Sorry that this chapter was so long in coming. I delayed in posting it because I fear it's extremely sappy and rather out-of-character for Gibbs, but I couldn't come up with anything better. Please read my author's note at the end. Thank you!


Chapter 5
The Message

Gibbs makes a mess of his basement that night. He doesn't have a boat in progress, but he's been stocking up on supplies for his next one. He grabs the heavy wooden planks leaning against the wall, lays them across his sawhorses one by one, and cuts them down to the right length with his circular saw. But many of his edges come out rough and crooked, and he has to do them over again, which only makes him more frustrated. Gibbs usually saws through wood as straight as an arrow, and he knows his work is going wrong tonight because he's so distracted. He's not sure what he should do next. That's not a feeling he gets often, and he hates it.

He knows what he wants to do next. No question about that. He wants to catch the next plane to Tel Aviv, find Eli David, say "I told you she was off-limits," and then beat him to a bloody pulp. The idea is so appealing that Gibbs almost grabs his keys and drives to the airport. But...

Gibbs doesn't grab his keys. He grabs a plank with a splintery edge, lays it across his worktable, and begins sanding off the splinters. He works hard and fast, and he can almost understand why Ziva was punching that locker. He knows how it feels to need to take your anger out on something. Gibbs has no problem going after people who deserve it, and Eli certainly deserves it. But...

Eli David is the director of Mossad, not a Mexican drug dealer. There will be a whole different set of consequences to going after him. Still, the drive to get revenge is almost the same as what he felt when he hunted down Hernandez. Or when he shot Saleem. Or when he nearly beat the life out of Abby's stalker boyfriend. The three of them each made the same mistake. They messed with one of his daughters.

The light in his basement is dim, and the air is thick with sawdust. Gibbs rubs his face, brushing the sawdust out of his mouth and nose and eyes. But it's the thought that chokes him, that makes his breath catch in his throat. One of his daughters. Where did that come from?

But Gibbs knows where it came from, just as he knows that it's true. It's finally found its way to his head, telling his brain what his heart has known for so long - you love Ziver and Abs like they're your own. Gibbs knows too why he avoided admitting it to himself for so long, why just thinking about it rubs his skin raw. It's a risk he isn't ready to take. If he loves Ziva and Abby as much as he loved Kelly, then it would hurt just as much if he ever lost them too. And he can't go through that again. He'd just as soon put his Sig to his head and pull the trigger. That's what he would've done when Shannon and Kelly died, if he hadn't met Mike Franks.

Gibbs doesn't feel any better when he finally comes up with a solution on what to do to Eli David. He sands the plank on his table down to nothing as he tries to think of a better one, and he grips the sander so hard his hand hurts. But telling Eli that Ziva was off-limits obviously didn't work, and as much as he doesn't want to do it, Gibbs can't think of any other way to get across to Eli that he wasn't just saying it, that he meant it, that there's hell to pay for hurting his daughters.

Gibbs doesn't bother cleaning up the mess in his basement. He just flicks off the lights and heads upstairs. Fine, I'll do it... but this'll be Eli's last warning, he vows. He ever messes with Ziver again, and I won't make the same mistake I did with Hernandez and Saleem. I won't kill him quickly.

{-}

Tony notices the bandages on Ziva's hands at work the next morning. Shortly after they arrive, Ziva is pulling some case records from one of the filing cabinets, and as she walks back across the bullpen, she wonders why Tony is staring so intently at the papers in her hands. Then she realizes. He isn't staring at the papers.

Still, she's surprised when, on her way past his desk, Tony reaches out and catches hold of her wrist, stopping her. Surprised, but strangely calm. She doesn't resist when Tony brings her hand closer for a better look. She doesn't get nervous, even when his brow furrows in concern and he raises his eyes to hers and asks, "Zi, what happened to your hand?"

And even though Ziva spent the better part of an hour preparing for that question last night - thinking up a convincing lie, rehearsing her delivery of it so the guys wouldn't be suspicious - she finds she's not embarrassed to tell them the truth. She is grateful, though, that there's only her, Tony, and McGee in the bullpen to hear it.

"I got very angry last night," she says slowly. Her voice is calm, but not casual. In front of others, she might shake it off, but she doesn't want to pretend to the guys that this was nothing. "I took it out on one of the storage lockers."

McGee says nothing, but Ziva notices the telltale silence, the lack of keyboard clicks from his desk. He's stopped typing, and she knows he's looking over at her and Tony because she can feel the concern radiating from his direction.

Tony runs his thumb across the back of Ziva's hand, just grazing the bandage there. "That had to hurt," he says in a low voice. "Ducky patched you up?" His eyes flick down to her hand, then back up to her face again, and she nods. He relinquishes her wrist then, she returns to her desk, and he goes back to whatever he has up on his monitor. But Ziva can tell from Tony's face that he's still mulling over what she just said. McGee glances back and forth between them, so obviously that she can't believe he thinks they don't notice.

"Hey, Zi," Tony finally says, after a few minutes of silence, "next time, you can consider punching me instead, okay?"

There's a sly smile on his face as he says it, and even though he's making a joke of it, Ziva can hear the concern in his voice. She smiles back at him as she answers smoothly, "You should be careful, Tony. I might just take you up on that."

"Well, that offer's also good for McGee," Tony adds immediately. "You can always consider punching him, too. Right, McGee?"

"Hey!" McGee objects.

{-}

The e-mail is waiting in Eli David's inbox the next morning, and it's untraceable. The IP address and everything else about who sent it, when and where, has been erased. It wasn't that difficult to do, Gibbs discovered, after he got McGee to write down step-by-step instructions for him.

He copied the article from the NCIS database, redacting everything that he didn't want Eli to read. In fact, he probably took out more words than he left in. But he hadn't wanted to send the article at all, and it gave him a feeling of control to decide which parts to include. In the end, only the barest facts are there, just enough for Eli to understand the message Gibbs is sending him.

Pedro Hernandez, armed and dangerous... wanted for the murders of NCIS Special Agent James Wilson and two civilians, Shannon Gibbs and her daughter Kelly... Hernandez was found dead in his pick-up truck... had been shot through the truck windshield's from a distance... remains unsolved.

Gibbs doesn't say a word about it to anybody. McGee had asked him, when he was explaining what to do, why he needed to send an untraceable e-mail, but Gibbs just looked him and the questions stopped. He almost didn't send it - it was against his nature to dig up something so painful, so personal, and then send it to Eli David, of all people - but it was the best way he knew of to get his message across. The best way to say, Hey, this is what I did to the last man who hurt my family. I didn't get caught. I can do it again.

Eli seems to get the message, at least. Gibbs made Ziva promise that she would tell him if her father ever contacted her again, and she looked him in the eye and said, "I promise, Gibbs," and he knew she meant it. But Eli doesn't bother Ziva again. And the next time Gibbs is in his basement and it occurs to him again that he loves her and Abby like his own, it doesn't scare him anymore. In fact, it makes him smile.

FIN


I sincerely apologize for the long waits between updates in this story. This fic took me longer to write than any other by far. It's also received more reviews and story-alerts than anything else I've written (so far). I never expected it to be so popular. Real life has been difficult lately - which is why it took me so long to write this fic - and reading all your kind reviews was a huge comfort.

I had considered writing another chapter or two of this fic, I decided that Chapter 5 was the best ending. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I didn't want to drag the story out for too long. There's a small chance I might change my mind and write more, but if I do, it will not happen anytime soon.

So, to all of you who read, reviewed, favorited, or story-alerted this fic, thank you for being a part of this long, wild, crazy journey. Although I rarely ever post my fics there, you can also find me on LiveJournal, if you want. My LJ name is the same as my FF name. And always remember, God loves a duck! :)