First Night

a/n: This is an AU episode tag for "Dead Reflection," Season 8, Episode 21. Spoilers through the beginning of Season 7 and mild spoilers for Season 8's "Dead Reflection." Also some reference to "Freedom," Season 8, Episode 13 and "Endgame," Season 7, Episode 7.

I'd be happy to hear any of your thoughts on this, so please review if you feel so inclined!

x x x x x x x

Gibbs: I've got to get her to open up.

Ducky: Well I agree, but I'm not sure that you're the one for the job. Agent David has been through things that you and I can't even imagine. And she knows what it's like to be controlled.

Gibbs: I'm not sure I want to open up those wounds, Duck . . .

-From NCIS: Freedom

x x x x x x x

Gibbs braced the handle of the chisel against his palm and turned the blade smoothly along a tiny groove cut into the wood. An elegant blond curl followed in the tool's wake. It really was a nice chisel.

When he finished the line he leaned back and blew on the wood to scatter the debris. The pattern that he'd picked out and traced with a penknife just last week was already beginning to emerge. He braced again, about to repeat the motion, but paused.

Something felt off.

He thought back and dimly remembered hearing a motor and a car door slam. Everything had been quiet after that. He put the chisel down and stood, rolling his shoulders to ease the stiffness out of his back. Absently he brushed the worst of the shavings and wood dust from the front of his shirt and headed quietly up the stairs.

A glance out the front window revealed a familiar car parked at the curb. His eyes swept over the lawn and driveway but nothing was out of place. It wasn't until he stepped close to the window and looked to the extreme left that he saw a figure sitting on his front steps. He stood and watched for a minute, but the agent sat there like a dark statue, making no move to come into the house or return to the car.

He considered turning away, heading up to bed. It was tempting. He was tired. And he'd been doing this long enough to know he didn't have all the answers.

The few things he did know to be true weren't easy to swallow. His cold conversation just a few hours ago with Dinozzo was proof enough of that.

But he was the boss, and he damned sure did his best to be a good one. So Gibbs walked into the hallway and opened the door. The soft night air was cool and comfortable, and smelled of spring. His neighbor's hyacinth was in bloom.

Ziva instantly stood and turned to face him. She looked surprised to see him there.


He waited, but she didn't say anything else. "Ziva. What are you doing here?"

"My apologies. I did not mean to disturb you."

Again he waited. Was she going to explain what she was doing on his lawn or what? But the apology was all he got.

Gibbs looked her over carefully. She was busily smoothing a nonexistent wrinkle from her sweater. Nothing was obviously amiss, except that she was jumpy as hell.

"Something wrong?"

"No, everything is fine. I just . . . I did not expect you to be up."

Gibbs raised his eyebrows at that. It was almost 4 a.m. Neither one of them should be up. "Been a long week. You want to come in?"

She actually took a step back at that. "No, thank you. I did not – " She gestured vaguely at his dark house.

"Alright." He stepped outside, closing the door behind him, and sat down on the top step. "Have a seat," he gestured to the space next to him.

"Gibbs, I – "

She hesitated.

No surprise there. If his gut was working right . . . Gibbs was about as sure as sure could be that she didn't want any company tonight.

He didn't particularly care.

Ziva sat, finally, managing not to brush against him in the close space. She studied the house across the street as she stilled.

"Was that a test?"

"What are you doing here, Ziva?"

"Does that mean I passed?"

He didn't say anything.

The neighborhood was peaceful, but the silence between them was not. It was expectant.

She sighed. "I am not doing anything here, Gibbs. I will leave if you would like me to."

Still, he was silent. Waiting.

When she glanced at him he was looking across the lawn, not at her. But she knew he was waiting. It was part of what made him such a good interrogator. He knew when there was something more, something unsaid.

Well. She should probably just be thankful she was not often the subject of his interrogations and get on with it. She would be vague, leave as quickly as she could without embarrassing herself, and then forget this ever happened.

He broke the stillness by asking again. "What're you doing, Ziver?"

She stared at a little pool of light cast by a streetlamp, trying to figure out the least revealing thing to say. This is what their suspects did, she thought wryly, when they were trying not to incriminate themselves. She hoped she would be less transparent than the usual suspects.

Then again, Gibbs saw through most evasions. Sooner or later he always got the whole story. Actually, Ziva suspected that he often figured out the whole story much sooner than the rest of the team.

Usually that was impressive, but at the moment . . .

Maybe it would be better to be up front now, rather than suffer him finding out on his own, later. How he might do that she didn't know, but he was Gibbs. He found things out.

And he knew her well, that gave him an advantage. Ziva slumped a little as her mental calculations came to their inevitable conclusion.

She might as well tip her hand.

"You are not usually up at this hour," she said finally.

She said it so softly. The words almost seemed to slip into the dark before he could catch them. He frowned, but kept his gaze on his neighbor's shadowy hedges.

It would feel less like an interrogation if he wasn't facing her. At least he hoped it would.

"You come here often?"

She laughed. He grinned too, briefly. But the stillness, when it returned, was just as expectant.

"Not often. Sometimes," she admitted.


Gibbs shifted, uncomfortable. He didn't want to open any wounds.

He was desperate not to, if he was honest with himself. But they couldn't be left to fester, either, and apparently they were festering. Finding her in the dark on his front porch was a pretty good clue. And it wasn't her first visit.

Couldn't be much clearer if she'd been all wrapped up in a sad black bow.

What else could he do, but try to draw the poison out?

He didn't have all the answers, but he did have a few. This was one question he must know all the answers to, never mind that it was rhetorical. He'd thought about it often, after all. Been tempted more than he liked to admit to go with the easy answer. He'd made some bad mistakes that way, before he understood that there are some things you can't take back.

What else could he do?

Well, first he could call up Dinozzo to give his blessing to the Senior Agent's latest romantic adventure. The kid has been hopeful as a puppy asking for it, and looked just like a kicked puppy when Gibbs had given him an honest answer: No. No you can't have my blessing. Yes, I am a bastard. Did you forget? No, I won't bend Rule 12 for you and EJ Barrett.

Dinozzo and EJ, god almighty.

What else could he do?

He could say sure Tony, date her, have fun. Then he could kick back and listen to the tick of the emotional bomb that his senior agent was building with Barrett. Gibbs knew EJ Barrett. All too well, unfortunately. She would walk away, the bomb would explode, and Gibbs would watch it destroy Dinozzo. As if the man wasn't already cut to pieces by all the women who had walked, or been taken, out of his life.

All the king's horses and all the king's men . . . how many times could Tony be put back together again?

What else could he do?

He could stand up right now, say goodnight and go to bed. Leave Ziva sitting alone in the dark forever, as she no doubt wished he would. See ya later, Ziva.

They came to him with the questions that kept them up at night. Not because they didn't know the answers. He was sure of that. They did know. They came because they hoped he would save them from the hurt. They wanted different answers.

But he had none.

So he held his breath and ripped open wounds, and hoped for his part they would heal someday.

Not often, she'd said. Sometimes. What did that mean?

"Why come here?" he asked.

Ziva sighed, resigned to it now. It was her own fault. She'd shown up at his house in the middle of the night. He'd caught her lurking. It was the Gibbs equivalent of throwing herself in front of a train. Sure to get his undivided – one might say inescapable – attention.

"It is peaceful here. Usually," she muttered.

Gibbs waited for more. Damn him.

"When I first - " She faltered, started again. "I am restless, sometimes, at night. My apartment feels small."

Restless. Oh, he bet she was. He suddenly wanted to run. To punch something and yell. Anything, really, that would take him away from this, away from where it was going. Take them both away.

After a minute he shifted, propped his chin in his hand to keep himself quiet.

"I see them. When I close my eyes," she waved a hand. "In dreams."

Ziva cleared her throat. What had he asked her again? Oh yes. Why was she loitering on his porch. She spoke slowly, but he didn't interrupt.

"I took to driving around the city at night, when I couldn't sleep. I drove by your house sometimes. Then one night I stopped here. I was going to come in. . . I thought, perhaps . . . But I did not want –" she broke off abruptly. Regrouped.

"I never got out of the car that first night," she shrugged. "I drove away."

Her palms were suddenly sweaty and her neck felt stiff. She started to speak a little faster, just to get it over with. "And then one night I got out. I came to your door, but it was so late. Even for you. The house was dark. I thought you must have been asleep. . . . I knew your door would be open but when I tried it - then I was not sure if – if I –" she took a deep breath, "if I wanted to come in. But I did not want to go home. So I sat on the step. It . . . seemed quieter here," she trailed off lamely.

He waited.

"When I – the second time . . ." her hands fluttered in a you get the picture kind of way. "It is nice, just to sit here, so . . . " she shrugged.

Gibbs tried to wait her out, hoping she'd say what the hell that all meant, but she was silent. An eternity passed, and Ziva was a statue.

Maybe she actually thought she'd answered the question. Gibbs took a breath.

"You feel safe here?"

She didn't deny it.

Didn't agree, either. And she definitely didn't want into the house.

"Safer?" he said quietly.

She nodded and shrugged quickly, both together.

What did that mean? Was it a maybe? She came to his house and sat on the porch because this half-way space felt sort of safe?

He didn't know who else she had to talk to. He needed to know how long she'd been struggling to talk to him. He was guessing her mind had decided that he was the best equipped, at the moment, to have her six while she fought whatever ghosts were haunting her lately. Even if he had been oblivious to the situation thus far. But what had been the trigger for her to come to him? He thought over their recent cases.

"What night was that?"

She glanced at him, puzzled.

"The night you first came here?"

"What does it matter, Gibbs?"

He waited. The silence that stretched between them pulled at her like taffy. Thick, sticky, hard to escape. Finally she gave up and sighed again. It seemed louder than it should have, like it was the only sound in ages.

"It was November."

He blinked and sat forward, turning to look at her directly. "November? Five months ago?"

Damn him. Must he be so specific?

"No. The year before."

Gibbs gaped at her, then turned sharply away. As much as the step would allow. If he scared her now . . . He shook his head. He couldn't do that.

He pulled up his fiercest DI voice to shout the anger down. Pulled in his arms and gripped his knees, hard, to keep his hands from flying around. Didn't need them to look like punches in the making.

And then he just sat there and breathed, waited for the rush of emotion to fade.

He'd learned to do that in the Corps, when he was young and hot-headed and got into arguments with just about every officer he came across. It'd come in handy undercover. With his wives, too.

He didn't usually bother to restrain himself with his team, that's for damn sure. Didn't usually need to.

It took a minute, but when he finally spoke he was in total control, even able to recognize that he wasn't angry, exactly. The problem was this situation.

It was out of control, had been for a long time. And he should have realized. His normal reaction to that . . . well, it looked a lot like anger.

The year before.

"That's seventeen months ago," he said flatly. "A year-and-a-half."

Ziva just cocked her head and stared at the house across the way.

Gibbs forced himself to sit back. To unclench. It was what it was, now. Had she not talked to anyone in all that time? Had she never talked to anyone? Was that what she was saying? Was that possible?

He remembered telling Ducky she would talk when she was ready. He had assumed she'd found someone outside of NCIS, since she wasn't talking to him and he knew she wasn't talking to Duck. But they were men, and it would make sense that she would want to talk to a woman, and someone outside of work, too.

Was he just making excuses for himself?

She'd seemed to be getting along fine, on the job . . . but then, Ziva had always been able to separate her personal and professional lives to an extreme degree. She'd killed her own brother on the job, as he once so kindly pointed out.

She'd fooled him, alright. To be fair, he hadn't known she was sitting outside his house in the middle of the night, chased out of her own home by memories.

How often did she come here?

He rested his arm on the side of the step next to him and cradled his head in his hand.

"What was it that first night? The trigger?"

"Kai," she said simply.

Gibbs nodded slowly, remembering. Kai. The little Korean girl who had grown to be nothing to anyone, even herself, but a killer. Pitiless men had created Kai, controlled her, played her as they liked. Finally she had escaped them in the only ways she could imagine, with the only bit of power she had ever known. Killing, of course, and death.

I am already dead . . .

I am ready to die . . .

I had nothing but death in my heart.

Gibbs' heart sank and he cursed himself for being blind. He hadn't seen this coming because he hadn't wanted to. And that was unacceptable.

He wondered if Ziva understood how much she'd just revealed.

"What about tonight?"

Ziva shrugged and the silence returned.

He decided to cut her some slack. It wasn't as if he didn't know her triggers, most of them anyway. He could guess them at least as well as she could guess his.

"Ducky said you had bruises on your arms and around your neck. From Tunney."

"Superficial. I am fine."


The silence between them got into its own rhythm, playing out into minutes. Gibbs glanced at Ziva. She'd closed her eyes.

"I thought he was different," she finally said. "That he was apart from this life."

He frowned, thinking back over the day, the week. It came together suddenly, and he sighed. It had been a long week for everyone. "Ray?"

"He is an analyst, rarely in the field. I thought it would be different with him, but that was stupid. When did I become so stupid, Gibbs?" She laughed weakly.

It was wrong for a sound like that to come from her.

"Why stupid?" he asked softly.

"There is nothing apart from this . . . It follows me . . ."

Now it was his turn to close his eyes.

He forced them open to look at her as he spoke. She needed to believe this.

"It won't always be like that, Ziva."

She laughed genuinely now, if bitterly. The sharp sound rang out in the quiet night. "Really, Gibbs? Speaking from personal experience? Behold, the Man Who Was Healed?" She huffed. "That is - what do you call it - a hard sell."

When the silence settled again he could almost feel her bitterness falling away, her shame creeping in to take its place.

It was amazing that he'd never heard her succumb to it before. She didn't seem to have it in her to be bitter, despite the fates' best efforts. If anyone proved that you could reinvent yourself, renew yourself no matter what horrors and betrayals lay in your past, it was Ziva.

"I am sorry, Gibbs. That was – " she stood. "I will leave."

"Ziva," he just stopped himself from reaching out to grab her. "Stay."

She shook her head. "I should not be here. Thank you for sitting with me."

He'd have laughed at that, another day. Thank you, Gibbs, for interrogating me when I am vulnerable. I appreciate it.

"Where are you going?" he demanded, still not moving from the step.

She looked away.

He knew she had a thing about lying to him. Even as a liaison officer she'd avoided outright lying. Anyone else in that position would have been blasé about it.

Since Somalia she had been painfully honest. Painfully.

"I will drive for a while," she said. "I will be fine."

"How often do you come here?"

She shook her head.


"Ziva." He tried for matter-of-fact. "Have you talked to anyone."

It really was like an interrogation now. She looked numb, her eyes . . . she could have been a thousand miles away. He had seen that look from her only once before. His gut twisted and he had to turn his face away.

"I talk to many people, Gibbs."

"Don't play with me, Ziva. Have you talked to anyone about Somalia."

"You know everything that happened."

He took a steadying breath. "That's not the same."

God, now it felt like an interrogation to him, too. One of the bad ones. He flashed back to Georgia Wooten, proud and steady, a Gunny like him. Pushing pictures of her own beaten body across the table at her. Ripping open the one part of herself she kept so carefully hidden. Ripping her open.

He'd gotten her to open up, alright.

Ziva shook her head, literally leaning toward her car but unwilling to disobey him in the smallest thing, no matter the circumstance.

That was new since Somalia too.

He sighed and straightened his shoulders, studying her openly at last. He had no photographs of what had been done to Ziva. But he did, as she insisted, know "everything that happened" in Somalia.

She'd needed medical attention when they hauled her out of that compound. Immediate medical attention. Fortunately the unit they had briefly trained and traveled with was equipped with a mobile hospital. It was the only place within a thousand miles ready to pass the team's standards for both security and level of care when it came to treating Ziva.

The medics and the doctor were well-trained. But they were strangers, and they were all men. The team left her on her own in the tent for privacy, but Ziva couldn't handle that at the time. She'd become violent almost immediately.

Of course she'd hurt herself more than anyone else. She'd been too weak to walk, was barely able to stand, much less fight. So Gibbs had returned and stayed with her. He hadn't really spoken, only told her to let them help her.

He sat there as she'd been . . . examined . . . questioned . . . ripped open, essentially, by yet more strangers. Men she had no wish to know. She'd submitted to it.

But then, he'd asked her to.

He hadn't known at the time that she'd cultivated such extreme trust in him. That she likely submitted because he instructed it. It probably wouldn't have mattered if he had known. She'd needed help and he didn't regret that she got it. Still, he couldn't really wrap his mind around it, even now, and didn't want to think about it hard enough to try.

No matter that those medics meant to help, instead of hurt. She hadn't wanted to be there, obviously, and it had hurt.

It was the doctor she talked to. He'd asked her to explain her injuries and she'd followed his instructions, replying to all the painful questions with painfully honest answers.

Gibbs had held her hand and turned his face away, trying to give some illusion of privacy. She was interviewed, stripped, hastily cleaned. The doctor examined and treated her and finally, carefully, she was redressed.

His throat had ached fiercely through all of it and his head had begun to pound, as if someone was hitting it with a mallet. He'd needed to do something, but all he could do was sit there. To his own astonishment he'd cried. It was silent, but his face was wet from more than just sweat.

He couldn't remember the last time he cried in public. The girls' deaths, probably.

It wasn't something he struggled not to do after Shannon and Kelly. It just hadn't ever happened again, until that tent.

He wasn't sure that Ziva ever noticed. Once she was convinced he wasn't going to leave her alone she hadn't seemed to notice he was there at all. She'd let him hold her hand, but she hadn't shed any tears. She answered questions and obeyed instructions and looked as if she were a thousand miles away, numb to it all.

He understood, at the time, that this was how she'd survived. She'd gone away in her own mind.

It had taken three hours. And it was brutal, from start to finish.

Just the memory of it made him feel lightheaded and uncomfortable, even sitting here in the cool night, on his own porch.

Her scratchy voice, the hot tent and thick air. Gibbs sitting as still as possible, sweating into his fatigues. The doctor trying to be gentle. Ziva's hand jerking in his.

Afterwards, McGee and Dinozzo had come in to ask how she was. Her hand had pulled away from his and Gibbs sat there, silent, as she told them she was fine.

Before they'd even gotten on the plane home she'd demanded that he treat her as he always had. As if the nightmare really had been a nightmare. Just like Dinozzo, she didn't like it when he was "nice."

When he'd slipped and was too kind she screamed and said she didn't need him to hold her hand. Gibbs didn't treat her any differently after that.

But Ziva was a regular character in his dreams, now. Another woman entrusted to his care that he hadn't saved, even though she'd gotten out of there alive in the end. In his nightmares she rarely lived.

He pushed all that away and turned his thoughts back to the Ziva currently standing on his front lawn.

Knowing what had been done to her wasn't the same as talking through the wounds that still lingered in her mind.

He was ashamed of the impulse, but he really wanted to call Ducky, let him handle it. That would be useless, though. Ziva had avoided all of the doctor's careful overtures. He wanted to call Jen, suddenly. She'd have known what to say, when to step in. He'd let this get away from him . . .

But that was worse than useless. Jen was gone. Ziva had come to him. He could only pray he didn't screw this up.

You know everything that happened.

He braced himself, tried to think of a gentle way in.

"You didn't – with Ray?"

She gaped at him and he hastened to rephrase. "You didn't talk about it with Ray?"

If anything she looked at him like he was even more insane.

Fuck it, he couldn't do this by pussyfooting around, he wasn't a damned therapist. He hoped that anything he did screw up wouldn't mean a setback for Ziva.

"Were you intimate with Ray?"



He knew that she needed to talk. She couldn't get perspective on what was in her head all on her own.

If she could, she wouldn't be standing on his lawn right now. The fact that she hadn't already run for her car must mean she was finally starting to realize the same thing.

At last she nodded.

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him that I was born in Israel. I told him I was a member of the Mossad before I became an American citizen and joined NCIS."

He waited for her to go on, but she had stopped. "What else?"

She shook her head, but he couldn't believe it.

"You didn't – Ziva," he whispered.


"Tell me you told him. Something."

She didn't respond.

"Sit down."

"Gibbs, it is late - "

"Sit down."

She sat, pressing herself into the far corner of the step. Gibbs ran a hand up over his face. There was acid in his throat and in his head . . . white noise. He needed to get back to safe ground before he lost it.

"You realize you can't run from this? You need to face it or it will always follow you. The only way I know how to deal with these kinds of problems is to talk them through."

"Gibbs," hysterical, surreal laughter bubbled up in her throat. "I am not a talker. And what does that make you? A functional mute, that's what . . . Tony . . . ," she trailed off. The laughter had died away.

He waited.

"You are right," she admitted. "Ignoring it has not been . . . it has not been working, lately. Yes, I realize that."

It hadn't been working lately?

God. Gibbs wondered, briefly, if this is what Ducky felt like all the time. Duck was the one usually talking them through their troubles and Gibbs knew, theoretically, that Ziva wasn't any more stubborn than the rest of the team.

"May I ask you a question?"

He turned to her, incredulous.

"It is personal," she explained.

"Ziva," he huffed a laugh. "I'd like to see you come up with something more personal than what I've just asked you."

"But you are . . ." she waved a hand. The movement itself looked doubtful. "You are trying to help me."

"Just ask," he sighed.

"Has talking helped you?"

Well. He should have expected that. Maybe he would have, if he'd ever imagined having this conversation with Ziva in the first place. She was an intellectual just as much as she was a fighter. Ziva always did her research, and now she wanted to know if this sort of thing had worked for him.

He thought about how to answer that.

He was a very different person when he was a boy, as his father liked to remind him. He used to talk to his mother, really talk. And he'd been happy, so purely, naively happy. Even though he was young they'd talked about real things. He still missed her sometimes, still felt her presence in his mind.

He'd talked to Shannon about everything, though most of the time he didn't even need to say much. She'd understood him. He remembered being so surprised when they first fell in love. He'd never known it was possible to be so close to another person.

After he lost them no one else came close.

Gibbs wondered if Ziva had ever had a similar relationship. Gibbs was an only child, but maybe she had been close to her sister, or even Ari. Ziva never mentioned her mother, and he wasn't about to ask.

After the girls' deaths he hadn't talked to anyone at all. He'd withdrawn, gone into the field with Franks, where all they talked about was the job. Murder, violence, justice. Repeat.

Then he had disappeared into those disastrous marriages . . .

He'd thought he was rebuilding his life. He pieced together those relationships so carefully. It took a long time to understand that it had all been a sham. Marriages as deliberately crafted and ultimately false as all the boats he'd built in his basement through those years, doomed to burn before they ever touched a drop of water.

He'd tried so desperately to separate himself from the pain that had dogged him. That horrible feeling that he was adrift, alone and drowning in his own sea. In the end, his best days had been numb.

He could feel Ziva looking at him, knew he'd been silent for a long time. But he wasn't going to give a half-ass answer.

When he'd lost his memory, and lost them all over again . . . at first it was almost worse, if that was possible. He hadn't even been able to focus on revenge. That was what got him through the last time, what got him moving. But there was no one left for him to vent his rage on when he'd woken from that second coma, no one left to kill.

So he'd dropped everything and run off to the beach.

And funnily enough, he'd managed to patch himself up. He'd really talked to Franks some, down at his place, about a lot of different things. He'd started to let people in after Mexico, bit by bit. It wasn't like with Shannon, of course, but it was something. And at least it was honest.

He was more open with the team these days, and with his work in general. A little bit, anyway. He had reconnected with his father. Been more realistic with the women he dated. Hernandez, the blackest part of his past, had literally been unearthed. But his team stood by him.

It had all worked together to ease something inside. Some of the pain had been drawn away, and not just from the hole that Shannon and Kelly left. Friends he lost in the Corps, and in the field. The divorces and all of the other blows and cuts and scrapes that came with life.

He didn't necessary feel good or bad now. But he wasn't numb. The good memories were good again, and the bad – he felt free of it, finally. It still hurt. He knew it would always hurt some. But it didn't poison him like it used to.

"It has," he said slowly. "It helped. Didn't happen right away."

She studied him, searching his face for every nuance before she went back to looking at his grass.

He grinned in the face of her seriousness. Couldn't resist. "Haven't you noticed?" he teased. "I'm new and improved."

She smiled shyly, looking at him quickly and then away again. God she looked young when she did that.

"You have not remarried," she pointed out softly.

"Yeah," he said. "Exactly. Progress."

"Oh! You are okay now. To be alone?" She gazed at him steadily, her dark eyes soft.

Well, he managed not to get up and walk away. When had this become about him? He'd gone weeks without talking as much as he had in the past hour.

"It's better than before," he managed. He concentrated on keeping his ass on the step and the conversation going, and vaguely hoped he didn't sound too pissed off.

The sky hadn't lightened yet, but the birds were starting to sing.

"You ever tell me why you came here tonight, Ziva?"

"Gibbs," she sighed. "Thank you for trying to – " she waved that doubtful arm again. "To help. But I cannot do this."

"Why not?"

He could be calm, now. He already had this pegged as one of the easy parts, after that bit about Ray.

She paused for a moment, then spoke up in her usual tone. "You will not want to work with me," she said bluntly.

Fucking hell. Ducky was a saint.

Agencies had battled each other for this woman. He had fought for her, repeatedly.

Gibbs shook his head, trying to stop himself from dismissing her out of hand, but it was hard. Ziva. With a crisis of confidence. Unbelievable.

He knew his kneejerk reaction wasn't going to be real helpful here, and fought to reign it in. Her concerns were real enough to her, even if they were goddamn absurd.

"Ziva – "

"Gibbs, you are my supervisor. There are certain . . . If I said certain things, you would be obligated – " she broke off and waved the doubtful arm again. But it was slightly more encouraging now. A you fill in the blanks arm.

"Ziva, if I honestly reported everything that went on with this team we all would've been fired a thousand times over. But the brass doesn't want us to report everything. You know why?"

He continued without looking over to check whether she wanted to know why or not. "Because we're damned good at our jobs. You're damn good at your job. That's why you're on my team."

He paused, searching for the words to reassure her.

"I would never report anything that you said to me." He wondered if she was worried about information getting back to her father. "I wouldn't reveal anything you said to me in confidence, to anyone."

"But you would know," she persisted.

"Yeah? So?"

"You wouldn't want to work with me," she said.

He was close, he realized suddenly. He could feel her considering him.

Don't screw this up, Jethro.

"Look, Ziva." He sighed. "You said I know everything that happened, but you know that's not really true. The physical stuff is never the worst of it." He sought out her eyes again. "I know you're hurting."

You're human, kiddo. Didn't they ever tell you?

"I'm not going to think less of you for that," he said firmly.

She shook her head.

She didn't need to say it, he recognized it when he saw it. His eyes, his body, his hands used to say the same thing, years ago, if anyone had cared to read them. Maybe they still did, sometimes, but only for brief moments.

He started to understand, just then, how deeply he had changed. Healed, Ducky would say. It had happened so slowly, at times so painfully. He hadn't really taken a step back to see it before.

He looked out at the night. Early morning now. The sky had taken on a hint of deepest blue. It was beautiful, and he let his eyes soak it in.

"Ziva. You don't honestly think you're the only one?" he said softly.

She didn't respond. He waited, but she was quiet.

A minute later he saw her head bow into the cradle of her arms from the corner of his eye. When he turned to look at her she was shaking.

He scooted closer, slowly, until only a hairsbreadth remained between the t-shirt stretched over his shoulders and her thin sweater. He propped his right arm on his thigh and extended his open hand, letting it rest in the air just in front of her knees.

"Ziva," he said, "Okay?" She reached out to grab his right hand with her left, drawing it into her body and gripping it hard.

He squeezed back and stared at the sky as she breathed through it, silent tears dripping down onto the step between her knees. Looked like she cried just like him.

The day had bloomed to a gorgeous pale blue by the time she steadied, though the street was still deserted.

On a normal day he would already be headed into work by now.

"It was Tunney," her voice was low when she finally said it, but steady.

He turned slightly to face her. She had raised her head up to the sky, too, to watch the light bleed into the world and the dark creep away. The grip on his hand was still firm. "When he had me around the neck, it was like them. In Somalia."

"Last night . . ." She trailed off, adjusted her grip on his hand. "It was like they were there. In my apartment. In my bed. Not Tunney," she said dismissively. "The other ones. I had to get out of there."

He nodded.

She muttered an oath and appeared to glare at her car. "This is so stupid," she whispered fiercely.

She didn't say anything else for a long time.

"Why stupid?" he asked eventually.

The hand gripping his flailed a bit. "Do you know how many times I have been put in a choke hold, Gibbs? Can you imagine? Ari used to do it around the house, from the time I could walk. He thought it was a fantastic game. So did I! It must have been ten times a day. And then in training, my god, we spent our lives pinned down, or pinning others. We didn't hug at Mossad," she said scornfully. "We practiced holds. A reflex away from death all the time. Now this," she gestured with her free hand. It was more a contemptuous flick than a wave. "This Tunney has an arm around my neck for less than a second and I'm – " she jerked the arm again, indignant, "I'm a -" the arm kept going, "a wreck! There's no reason for it. It is stupid," she growled. The hand shot into the air, slapping the face of whatever hapless god had dared to give Ziva David a disobedient psyche.

Gibbs ducked his head, hiding the faint grin he couldn't hold back. This was his Ziva. First time she'd shown up tonight.

She was quiet again.

The neighborhood was starting to wake up now. A few cars passed. A child's voice called to someone, echoing down the street.

"Your mind isn't remembering Tunney, or your family," he pointed out the obvious. He knew all too well how hard it could be to see from the inside. "It's remembering Somalia."

"Yes," she nodded grimly, "And it is stupid. I should be stronger, I should be better, shouldn't I? Isn't that the point of experience? But that is a trap. A few months there has overcome years elsewhere. A few months, and they made me weak. I know they're dead. But they live inside my head."

She breathed deeply. "I can't get them out, Gibbs."

"You can. You beat Tunney," he reminded her. His mind flashed back to the big bastard looming over her and his heart skipped a beat, again.

"You're not weak. Somalia . . ." He did his own little hand gesture. All that stuff, yes it's complicated. "You haven't recovered yet. But you will, Ziva, if you work through it."

When he looked at her she was studying the house across the street again, finally revealed to them in the full light of day. She was frowning, as if doing a mental jigsaw puzzle. Maybe she was trying to imagine the Somalia piece being made to fit back into its three month slot.

He gave the hand he was holding a little shake. "You gonna wake me up next time?"

She shook her head again, disbelieving. "You really want me to wake you up every time I – " the hand wave, this time a lazy you know. "Are you going to charge the Director overtime? What will you bill it as? Probationary Head Shrinking? Gibbs' Psych-Slaps?" She yawned. "Considering the hours I keep these days you should put in for time-and-a-half."

Was that an agreement?

"Was that a yes?"

They were sitting close enough for him to feel her eye roll. "Yes, Gibbs, alright. I will . . . " she made a face, "wake you."

He relaxed, finally, thankfully.

They weren't on a rooftop. Ziva didn't have a gun in her hand. But he wondered if it wouldn't just have been a matter of time. He had seen with his own eyes what this kind of pain could do to a person. A minute shudder moved through his body and he released a long breath, letting the tension that had him wired for the last few hours shake free.

Ziva looked at him quickly, startled.

He withdrew from her space, releasing her hand and rising to his feet in one movement to step away, onto the grass.

"Well that's good, David. About sixteen months late, but nice of you to finally get with the program."

She popped to her feet at the return of his usual daytime cheer. They looked at each other for a moment, and then she smiled at him.

He let himself smile back. Then wiped it off his face theatrically.

"Think you better hurry if you want to get to work on time. Your boss is a bastard and you've got," he checked his watch. "Four minutes."

She laughed, tired but light, and spun on her heel, heading determinedly toward her car. "Yes, Gibbs."

"Have a good day, Ziva," he grinned at her retreating back.

"On it, Gibbs!" Her voice rang out clear and strong. She hopped into the Mini and gunned the motor, peeling out a second later with a little shriek of wheels and smoking tires.

Yep. Definitely his Ziva.

Gibbs stretched and yawned, shaking out his knee and turning in a lazy circle on the grass. The sun was just peaking through the leaves of the trees. It felt good.

He turned back to the house and looked at the front porch. He used to sit on those steps to keep an eye on Kelly. When she was riding her bike or playing in the front yard. He hadn't sat out here in a long time, but Ziva was right. It was a nice spot.

He climbed the few steps up to the front door slowly, eyeing them for likely places to set his clamps. His projects were smaller these days. Maybe he'd bring a few upstairs.

x x x x x x x

That day Gibbs went into work and drank enough coffee to give Ducky a heart attack.

Vance was as determined as ever to be miserable, just like he'd been every day since he got out of the hospital. Gibbs was desperate, as he'd been every day for just as long, to give his Director the head slap of the century.

McGee was brilliant, as usual, and as usual spouted enough techno crap to give Gibbs an aneurism.

Dinozzo was his right hand, as he'd been for a long time. But he also stared at Barrett and bickered with Ziva and generally made Gibbs want to shoot something. Or someone.

Ziva acted the same as she always had, steady as a rock, so he shoved the night before into hiding and treated her just the same as he always did.

He went home only slightly earlier than usual and collapsed into bed to sleep like the dead until daybreak. When he got up he felt fantastic. Nothing beat a good night's sleep. He took a quick shower and jogged downstairs only to freeze on his way to the kitchen.

There was a pound bag of coffee beans sitting in the middle of his dining room table. It was the good stuff, from the coffee place near the Navy Yard. In front of the coffee there was a white cardboard box.

He frowned, considered it suspiciously. It was the kind of box that his ex's would give him for Christmas, when they were still his wives. There were always dress shirts inside.

He approached, opened it slowly.

It wasn't a dress shirt.

He reached out to run a finger over a loop. The leather was soft and thick, studded with adjustable straps and pockets perfectly sized to hold his finer tools. He lifted it from the box and ran his hands down the length of it, admiring the weight and craftsmanship.

It was a really nice belt.

Gibbs was thoughtful as he trotted down the basement stairs to set the box and its contents on his workbench. Gifts were given at the end of something. To say thank you, or maybe to recognize an accomplishment.

But he hadn't come to the end of anything with Ziva. They'd barely scratched the surface.

She'd said she would call, admitted she couldn't handle it on her own. He knew it had been a hard thing to say. But it would be a much harder thing to actually do. He couldn't help feeling a little niggle of worry that she hadn't, really, meant it.