Sequel to "Night Of Shame, Night Of Joy" and "Promise Made"
By Gunnery Sergeant
A/N: This story assumes that you have seen "Truth and Consequences" and "Reunion" and that all scenes not specifically altered herein, occurred as they were depicted in those episodes.
The heat surrounded Gibbs. He felt it come up from the rocky soil beneath him and he felt it descend on him as the African sun shone over him.
It was still summer and the Somalian desert had no mercy for those who ventured carelessly in its territory- just like Saleem Ulman, the man who had caused the death of Ziva David.
DiNozzo, McGee and he were there to stop Ulman from killing again, to free the world from a dangerous terrorist. They were there to avenge a friend, and in behalf of a little boy who would never see his Mom again.
Officially, they were there only to gather some intelligence about Ulman's presence in the area that would allow Vance to authorize a military mission in a foreign country. In reality, they all knew the SEAL teams that were with them were already authorized to act at Gibbs' command.
The plan called for DiNozzo and McGee to be captured by the terrorists and then make sure Ulman, if he was there, would be in range of the snipers surrounding the terrorists' compound.
As for Gibbs, he had reserved for himself the role of 'guardian angel' for his men. It was his task to protect DiNozzo and McGee, and he wouldn't fail as he had with Kate. He had promised Ben they would all return home safe and sound and it was a promise he fully intended to keep.
Lying on his belly, perfectly camouflaged with the sand and the rocks around him, his sniper rifle ready to shoot, waiting patiently for their trap to spring, Gibbs allowed himself to remember the events that had led DiNozzo, McGee and himself in that forsaken place...
Gibbs looked around his seldom used dining room and nodded to himself. Everything was arranged to his liking. There were plenty of beverages, ranging from Coke to liquors and enough food to feed a small army. He had thought more was better than less, since this was the first time in too many years he was going to celebrate the Fourth of July with someone who mattered.
Not only was this Ben's first Independence Day as an American citizen, but DiNozzo, Abby, McGee and Ducky were all going to be there.
He had decided it was time to tell his team and friends about Ben.
Ziva had been gone for almost two months, and no words about her whereabouts had leaked back to NCIS. Even Leon, with his friendship with Eli David, knew nothing about her current mission or location.
This continued silence was beginning to bother Gibbs. So far he had been telling himself Ziva was probably undercover and unable to call in order not to break her cover. But still he couldn't believe she hadn't found a spare moment before the beginning of her mission to call Ben and talk a bit with him.
No, his gut was telling him something was wrong, and his recent talk with Chad Dunham about the increased Mossad presence in Africa had only strengthened that sensation.
He needed to do something about it, before Ben could see beyond the "calm and everything-is-OK" mask he wore when he was with his son—and he needed his team's help to do it, because there were things he couldn't do alone or through official channels.
The doorbell rang and Gibbs looked at his watch; his guests had arrived early and Ben had not returned from the nearby park. Well, perhaps it was for the best, because he would have the time to break the news about the boy to his friends before his son was back.
He opened the door and welcomed his guests in. Abby kissed his cheek while entering, while Tony and Tim shook his hand and Ducky – the only one who knew what was going to happen – nodded at him in approval.
Gibbs watched as the others made themselves comfortable in his living room and chatted about this and that, until Abby stared at him and asked point blank, "What is it, Gibbs?"
He pursed his lips. "Why are you asking?"
"'Cause I know you and I can see you're tense. I'm beginning to think inviting us here wasn't just a way to meet us out of the office."
Gibbs barely restrained his smirk as he looked at DiNozzo and McGee, "You think the same?"
Tony nodded, "Well...yeh. Boss, it's not like you to invite all of us here...Are you all right? I mean, you're not going to tell us you gonna move back in Mexico or that you're ill or something like that...are you?"
Gibbs shook his head as he rested his back against the cupboard and folded his arms over his chest. "As you've guessed, I invited you here 'cause I want to tell you something very important. But it's not a bad thing. Actually, from my point of view, it's the best thing that happened to me since my family was killed."
Abby and the younger men looked at him expectantly and with another nod from Ducky, Gibbs dropped the bombshell, "I have a son."
Abby squealed in delight, and rising to her feet, she crossed the room and hugged him.
"This is wonderful, Gibbs!" she exclaimed, kissing his cheek.
"Yes, Boss, this is great news," DiNozzo and McGee echoed, but Gibbs could see the perplexity on their face.
"Go sit back down," he whispered to Abby, "there is much more."
As soon as his Goth lab-rat was settled again between his agents, Gibbs said, "What I'm going to tell you now is a story only four other people know, and you must promise to never reveal it to anyone else. Back in 1997, while I was serving as agent afloat, we docked in Beirut. It was the anniversary of my wife and daughter's deaths, so I went to a bar to get drunk. Unknown to me, the place was a nest of Hezbollah terrorists, and they had just captured a girl who had been spying on them. Those bastards had decided to have some fun by having their captive raped by an American—me. They spiked my drink with a potent aphrodisiac and when it acted, they let me loose on the girl." He took a deep breath before going on, "I managed to keep my control before I did something irreparable, subdued the terrorists and escaped with the girl."
Abby clapped, "My hero! You're magic, Gibbs! You can defeat everything!"
Gibbs shook his head, "Not really, Abbs. As things went, my condition worsened after we found shelter in a hotel and, as I was told much later, the girl decided she didn't want to let me suffer..."
"You mean she...?" DiNozzo asked.
"Of course she did, dummy! Where do you think the Gibblet came from?" Abby exclaimed, punching DiNozzo's arm, and then smiled at Gibbs, "Not the most romantic of stories, Bossman, but still moving. What was her name?"
"I didn't know it until much later. She left during the night, while I was asleep. I didn't hear about it again until seven months ago, when, on the anniversary of my family's deaths and our night in Beirut, someone was waiting for me on my door steps."
Tony cringed, "That is...was...one of my worst nightmares: finding a pregnant woman on my doorsteps ...especially one seen only one night...you know, an all but stranger claiming her child is mine..." He shivered as McGee looked at him scandalized.
"Well, DiNozzo, my stranger wasn't a stranger at all. I knew her quite well. We all do."
"What?" the people sitting on the couch said in unison.
"I forgot to mention she was a young Mossad officer..."
There was a moment of silence and then Gibbs saw realization dawn on their faces. Realization and shock.
"Ziva?" DiNozzo almost squeaked, "Was she the Mossad officer?"
"Yes," Gibbs confirmed, "it was her."
"This is amazing..." Abby murmured. "And you didn't know?"
"No. I didn't – well, I still don't – remember much of that night after I was led to the room where the girl was. In fact, I've been convinced I had raped her for a very long time. Blessedly it wasn't so. But Ziva remembered and she recognized me when she first came to NCIS. However, she didn't talk to me about it or about our son till earlier this year."
A moment of silence, then McGee asked, "What's your son's name, Boss?"
"Binyamin Eitan Gibbs, but he goes by Ben," Gibbs looked at his watch. "He should be here in minutes."
"I can't wait to meet him!" Abby exclaimed, "A Gibblet and a Mini-Ziva, all in the same package! I bet he already knows how to subdue bad guys in at least ten different ways."
Gibbs smiled then sobered as he remembered something, "Just one more thing: Ben was wounded as a baby in the same terrorist attack where Ziva's sister was killed. As result he limps, but he doesn't like when people show him sympathy because of it."
"Like father, like son," DiNozzo muttered and Gibbs nodded with a smirk.
In that moment the back yard door was opened and Ben's voice called, "I am back, Dad! When your team will arrive? I want to meet them...and I want to eat!"
Gibbs watched as Abby, McGee and DiNozzo stood up as Ben's footfalls came closer. He saw them straighten their clothes as if they were about to meet the SecNav and not an eleven-year-old boy.
Ben stepped inside the living room and froze when he saw his father was not alone.
"Oops," he murmured. "I guess they are already here." The boy observed the three faces staring at him, wide-eyed, and then looking at his father, asked, "Are they always so silent?"
Gibbs laughed, echoed by Ducky. "No, they aren't. I usually have to threaten them to make them shut up."
"So is it me?"
"Cool. But I hope they will talk a bit. Otherwise today is going to be very long..."
Gibbs and Ducky laughed again, and then he took his son's hand and pulled him toward their still speechless guests. It was time to make some introductions...
Ducky had already gone home earlier that evening, when Gibbs returned to the living room after putting an exhausted Ben to bed. Abby hugged him and told him, "He's a wonderful kid, Gibbs. You must be very proud of him."
"I am, even if so far I had little involvement in his upbringing. Ziva and her mother did a hell of good job with him."
DiNozzo and McGee nodded and Tony asked, "How is he taking this lack of news from Ziva?"
Gibbs sighed. "He's putting on a brave face, but he's worried—and so am I."
"We all are, Gibbs," Abby commented with a sad expression. "I've not heard from her since May."
"We could understand her wish to have a clean cut with us," McGee interjected, "but now you say she hasn't contacted her child and-"
"-this isn't something I can see her doing," DiNozzo completed.
"Me neither," Gibbs agreed. "That's why I'm worried—and that's why we're going to find her, no matter the help, or lack of, we'll get from Vance or Mossad."
"Vance could try to stop us," McGee commented.
"He knows I'm sniffling around, and so far he hasn't hindered me," Gibbs answered. "However, I suggest you keep your searches under his radar..."
"So no tampering with his phone to listen when he talks with Eli David?" Abby teased.
Gibbs smirked. "Tamper as much as you want, just don't get caught, OK?"
"We'll start tomorrow. I already have an idea..." Abby murmured.
"Good," Gibbs approved. "As for us, we'll need to go on with our routine, and that includes keeping on looking for Ziva's replacement."
"Whom you'll send away crying or screaming insults...as usual," DiNozzo commented with a smile. "What do you say to them, Boss?" Gibbs glared at him and the younger man nodded, "I don't want to know."
Silence fell on them for a few moments, as they looked in each other's eyes, sort of sealing their deal, then Abby walked to the couch to retrieve her purse. "Time to go; I want to be extra sharp and fresh tomorrow."
"Yes, best if I go too," Tony added, picking up his light jacket.
"Yeh," echoed McGee.
Gibbs raised a hand, stopping them, "There is something else I need to tell you." They all looked at him, having heard the seriousness in his voice. "The three of you, with Ducky and Ziva, are the closest thing I've got to a family. I trust and care for all of you and I want to ask you to take care of Ben should something happen to me."
"Boss...?" McGee started, but Gibbs raised his hand again.
"I'm his only legal guardian because Ziva doesn't want her father to get near him. Jackson will step in should something happen to me, but my father is old and will need help. That's why I ask all of you – should Ziva not be here either – to help my Dad to take care of my son. There are no better people I could trust my boy to."
Gibbs looked at the two men and one woman standing in front of him, at their too bright eyes. He too was feeling a big lump in his throat at the mere thought of not being there to watch Ben become a man, but the life he led was full of risks and his son's well being was his priority.
Finally, after exchanging looks with Abby and McGee, DiNozzo spoke, his voice soft with emotion. "We're honored of your trust...Jethro...and we promise we'll take care of Ben should something happen to you and Ziva."
"We'll make sure Eli David never steps near him again," Abby continued, narrowing her eyes.
"And teach and protect him as you did with us," McGee completed.
Gibbs swallowed hard and nodded, forcing himself to smile. "Thank you, guys."
"No, Boss, thank you..." Tony murmured, before pulling a surprised Gibbs in a strong bear hug, imitated then by Abby and McGee.
In the following weeks, Gibbs and his team had thrown themselves in a flurry of activities that had culminated with Abby and McGee hacking into the Mossad's database.
They had all been so excited when they had discovered that Ziva had been sent to Somalia to track down and eliminate a terrorist called Saleem Ulman. However the excitement had transformed in horror when they had discovered that the Damocles, the Jordanian cargo ship on which Ziva was travelling to Africa had gone down in late May, with no survivors.
Gibbs still remembered the anguish he had felt when he had given the news to Ben.
He had struggled with himself for hours to decide what to tell to his son. Keep him the dark a little longer and watch him rush to pick up the phone every time it rang hoping it was Ziva, or tell him the truth and shatter all of his hopes to ever hear his Mom again?
In the end, he had chosen the latter option, because this wasn't something he could keep hidden from Ben. The boy was perceptive, he would sense Gibbs was hiding something, and he hadn't wanted to jeopardize his son's trust in him, especially not now that he was all Ben had been left.
Ben had taken the news as well as it could be expected from a child. He had cried in his father's arms as Gibbs had held him tight against his chest, rubbing his back and feeling powerless because there hadn't been anything he could have done to spare that grief to his boy.
The only thing Gibbs could have done – and had done – had been to stay near Ben as much as possible, being there for him, offering his love and support to his child.
In the weeks that had followed Gibbs had studied Ben for signs his personality might be changing as he his own had done after his mother's death, but, blessedly, it hadn't happened.
The boy had become just clingier when Gibbs was home, following him around and asking to sleep with him a few times, requests he had always granted.
As for himself, he and his team had been sort of numb for the next few weeks, as each of them had tried to cope with Ziva's death.
And then, one day, Tony had exploded and voiced what Gibbs had been thinking but hadn't said yet, taken as his as been by his concern for Ben's well-being.
"We have an obligation.Saleem Ulman's got to be stoppedbefore one more person dies."
And now, a month later, here they were, roasting in the Somalian desert to absolve to that obligation.
Gibbs tensed when DiNozzo and McGee's car came in view of the compound. His senior agent pulled up the jeep and stepped down looking around.
He watched over his agents as armed terrorists came out from the half ruined buildings and surrounded them, ready to shoot should Ulman's men make a move that would indicate they had been ordered to kill and not to take prisoners.
Gibbs winced as McGee was knocked out by a rifle butt, but the terrorist made no move to harm him further. Instead they dragged both him and DiNozzo inside the building he and the SEALS commander had correctly identified as their HQ.
Gibbs exchanged a few words with Major Dunbar as they witnessed to the scene. All the windows and rooms of the building were within the range of a sniper, but if his gut was right – and it usually was – DiNozzo and McGee would be led in the room in his range.
His gut was proved right a few minutes later when, using the sight of his rifle, he saw his agents being pulled or dragged into the room. DiNozzo was tied to chair, with his back toward the window and Gibbs, while McGee was unceremoniously dumped on the floor. The younger agent was still, but his chest rose and fell regularly.
Gibbs prepared himself for another long wait, as he silently blessed his decision to never completely stop to keep honed his sniper skills. He trained once a month, every month, along the still active snipers of the Marines' base in Quantico, keeping himself sharp and always up to date with the new techniques, although he had remained faithful to his old rifle.
The wait turned out not to be as long as he had feared and Gibbs inwardly cheered when a young man he recognized as Saleem Ulman stepped into the room where DiNozzo and McGee were.
"Target acquired," he said in the radio.
"Roger," Dunbar answered. "We're ready to act on your command, Gibbs."
Gibbs followed Ulman's progress into the room, his finger on the trigger, ready to pull it with a second notice, but he wasn't able to take a clean shot.
The terrorist kept away from the window and so far into the room Gibbs couldn't risk a shoot, not with Tony in the way.
He watched trough the rifle sight as Ulman interrogated DiNozzo, unwilling to think – or worry about – what the younger man had been injected with. Worry wasn't a luxury he couldn't afford at the moment. He had to stay completely focused, even blocking out the noises that echoed in the valley where the compound was located.
"They spotted one of my men near the south border of our perimeter," Dunbar alerted him. "It won't take long before the news arrives here. Do you still have the target, Gibbs?"
"Yes, I have," he answered, only to swear when Ulman disappeared again from his range and left the room.
The terrorist returned shortly after, dragging with him another prisoner, whose head was covered by a hood.
Gibbs was about to pull the trigger and start the attack, when Ulman pulled away the hood from the captive head and Ziva's battered, exhausted face was revealed.
"Ziva," he whispered, drinking in the awareness she was still alive for just a moment, before returning to concentrate on his target that – damn him! – had left the room once again.
"They're getting ready to move," Dunbar said in the radio.
"Major, one of my agents, one we thought was dead, is a prisoner too. Our first task is to bring all my people out of there alive."
"Roger, Agent Gibbs. My men are in position, and the choppers are closing in. We're just waiting your word."
"You'll get it soon," Gibbs answered as, down in inside the cell, Ulman had returned, only to be knocked off his feet by McGee. It was an uneven fight, a bound man against a free, armed one, and he feared for his agent's life.
But then Ulman stepped away from McGee and returned near Ziva and Tony, brandishing a knife.
They were all on the edge of a precipice. Gibbs needed to kill Ulman now. If just that damned man would come in range…
…And then, just like that, he was.
Gibbs didn't hesitate.
He pulled the trigger, aiming to Ulman's temple.
He held his breath for the seconds that took the bullet to reach its target and let it out when Ulman dropped dead on the floor.
"Go!" Gibbs said in the radio and, as the SEALS began their offensive, he stayed where he was, looking over his agents as they worked to free themselves. He shot down another terrorist and then, when DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva, left the room, he stood up and ran as fast as never before down the hill where his jeep was hidden.
The engine started at the first try and driving at breakneck speed, a speed that would get him killed if he ever dared to drive like that in DC, he quickly reached the compound.
He jumped down the jeep even before it completely stopped moving and ran toward the main building, not minding the battle going on around him. His agents were it his priority. He had to bring all of them back home. He had promised it to both Abby and Ben. Of course his son had first made Gibbs promise he would return home safe and sound, when he had left the boy with Jackson in Stillwater, and it was a promise he fully intended to keep.
Gibbs stepped inside the building and immediately shot a terrorist that, at the end of the hallway, was aiming his rifle toward another target, possibly DiNozzo and the others.
He stood there, rifle ready to shoot as he heard footfall come closer, and then lowered it when he saw his people turning the corner. They looked a bit worse for wear, but they were all OK, walking on their own legs.
There was a moment of silence as they all basked in their reunion and the knowledge their plan had been more than successful, and then Gibbs said simply, "Let's go home." He saw Tony, Ziva and Tim smile at his words and he too grinned, already picturing Ben's toothy smile when he would see his Mom again.
As soon as their plane landed, Gibbs opened his cell phone and called his father's store.
Jackson answered at the first ring, "General Store."
"It's me, Dad."
"Leroy! Are you back, son?"
"Yes, I am. We just landed. We're all fine."
"Thanks God. Do you want to speak with Ben? He's at the park, playing with Ed Gantry's grandkid. Can you imagine it?" Jackson gave a snort. "I can go and call him if you want."
"Nah, let him play. Just call me when he is back."
"All right. Take care, Leroy."
Gibbs put away the cell phone and turned to face Ziva, who was standing nearby.
"Ben is at the park, playing," he told her.
She just nodded.
"Do you want to talk with him when he calls me?" he offered, although he felt this wasn't the kind of conversation to have at the phone.
Ziva's eyes widened. "No. Not yet. I…I don't want him to hear me like this. I want to be more like myself when I see him. I don't wish to worry him…"
Gibbs nodded, approvingly. Ziva had been medicated on the plane, but her wounds, those that no one could see, were very deep, and it would take her time to heal from them. God only knew what she had endured in Ulman's hands. She had been very silent on the planet and he had been concerned when she had show no reaction when he had talked to her about Ben, telling her he was fine, but anguished by her death.
Now, her reaction made Gibbs breath a little easier. Ziva still had a lot of road to cover in front of her, but he would be there to help her, and he was ready to bet that holding Ben again in her arms would do wonders on her wounded spirit.
"Boss?" DiNozzo's voice intruded in his thoughts.
"There is a car here, to take us to the Navy Yard. Vance wants to see us."
Gibbs nodded. "Let's go then," he said, indicating Ziva should precede him. She looked at him, and he smiled reassuringly.
He knew there was much left unsaid between them, but now wasn't the moment to voice it.
There would be plenty of time to talk later.
A week later, Gibbs was getting tired to wait for Ziva to come around, not in a professional way, but in the personal way.
Gibbs had been willing to wait for Ziva to pull herself together before meeting their son, but time was getting short. School was about to begin, and Ben needed to return to DC.
So the previous evening he had called Ziva at the Navy lodge where she was staying and arranged a meeting with her for that early morning—a meeting she was late for.
But then he heard the floorboard creak over his head and there she was, walking down the stairs.
Ziva looked much better than the last time he had seen her. Her skin had lost its pallor and it looked like she had started to put on some weight.
"Hello, Gibbs," she said, stepping in the basement and walking toward him. "Your door was open."
"Usually is," he answered, observing her.
"I, uh, apologize for being late. The navy lodge I am staying at ran a surprise drill this morning, so I just...It's not important," her voice trailed off.
"How are you?" he asked.
"I am fine... Gibbs. That is what I wish to speak to you about, among other things. First of all, I...wanted to say thank you. Which hardly seems sufficient. Considering so, I-I just called, um..." she handed him something wrapped in soft leather, her expression nervous.
He unfolded the leather and looked at the item inside it. "It's an old buck mortise chisel," he commented, admiring the fine tool.
"That is not for rescuing me," Ziva said, sounding a little less nervous than before. "That is for leaving me in Israel. You're probably wondering, perhaps I rigged it to explode..."
"No. I was thinking this is a really nice chisel."
"When, uh...you left me in Israel, I...I felt betrayed. But I...I had a long time to think about things. A very, very, very long time. And you were right to leave me there."
"I didn't leave you," Gibbs answered, "You decided to stay behind, when I refused to discuss your or DiNozzo's future on that tarmac."
"Yes, I know, I decided to stay behind, but I felt betrayed all the same. But the point is I now know my request was unreasonable- and all because I had forgotten who I could trust. But now I remember. I know who I can trust. We were a team, and I would like that again."
Gibbs frowned. He had called her to talk about Ben, not about the job. In fact, if he had to be completely honest with himself, he wasn't sure he wanted Ziva back on his team.
Vance's words still weighted on his heart, "Ari was out of control. So, Ziva's father sent her to eliminate him. She kills Ari, earns your trust. Two birds, one bullet."
He had trusted Ziva. Her sacrifice - killing her brother to save him – had touched him deeply, and it had been a blow to hear it had been a planned, calculated move. A lie.
Ziva had been right in Israel, he knew he needed to trust the people he worked with and that his trust never came easily.
Would he be ever able to trust her again as he used to?
"You need to talk to the director," Gibbs said, needing more time to find his answer before dealing with her.
"It is your blessing I came for," Ziva pressed, but before he could reply, his cell phone rang.
Saved by the bell, he thought sarcastically as he took the call. "Yeah. DiNozzo, what have you got?"
He listened intently, the closed the phone.
"Triple homicide," he said to Ziva in lieu of explanation as he walked quickly toward the stairs. "You need to talk to Leon Vance," he repeated. "I already told him to expect you. And he's not the only one you need to talk to." He completed, before leaving the room, not sparing her another glance.
He had a job to do, and Ziva and his doubts about her would have had to wait.
Gibbs left DiNozzo and McGee to deal with the paperwork connected to Elena Marcus' arrest and rushed home. He had called her earlier that day and told her to come to visit him at 18.00 because they had to talk about her reinstatement and he was already late.
As he drove toward his house, Gibbs remembered his conversation with Vance the previous day.
"I got something for you to sign. Ziva's reinstatement," the director had said handing him a folder.
"She passed her first psych eval?"
"She didn't fail. Let's put it that way. Saleem's men put a world of hurt on her, but I think she's viable."
"What's Eli David think?"
"I got some details to work out. Not gonna try if you don't want her. Or were you hoping that I couldn't work out the details so you wouldn't even have to make that call?" Vance had insinuated, catching the shadow of doubt in Gibbs' eyes, or perhaps remembering what he had said to him months before.
"I already told you, Leon. We need Ziva." And it was true, they needed Ziva; because not one of the agents they had tried during the summer could even come close to fill her shoes.
She was smart – she had demonstrated it in this case too, suggesting an idea McGee and DiNozzo hadn't thought of – skilled and resourceful. She knew how Gibbs liked to work and how not to irritate him. She was able to put up with DiNozzo's "childish, juvenile annoying attitude" as Filmore, the agent that had lasted slightly longer in the team, could not. She had also mended her friendship with Tony and her relationship with McGee was very good too.
Yes, they needed her. But needing and having were not the same thing.
Could he trust her again to have her back in the team? Could he trust her to have his six without always wondering if she was loyal and to whom or if she was completely sincere or questioning her motives.
"Yeah, I remember. Well, that should make it easy for you," Vance had completed with a smile before walking away, but as he pulled up in his driveway, Gibbs found making a decision wasn't easy at all.
He entered the house and walked straight to the basement, because he knew she would be waiting for him there.
"We need to talk," Ziva greeted him as he stepped into the room.
He retrieved a chair for her and told her to sit down as he did the same on a sawhorse.
Ziva obeyed, sat in front of him and began to talk, using her hands to underline her words. "When I came to see you and said I wanted back... You said it was the director's call. But I sensed your hesitation. I sense it now." She stood up and began pacing, as he never stopped looking at her face. "Even though I...Thought I made myself clear. I understand what you did in Israel-"
"Your brother Ari," Gibbs interrupted her, because what he did or didn't in Israel was not the reason they were having that conversation.
Ziva was taken aback by the sudden change of topic, but recovered quickly. "You know what happened that night. It was here."
"I want to hear it from you," Gibbs whispered. "You had orders to kill your brother to earn my trust."
Please, tell me it wasn't so, Ziva he thought, but her answer wasn't the one he hoped to hear.
"Yes," she said after a long pause. Short, straight to the point and so cynical.
"That's a problem," he replied.
"You don't understand-"
"You're damn right I don't understand!" he interrupted her, standing up and raising his voice, his anger and pain stirred. What kind of woman she was? Killing her own blood to earn the trust of a stranger?
"When I volunteered for that mission-"
"Your killed your own brother, Ziva!" he interrupted her again, all but shouting into her face.
"It was because I hoped my father was wrong about Ari," Ziva continued quickly, not missing a beat, and her voice got more impassioned as she talked. "And I did not want someone else blindly following orders. I volunteered to protect him, Gibbs."
"You lied to me," Gibbs accused her, remembering how strongly she had argued about her brother's innocence.
"No, when I told you Ari was innocent, I believed it," Ziva answered, looking straight into his eyes. "But, yes. I would've lied to you. He was my brother and you were nothing." She paused for a moment, and then went on, "But I was wrong about Ari. And you. When I pulled the trigger to save your life, I was not following orders." Her voice wavered, as she tried, and failed, to silence a sob. "I mean, how could you even think? ... He was my brother."
Gibbs just stared at her too bright eyes, trying to read the truth in them as she continued in a broken voice.
"And now he is gone. Eli is all but dead to me. And the closest thing I have...to a father...is accusing me."
Gibbs listened to her words, steeling himself not to show any emotion.
He wasn't completely comfortable with her calling him "the closest thing I have to father" because, even if he didn't actually remembered it, they had had sex together and conceived a son, and fathers didn't do that with their daughters.
Even if he had no idea of how he could define what he felt for Ziva, he was sure it wasn't paternal affection. That was reserved for Ben and, in a certain way, toward Abby.
What he felt for Ziva escaped every kind of definition, aside the fact she was the mother of his son and that gave her a special place in his heart, if only out of gratitude for the incredible gift she had given him when she had told him about Ben.
And now, hearing her emotion-filled words, he realized the past was no longer a problem and that he trusted her again…perhaps he had never really stopped trusting her.
"Okay," he said simply, sitting back on the sawhorse. Then he smiled and added, "Welcome back, Ziver."
He watched as a broad smile slowly blossomed on her face. "Thank you, Jethro. It's good to be back."
They looked at each other for a while, then he broke the silence. "It's time we go pick up Ben in Stillwater."
Ziva nodded eagerly, her eyes now shining with tears of joy. "Yes, it is. I cannot wait to see him again."
Gibbs grinned at her enthusiasm; already savoring the joy Ben would feel when he saw his Mom. Then he sobered again as he asked, "Ziva, do you want to go back to shared custody?"
She shook her head. "No, let's things as they are. Should something happen to me, Eli could use that leverage to fight for Ben's custody and I can't risk it."
"Okay," Gibbs repeated soothingly, not wanting to upset her. He had noticed that Ziva had again called her father by his given name, and he wondered what the damned man had done to her, besides not moving a finger to go and rescue her.
"Listen," he continued after a while, "I was wondering if you would like to live here with Ben and me while you look out for another place. There is no need to stay at the Navy lodge. There is plenty of room here, and I'm sure Ben would love it."
Ziva smiled brightly. "It's a wonderful idea. I would like very much to stay here."
Gibbs smiled too. "Good. Come on, let's go upstairs, it's time I show you this house has other rooms beside the basement, living room and kitchen …"
Two days later Gibbs turned the car into his street. Ben had been chattering non-stop with Jackson during their trip from the station, and his ears were almost begging for some quiet.
Gibbs took a mental note to avoid being in such close quarters with his son and father again, but he knew he wouldn't keep faith to it. It was so nice to have all his family here, together.
Coming to DC by train instead of having Gibbs drive to Stillwater had been Jackson's idea. He hadn't seen the city in twenty years, and he also wished to visit the NCIS Head Quarters and meet Abby, Tony and McGee again.
Gibbs had approved the intended trip, looking forward to having Jack near to share Ben's happiness when the boy would see his Mom.
He turned into his driveway and pulled up the car. Ben immediately opened the door and jumped down.
"I need to pee, Dad! I will return soon to pick my bag!" the child exclaimed.
"Go on, door is open," Gibbs replied, getting out of the car, as Jackson did the same. He opened the trunk and began to pull out the many bags they had carried from Stillwater.
"As usual," Ben muttered, as he entered into the house.
Gibbs watched his son as he disappeared inside, then put down the bags and walked behind him, taking extra care not to make any noise as he stopped on the threshold and peeked inside.
"What are you doing, Leroy?" Jackson asked, perplexed.
Gibbs put a finger over his lips. "Shh, I want to listen to his reaction when he sees his surprise."
"Surprise? What did you buy him? I know he wants a pony, but I hope you haven't bought one and put it in your backyard!" Jackson grumbled.
"Shh, Dad!" Gibbs hissed. "It isn't anything you can buy. Remember when I told you about the mission in Somalia? That we were going there to eliminate the terrorist that had caused Ziva's death?"
"Well, our task kinda changed along the way." He paused hoping that his father would agree with his and Ziva's decisions, "It became a rescue mission."
"And who did you rescue?"
Gibbs just stared fixedly at his father and watched as realization dawned on his lined face, "You mean the surprise is-"
Jackson never completed the line because Ben's voice coming from inside the house silenced him.
"IMA!" the boy called atop of his lungs, and Gibbs and his father exchanged big, perhaps even silly grins, as they heard Ben run across the floor, "Mom!"
Jackson looked at his son with moist eyes. "It's a hell of surprise, Leroy, and not just for Ben."
"Yeh, it is," Gibbs simply said.
Father and son stood silently on the threshold, giving some time alone to Ziva and Ben. Then, when they thought they had waited enough, they stepped inside the house, joining the others.
Ben was talking in Hebrew with Ziva as the two men stepped into the living room, but he let her go as soon as he saw Gibbs, and rushed to embrace him.
"Thank you, Dad, thank you for bringing Mom back," he whispered, pressing his face against Gibbs' chest as he hugged him hard.
Gibbs just smiled and returned the hug, burying his nose in his son's silky hair as both Ziva and Jackson watched them.
And it was there, in that room, surrounded by the love of his family that Leroy Jethro Gibbs felt at peace for the first time in too many years. He had kept his promise to his team to exact revenge for Ziva's capture. He had kept his promise to his son and had come back safely. Most importantly he had been able to bring Ziva back so that their son could have a mother. Jethro Gibbs felt that he had kept the promises of his heart.
A/N: This story was completed before "The Inside Man" and "Good Cop, Bad Cop" were aired, thus all the stuff about Ziva becoming a NCIS agent and what happened on the Damocles isn't addressed here. I'm not sure, at this point, if I'll write more stories in this AU, but if I do, I'll certainly deal with these matters too.