A/N: I don't write many episode tags for various and sundry reasons, but I was attacked by a plot bunny after this week's "Safe Harbor" ending and it wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it down. (Of course, the little rascal was being cheered on by Gosgirl & Bamacrush, so I'm pretty sure I didn't stand a chance. :D) I refuse to believe there is any truth to the last two lines of this episode; feel free to join me here on the Island of deNial. ^_^ Oh, look - Gosgirl and Bamacrush are already here, and I'm sure the other members of my Zibbs gang are, too. *waves madly in welcome* Feel free to give a shout-out in your review. :o)

This one is dedicated to all of us who have the urge to stick our fingers in our ears and sing, "I can't hearrrrrrr you!" when confronted with the "f" word (as in the "Reunion" episode) and the "k" word (as in this week's episode) where Ziva and Gibbs are concerned.

This tag is also unique in that I never write and post without obsessively editing in between…but I can now (nervously!) no longer say that.

For those of you following "Brewed Awakenings," the next update should be up pretty soon. =)

Enjoy - and I would really love to hear what you think!

"Are you lonely, Gibbs?"

Ziva's question rang in his ears as Gibbs stood all alone in his basement. He'd been home a little over an hour after closing this last case that had involved working with the Coast Guard again. He'd showered off the day, but had been too restless to sleep, despite the late hour. He'd dressed in sweats and a long-sleeved black t-shirt and went back downstairs.

There would be no book and cup of tea tonight; this edginess called for bourbon and his basement. He found himself drinking his second favorite beverage from a recently-emptied mason jar while staring at a large block of wood on his workbench, trying to decide what it would become. He was unusually indecisive.

The thought even crossed his mind that he hadn't built a boat in a while and that maybe he should pick up a supply of lumber and start another one. All he knew for sure is that he wanted the soothing release that came to him from working with his hands. Usually, if he listened, the wood would speak to him. Tonight, though, that was eluding him.

Tonight all he could hear was Ziva's voice.

Agent Borin had been the first to pose the question directly to him, but it hadn't been hard for him to tell her no and shut that conversation down. When Ziva asked it, though … now that was another matter altogether.

"Are you lonely, Gibbs?"

Yeah, sometimes he was. But all he'd done in response to her question was give her one of his enigmatic smiles, kiss her on the forehead with a fatherly comment and wish her goodnight, striding off to the elevator before he said something he couldn't take back.

Her tone had had that almost sultry quality to it that never failed to send his hormones racing whenever it crept into her voice. He was sure she had no idea – and was fairly certain she'd run the other way if she ever discovered his reaction. He qualified it with "fairly" because … well, sometimes he thought he caught a glimpse of longing in her expressive brown eyes directed toward him when she thought he wasn't looking. Then, her Mossad mask would slip over her face so quickly that he would tell himself he'd just been indulging in wishful thinking.

Despite all the reasons he gave himself for why a relationship with Ziva would never work – his rules, the fact that he was her boss, their age difference – in the deepest part of his heart, he wanted it, yearned for it … knew that it would be the only thing that would completely fill the lonely place inside of him.

Yet, he was just as certain that it wasn't meant to be.

He didn't hear his front door open or her footsteps, but suddenly he sensed her presence. He turned to find the subject of his thoughts at the bottom of his basement stairs, one hand on the railing, her eyes unreadable. It never ceased to amaze him that she was the one person on earth who could sneak up on him.

He went still inside, trying to seal up the fissure in his resolve that had been created by her question in the bullpen, but looking at her wasn't helping. She, too, had clearly gone home, showered and changed. Her hair was down and still slightly damp, the curls she hadn't straightened falling softly around her face. She had on well-worn jeans that clung to her trim figure. Those were paired with a simple royal blue top with three-quarter sleeves and a wide neckline that hung down off one shoulder, leaving it bare. His throat went dry at the sight of her and he had to swallow before he could speak.

"Ziver," he acknowledged her presence.

A fleeting ghost of a smile crossed her face.

"Gibbs," she mimicked his tone, the glimmer in her eyes mocking him teasingly.

His characteristic half-smile tugged at his lips in spite of himself.

"You okay?" he asked, turning back to his workbench to pick up the jar that was passing for a glass, only to find he'd already drained the bourbon inside. He reached for the bottle and poured another finger's worth of the dark amber liquid. He partially turned back to Ziva, raising the bottle in silent question. She gave him a nod of assent.

He scrounged up a mug he'd left sitting around the workbench at some point, eyeballing it to see if it looked clean enough to offer to her. With an inner shrug, he decided it was at least as clean as a mason jar emptied of its contents would be. As he poured her a drink, she spoke.

"Actually, that is what I came to ask you."

He looked at her quizzically as she tucked her hands in the back pockets of her jeans and strolled toward him. He couldn't help but notice that the position of her arms thrust her breasts against the thin material of her shirt.

When he didn't say anything, she elaborated.

"You never quite answered my question earlier tonight."

She wasn't really going to push him on this was she? was all he could think as he held out the mug to her. Both of them were very aware of the brush of their fingers as she accepted it from him, though, true to form, neither said a word.

She looked at him over the rim of the cup as she took her first sip, silently willing him to answer her now. She leaned her low back casually against the workbench, almost too close, yet not close enough at the same time.

He looked at her for a long minute before turning his profile to her, rubbing his hands over the block of wood still sitting in front of him, seeking some sort of comfort.

"You don't need to worry about me, Ziver," he deflected in a typical non-answer.

"But I do," she admitted quietly, looking him in the eye as he turned his head back toward her at her words. "We all do."

She wondered if it was a trick of the muted light or if she'd really seen a flicker of disappointment in his eyes when she'd included the others, but he turned back toward the wood before she could be sure.

"Fathers worry about their kids," he said almost gruffly. "Not the other way around."

"I cannot speak for Tony or McGee," Ziva responded quietly, "but, just to be clear, I do not worry about you as one would be concerned for a parent because I do not think of you in that way."

How do you think of me? practically reverberated in the air, but he didn't ask it and she didn't volunteer an answer.

He wondered what her reaction would be if he admitted that he didn't actually have a fatherly bone in his body for her, that he just included her in that description of his relationship to his team out of self-preservation.

"You keep ducking my questions," she observed, interrupting his thoughts. She waited a heartbeat. "Let me try again. Are you lonely, Gibbs?"

"I could ask you the same thing," he challenged, side-stepping her question once more.

"So ask me," she responded softly.

He froze.

Almost against his will, he did.

"Are you lonely, Ziva?"

"Sometimes," she answered, her eyes on the drink in her hand.

"Often," she amended after a moment of silence, "except when I am with –"

She paused again, this one somehow meaningful. "… the team."

"What about Ray?" he asked, before he could stop the words from leaving his mouth.

"That is over," she informed him.

Her tone left no room for doubt in that statement. He was so surprised by her answer that his eyes flew to hers. Once again, hers had become unreadable.

"Does he know that?" Gibbs asked, masking just how much he wanted her to say yes.

She nodded.

It was his turn to will her silently to continue.

"He hid something from me," she explained quietly, "something important. He is still hiding something big; I can feel it. I do not want to be with someone I cannot trust … not even just to stop the loneliness for a while."

Her words hung in the air for a moment.

Perhaps feeling a little too exposed, she added wryly, "Besides, it is hard to actually feel with someone when you are rarely in the same city – or even the same country."

He nodded once to the side in affirmation, in that way he had of acknowledging a point.

"Your turn," she nudged him, looking at him as she took another drink of bourbon.

He took a deep swig of his own, allowing the welcome fire to slide down his throat, before he answered.

"Doesn't matter if I am or not," he finally revealed. "Nothing's gonna change."

"What makes you so sure?" she asked curiously, her brow lightly wrinkled in confusion.

Maybe it was the bourbon or maybe the late hour that loosened his tongue … or maybe it was just that Ziva had always been the one who intuitively understood him best, the one who could slip in under his guard.

"Because what I want," he admitted slowly, quietly, "I can't have."

This time his words hung suspended in the air between them.

She huffed out a rueful sound that was meant to be a light chuckle, but failed miserably.

"What do you know? I find myself in the same position," she shared, tossing back the last of her bourbon.

"And," she continued on a breath that she let out heavily, "I should probably go."

She sat her mug down on the work table with careful but resolute finality and pushed off the edge, avoiding his eyes. "Goodnight ... Gibbs."

"Should go?" he asked, stopping her in her tracks, her back to him. "Or want to?"

She was silent for so long, that he began to think she wasn't going to answer. She didn't move, though, and he was drawn toward her. He stepped close enough that she could feel his body heat reaching for her, tugging at her. She closed her eyes against the sensations of want, excitement, need that always rolled through her when he was in such close proximity.

"Should," she whispered, some unseen force freezing her in place.

"Why?" he asked, bending his head and almost brushing his nose against her hair, inhaling the scent that was uniquely her.

Her head dropped forward so that her long dark locks hid most of her face. Her hands clenched reflexively.

She shook her head, silently communicating that she couldn't give him an answer. Or wouldn't.

"Tell me, Ziver," he murmured, his lips grazing her ear as he spoke.

She would never know why she answered, but she did.

"Because what I want is someone like you," she whispered in a voice he had to strain to hear.

Something in him shifted … broke free. His heart thumped in his chest as his longing for her pushed him further – pushed them both.

"Like me?" he asked in a smoky voice that sent shivers skittering down her spine, his hands coming to rest on her slim hips. Her stomach flopped and heat pooled at her core. "Or me?"

She swayed unconsciously back against him, then pulled herself rigid once more.

"You should be careful what you ask, Jethro," Ziva answered with an edge to her voice. "You might get an answer you do not want to hear."

"Or, might get the one I want," he pointed out in an even tone that gave nothing away of the emotions surging through him. Emboldened by her use of his first name, he scooped her hair from the left side of her neck and rested it on her right shoulder, baring more of her to him. Her left shoulder was already exposed by the fit of her top and he couldn't help but gently place his lips right at that sweet spot where her neck and shoulder met.

His kiss was as light as a butterfly's wing, but she felt it like an electrical current had shocked her. From his current position, he could see the pulse at the base of her throat fluttering wildly.

For a moment, she couldn't breathe. Her mind was spinning at the hint that her feelings for this man might be returned. The wall she normally kept around those emotions crashed and burned. Without that barrier and weary of feeling so utterly alone at times, she answered him honestly.


Suddenly she found herself being spun around to face him. She had a moment to catch the satisfaction and the hunger in his eyes before his mouth came down on hers, then every thought left her head.

He wasn't timid in this first kiss; in the space of a heartbeat, neither was she. He claimed her mouth and she curled her arms around his neck, eagerly kissing him back. His tongue slipped into her mouth in welcome invasion and she responded in kind. Their bodies molded against each other, a perfect fit.

At last they came up for air. She tucked her forehead into his throat, sighing into him. It felt incredible to be wrapped in his arms as though he'd never let her go. All he could think was how unbelievably right she felt there.

"I have this urge to ask you if I am dreaming," she breathed into his neck, her heart still pounding. It thrilled her to feel his beating just as hard and fast.

"If you are, then we're having the same dream," he answered, resting his cheek against her hair. She felt him grin just before he added, "And don't wake us up 'cause it's a really good one."

Her light laugh communicated her delight and he chuckled along with her.

"So," he began almost conversationally, "you figured out what – who - I want yet?"

"Well, that kiss would suggest it is me," she replied somewhat shakily, not letting go of him in the least, "but my head says that cannot be possible."

He ran his hands up and down her back. Angling his head, he pressed a kiss to her brow.

"Why not?" he asked, slightly amused.

"Your rules," she responded. "And my hair is the wrong color."

She sounded so completely serious that he just barely kept his grin in check at her second reason.

"Rule 12 worries me some," he admitted, "but your hair is the perfect color."

He buried both his hands in it and tilted her face up to his. "And I love it when you wear it down."

His gravelly voice and the desire that burned like a brilliant blue fire in his eyes made her breath catch in her throat.

"In fact," he husked, bringing his mouth to within a breath of hers, "I love everything about you."

Then his mouth was on hers again and she was pretty sure she'd died and gone to heaven. When they finally parted to take in some air, their lips barely separated. Another kiss followed, and another … softer, warmer, yet somehow even deeper.

When they pulled apart at last, lips softly clinging, she whispered, "I love everything about you, too."

Then, she opened her eyes and looked straight into his. Grabbing her courage with both hands, she confessed, "I am in love with you, Jethro. I have been, for a very long time."

The most beautiful smile she'd ever seen slowly curved his lips and put adorable crinkles at the outer corners of his eyes.

"In love with you, too, Ziver," he husked. He would never forget the happiness that lit up her face at his admission.

Her arms squeezed tightly around his throat, a joyful noise escaping her throat. He hugged her back, lifting her feet off the floor. His lips found their way to her throat and the sound of pleasure she made ramped up his desire for her even further.

"Stay with me tonight?" he asked softly, his lips never leaving her skin.

She pulled her head back to look at him, all the love she felt for him shining in her brown eyes. She cupped his cheek in her hand, smoothing a thumb across his cheek.

"There is nowhere else I would rather be," she assured him, her voice husky with emotion.

Their smiling lips came together again in a kiss that began warm and soft and affectionate, then morphed into hungry and needy and fraught with desire.

When they could pull back, he kept her close and led her upstairs by the hand, pausing at his front door to lock it for the first time in years. His unmistakable message that the rest of the world could stay outside for a while earned him another kiss that had his pulse galloping and his head filled with nothing but her.

His arm around her shoulders, hers curved around his waist, they made their way to Jethro's bedroom, where they spent the night losing themselves in each other. It was a night of revelation and connection, of glorious release and unparalleled emotions, of promises made and secrets shared.

And Gibbs discovered that nothing had the power to settle his restlessness and soothe his demons like making love with Ziva, not even his usual trifecta of basement, bourbon and a boat.

Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin figuring out how to make this work for the long haul, but one thing was already radiantly clear to them both: their lonely days were behind them. For good.

The End