A/N:I don't own anything I'm not supposed to. The characters, references, some dialogue + anything else all belong to whomever. Please don't sue me - it is just for fun. The rest came out of my brain.

S8 & Ray-Jay – so some spoilers I suppose! Tony's undercover mission won't be in this. That's already attached to an idea for another, separate story; when I get around to it. Feel free to point out any errors &/or omissions along the way.

Regular readers will know I like to get all my pieces assembled, sometimes mess with time a little & that I'm a woefully slow spinner of tales.

It is all plotted out and, with a little luck, should all make sense in the end. So if you'll give me your patience I'll see if I can tell you a decent story?

Some of the cases will be from the season. The rest, as usual, are really just a backdrop. Please remember there is a very good reason I shouldn't write for a t.v. show. Here goes….

"For now we see through a glass, darkly"

1 Corinthians 13:12

September 2010

Gibbs stared grimly at the skeleton doll dangling from Ducky's hand and the one on Abby's car. Some Day of the Dead calacas can be fun and whimsical – these were decidedly sinister. A multitude of scenarios and their outcomes flashed through his mind but, before he could act, his cell rang. Paloma's voice purred threateningly in his ear.

"Derrick." He called the security guard, curt concern evident in his voice as he dialed. "McGee, trace the location of my last call."

Waiting for his Junior Agent to work his technical magic, Gibbs shepherded Abby & Ducky over to the guard. "You two go back inside. Stay with them."

As McGee gave Gibbs the ominous news, he issued a final order "Get DiNozzo. Get Ziva" – Pulling off the NCIS badge and moving quickly toward his car "Get them there, now."

"Edwards is in surgery. The doctors think he's gonna make it." Tony looked at his boss.

"Director Vance has sent Special Agent King and a counselor to see Hughes' wife." – Dropping his voice because Gibbs' father loomed in the doorway – clearly upset by the fate of his protectors.

Gibbs nodded – lost in thought and strategy – turning as Ziva came through the front door.

"The perimeter is clear, Gibbs, no sign of activity."

She held up an evidence bag. "I found one shell casing the gunmen missed or perhaps left as a signature. Special Agent Hughes was shot execution style. Close range, his…."

Ziva noticed Tony's eyes, the imperceptible nod in the direction of Gibbs Snr. and halted her usual, dispassionate report of death.

"Four agents have arrived for security." – Her tone instantly shifting to reassurance. "Should we expand the area of canvass?"

Gibbs shook his head. "No." He held his father's gaze. "They're gone."

Jackson Gibbs' brow crinkled. "Did you say the dead agent had family?"

His question was a little querulous. Although he had stoically faced down an attack by himself in Stillwater, a shooting incident the previous year had caused distress. In the lull of regrouping the shock and consequences took their toll.

"Mr. Gibbs, please would you help me make some coffee?" Ziva smiled brightly at the older man.

Well used to the aftermath of crisis, she made her appeal on the grounds that keeping someone busy was likely to keep them from dwelling on unpleasantness. Tony watched in admiration as she took Jackson Gibbs' arm, guiding him back into the kitchen – away from the grim brutality of the discussions. Then he grinned as Mike Frank's voice floated from within.

"Lady Ziva, always a pleasure." – Sounding as if he'd waited all his life for Ziva to appear in front of him. "But I'm hopin' for somethin' a little stronger than coffee." The old reprobate may have lost a finger, he hadn't lost any speed. "And you know how strong I like my coffee."

The grin slipped from Tony's face. "Ducky got one, Abby got one and so did you." He frowned. "They were here, so why not complete the hit? Why call you?"

"She's playing games." Gibbs growled. "Paloma wants me distracted; thinks I'll crack."

Tony caught a glimpse of the expression which must have formed on Gibbs' features when he looked through the scope of his M40A1. The look before his many enemy targets for the U.S. Marine Corps died; before Pedro Hernandez met boat-tailed revenge. Most recently, before Saleem's consciousness froze into astonished annihilation. It encompassed confidence, concentration and an utter absence of mercy. Tony respected their leader enormously but, at this moment, fleetingly acknowledged he wouldn't want to cross Gibbs.

"Threatening people who matter first." Gibbs raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "Told me as much in Mexico."

Tony took a seat, waiting patiently for the next set of instructions, as Gibbs called McGee again. Ziva joined them, handing her boss a mug. Gibbs grunted gratitude – in between listening to the update and informing McGee of the latest developments. Tony looked inquiringly at her.

"They are talking combat stories." Smiling, Ziva sat beside him.

The veterans of Korean and Vietnam had begun exchanging reminiscences as old warriors have a tendency to do. Illustrating that whilst theatres and weaponry may alter, some elements involved rarely change. Gibbs snapped his 'phone shut and faced them.

"Abby?" Tony asked genuinely concerned.

Their colleague was the most vulnerable. Alejandro Rivera had singled out Abby from the beginning. Moreover his veiled menaces about her safety had been the prelude for the night's events.

"McGee's with her." Gibbs confirmed the obvious counter-measure. "There's an agent with Palmer….and Ducky."

There was a curious hint in the remark that Ducky was eminently capable of defending himself. The Pathologist's background and connection with their boss always seemed straightforward – yet there was enough unknown for the team to speculate Ducky's past held more than a touch of intrigue.

"We will stay here?" Ziva assumed security for the Gibbs' residence would be their primary focus for the immediate future.

Gibbs considered his options. "No." - Grimacing at a gulp of hot liquid. "We'll handle this end."

He wanted time to think – four agents outside, he and Mike Franks inside would work for the present. Not to mention his father was fairly handy with a gun. Despite his curiosity over what plan would be set in motion, Tony correctly guessed Gibbs wasn't ready to enlighten his team. He stood and looked down at Ziva.

"I'll follow you home." As her mouth opened to express protest, he glanced across for command approval – the only way to convince Ziva.

"Paloma's not done yet." Gibbs' answer was implicit agreement with Tony's silent request for back-up.

One didn't become a highly successful entrepreneur and CEO of a thriving business – even if that commerce entailed illegal goods and smuggling – without being a worthy adversary. Gibbs despised Paloma Reynosa. However, he wouldn't underestimate her capabilities. Disrupting or harming his MCRT would be an advantage in her wider goal of expanding the supply chain within the U.S. With the added bonus that it would inflict suffering upon her nemesis.

Once Tony and Ziva had left, Gibbs pulled out his 'phone again – time for a consultation with Vance, followed by a war council.

Following Ziva was not the easiest project. She registered her annoyance at Tony's intervention by driving as though being pursued rather than escorted; apparently completing the journey without utilizing the brake pedal once. In the parking lot, she stalked over to his car.

"I am home." The irritation curbed in Gibbs' house began escaping. "You can leave."

Tony ignored the prickly dismissal. "I'm coming in." The comment was easily made but contained an edge of determination.

Science teaches us the two fundamentals hardwired into human DNA are self-preservation and pro-creation. Over the years, Tony had discovered a third; one which took precedence over these primary instincts. It was the overwhelming need to protect Ziva. He assumed the mantle of guardian against the hazards of their work or Ziva's own daring disregard for her safety. On the surface it would seem a ridiculous instinct given her formidable strengths and abilities. Tony didn't dispute her skills; deriving immense pride from them. He merely provided a cushion for such occasions when Ziva appeared on the verge of re-writing the definition of 'the ends justify the means' – in her own scary terms. And tonight several factors were bothering him.

"Tony you are over-reacting." Walking rapidly toward her building, Ziva attempted another brush off. "It would be a mistake for Paloma to target me."

He jogged and drew level with her. "Maybe….on your first point." In the dim, patchy pools of outdoor lights Ziva saw him grin. "Definitely on your second – but she doesn't know that."

"Ducky conducted the autopsy, Abby supplied the forensic expertise." - Making their way to her apartment, Ziva continued her logical analysis. "Gibbs performed the kill. They make sense for receiving threats."

"You're on Gibbs team, Zee-vah." Tony's voice was much quieter, drawing his gun, he indicated she should open the door.

Smooth, well-oiled, machinery of partnership sprang into action; the minor quarrel ceased as they entered and went room to room checking for possible assailants.

"Clear." - Holstering his gun. "Though Tim Burton's been decorating your bedroom." – Pulling a glove out of his pocket and retrieving the macabre, garish effigy from her pillow.

Tony had never been inside her bedroom. He paused for moment. Smiling at the unmade bed, trying not to imagine Ziva curled asleep - suddenly noticing the room was filled with her scent. Recognition crept into Tony's perceptions; striking awareness of having missed Ziva and how much. In retreat from the unwelcome thoughts, he wandered into the living room, holding out the evil-looking juju. In reality there was no requirement for processing the object as evidence – its origins were in no doubt.

"They must have picked the lock….for this." – Ziva's lip twitched scornfully, waving her hand at the offering. It would take a great deal more before the former Mossad operative became unnerved.

"I suppose it is my turn to follow you home?" Since she was proven right, Ziva made fun of his unfounded concerns.

Tony let the taunt pass. "Nah, ten'll get you a hundred the Corpse Bride's waiting for me too. Same at McGee's place."

Deliberately placing Paloma's warning on a table and avoiding eye contact, he cleared his throat. "But we weren't seduced…" - Hesitating because he hated articulating the notion - "By any mysterious strangers while on assignment."

This was the main focus of his worry. With the Reynosas on the rampage and their ability to extend the tentacles of the organization - seemingly at will - Tony was rattled by the new presence in Ziva's life. Naturally, it wasn't a simple area. The motivation was another facet in safe-guarding his Ninja; the anonymous desire to shield her from emotional exploitation and hurt.

"Neither was I." - Looking at him directly and neutrally cutting the subtle fishing line.

"It's just a strange coincidence, that's all." Tony invoked the team mantra; bestowing a cloak of merit for his misgivings. Meeting her eyes and giving the impression of casual observation - nothing further.

Ziva laughed. "For a man to be interested in me?"

A distinctly awkward challenge; an affirmative would be untrue and more than a little insulting. A negative skirted the hazardous territory of uncomfortable admission on Tony's part. The atmosphere took on a slightly charged ambience.

"Well that depends on whether he became interested before or after the lineless tanning session." Tony cocked his head, the joke permitting a push for information. "Zee-vah?"

"It is not important." Ziva dodged the personal question. Nevertheless, Tony's point was valid. "I can assure you that my friend…" - Emphasizing the platonic nature of the relationship – "Has no connection with the Reynosas or any other cartel."

Ray Cruz had been a pleasant diversion for the duration of her stay in Miami. Ziva was extremely circumspect in engaging with him; her character and previous events denoted caution. However, he had proved to be attentive, amicable and good company. The CIA Agent was very open; willingly helpful in offering local links for assistance with Ziva's investigation. Moreover they shared common ground in experiences and operational histories – Mossad was a familiar entity in Rays' world.

"According to McGee, our respectable liaison from the Mexican Justice Dept. started by putting the moves on Abby and he's not exactly fucking innocent now is he?" Vague nagging uncertainty prevented Tony from dropping the topic.

Ziva turned away from him with a frustrated sigh. The inquiries were somewhat justified. "Do you believe I did not consider the potential circumstances when I met him?"

"No, I guess not." Reluctantly Tony conceded. "So how much do you know about him?" – Walking over to the window and staring out as if searching the skyline for clues.

"Enough, Tony, I know enough." Impatience with his persistence sharpened her reply. "He is not involved in….this case."

Ziva didn't want to lie to Tony by suggesting Ray was completely disconnected from the sphere of law enforcement. The careful phrasing was an illustration of her aim.

Tony rolled his head from side to side. "OK."

Briefly Ziva wondered if she should reveal more about Ray in an effort to quash Tony's obvious suspicions. The I-believe-you-thousands-wouldn't tone of his response nettled her mood.

"I was working." - Defensive anger seeping into the exchange. "How do you think I obtained the drug shipment information?"

His unspoken accusation that she could have fallen for a ruse was sufficiently annoying. More importantly, Ziva was battling the renewed confusion Tony always created. Seeing him, being with him again reanimated the blend of pleasure and turmoil. If Paloma Reynosa's crew had conjured a fully functional specter in her apartment, they wouldn't have achieved this level of disturbance within Ziva's being.

Tony swung around to face her. "I don't know, Zee-vah." - Sarcastically increasing the tension. "Where did that tip originate?"

He was torn. It might be harmless - absolutely understandable - attraction which brought this man into her life. Conversely, it might be simply too convenient. Dispiriting déjà vu lurked in the corners of Tony's mind. He consciously reined in his temper.

"There's a lot of variables. I'm just saying…." The attempt for negotiated peace stalled.

What he was saying mired in practical opinion and personal disquiet. Returned to D.C. less than twenty four hours and already Ziva's spell over him had set their cauldron bubbling.

Ziva moved closer. "I know." - Smiling in conciliation, she promoted the calmer opening. "If there were any doubt, I would listen to you."

She centered the reasoning on respect for his professional expertise. "He is not deceiving me." - Studying his reaction. "I met someone and had some fun."

Thus far, Ziva would describe her contact with Ray as a promising friendship. They hadn't slept together – although Ray hadn't disguised his hopes in that direction. She viewed the new relationship almost like a vacation dalliance. Monitoring the cartel's U.S. structure and movements was a relatively dull procedure. Alone in an unfamiliar city, it had been enjoyable spending downtime with a local.

The statement did nothing to alleviate Tony's internal unease. However, Ziva had adequately answered his questions - pressing the issue would look peculiar.

"Lucky you." He grinned; reclaiming outward nonchalance. "I met an ambush in the Barrio."

Ziva's expression was transformed into surprised worry. "You did not tell me."

She was serious in her reproach. Like Tony, Ziva was also afflicted with an elemental compulsion - for protecting him.

"They missed." Tony's cavalier mask was firmly back in place. His gaze settled on an incredibly tacky miniature of the Statue of Liberty decked out as a Goth. "Besides, I didn't wanna rain on your parade."

Abby's gift was unthinkingly positioned next to the photograph of the three David children. Relaxed, cheerful faces and the little memento bookends to Ziva's existence; a snapshot of past happiness aligned with a hopeful future. As if recollection of one would aid in the search for the other. Embracing a new homeland and renouncing ties to one's Mother country – whatever the reasons - are huge steps for anyone. Ziva's citizenship ceremony held even greater significance than such rubrics do for most people.

His voice lowered, softly sincere. "I'm sorry I wasn't there, Ninja." Tony's regret was palpable.

"It was not your choice." She was disappointed by his absence. Rational acceptance of the situation had wrestled emotional understanding as to why Ziva felt that particular loss - without a clear winner.

A delicate truce had been declared. "Would you like a drink?" - Seeing that Tony was preparing for departure, Ziva seized an opportunity to prolong the meeting.

"No. Thanks." Tony shook his head. "Gibbs is gonna want us later." – Heading down the hallway, he added. "I'm only allowed to get you home, remember, not socialize with you." There was faint bitterness in the remark.

"Do not forget there will, perhaps, be a warning at your apartment." With no appropriate answer, she left his complaint hanging and disconsolately watched him leave.

After the necessary period of time had elapsed, she picked up her 'phone. Ziva's thumb hovered over the speed-dial for his number – indecision swirling through her thoughts. Finally, she settled for a text; r u ok? Four bland letters conveying the message of underlying concern. Tony's reply was a photo of a skeleton doll which he had propped up next to a glass of Scotch.

For now Tony and Ziva were limited to keeping each other safe from physical danger; reacting with the predictability of an auto-immune response. This protective instinct was driven by a subconscious fear; the prospect of life without each other. On some level both of them knew the true source of the trouble. Yet, restricted by the circumstances surrounding their interaction and paralyzed by individual demons, hiding behind deflection was an easier course. And therein lay the rub. Neither had calculated the cost of the mutual protection racket. Dissatisfaction with the present left the potential for ill-judged substitution. Their relationship was understated to the point of invisible which led, inevitably, to mistakes.

Reviews – likes and dislikes, good or bad - are awfully helpful and much appreciated. As ever, make of it what you will and hope you enjoy the read.