, the last vestiges of her hope fractured and came crashing down, splintering into a million fragments that she could never dream of reassembling.

And with the shattering came an iron will. A will greater than the pain crushing against it. A will granting her limbs the ability to move in that expert mimicry of smart, measured action she'd become so excellent at producing.

But as she pivoted, quick-stepped, and returned to the car, she carried with her the memories of two things:

Four tender words…

"Take care of yourself"

…and one pain-wracked, but trusting, face.

The face of Special Agent Leroy Jethro—Gibbs.

The face of a father.