Apparently it has become my goal to tag every episode of Season 9...hopefully I'm not becoming repetitive and annoying in doing so. But once I stopped grinning like an idiot over the fantastic episode we were given tonight, I still couldn't put it down. I needed a little break from working inside Tony and/or Ziva's heads though, so I do hope this works!

"Agent David, do you really consider me to be in your life?"

The words are softly spoken, but they carry across to the edges of the bullpen where Gibbs leans in the shadows. They don't see him. They never see him, but tonight - as Ziva's teasing smile fades at the intensity smoldering in Tony's question - it seems the building could burn down around them without provoking the slightest acknowledgement. He waits for one of them to back down as they always do, cracking a joke in an effort to steer away from anything that smacks of real emotion.

But neither swerves, and it is only the persistent ringing of Ziva's cellphone a few seconds later that finally breaks into their little universe. Tony verbalizes Gibbs' silent NO as they simultaneously realize whose name is flashing across her caller ID.


"I mean, what should I say?"

Gibbs scowls. Call him an asshole who doesn't deserve you Ziver. Better yet, say nothing. Don't talk to the bastard ever again.

"Say hello."

Tony is a more gracious man than he at this moment.

He watches Ziva nod and give a nervous Okay. She squeezes by Tony, and Gibbs can't help but smirk as the younger man makes no effort to clear her path. As her body passes across Tony's, Gibbs can almost see the sparks igniting, and his earlier musings about the building burning down seem suddenly more appropriate.

She's moved too far away from where Gibbs stands, and he can no longer hear her quiet voice. She's staring out the dark windows, clearly unable to meet her partner's eyes during this conversation. Tony is staring determinedly at his partner's back, clearly unable to look away.

Gibbs' sigh is silent as he leans further into shadow and fights the familiar weariness that his two most volatile children elicit. It's been an agonizing, mutually self-destructive path that these two have scorched. He has wanted to slap some sense into them more times than he can count, and he's convinced that if genetics hadn't turned his hair gray many years ago, they alone would have made short work of it.

But he's seen changes too, sudden and recent glimpses of a Tony and Ziva who were separately but simultaneously making strides. Ziva, speaking softly - almost longingly - of family and children to a host of strangers from motherly refugees to pregnant Marines. Tony, standing in a lonely basement with a mason jar in one hand and a coffee cup in the other, boldly seeking permission to take the chance that Gibbs himself was too broken and cowardly to risk in three subsequent marriages.

And now - tonight - he senses that Tony's blunt question has shaken their foundation and brought them closer than ever before to the line in the sand. The line once drawn by rule 12 and now fortified on both sides with towering walls of excuses that poorly conceal twin piles of insecurity and doubt.

But close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.

Gibbs snaps out of his musings at the sound of Ziva's phone snapping closed. The conversation had been short, and several seconds pass from when the call ends to when she finally turns to meet Tony's carefully arranged expression.

"He's back." Tony states it as resigned fact; the nod she gives is redundant.

"He will be in DC tomorrow."

Tony cocks his head to the side, his gaze following her as she returns to her desk and reaches down for her bag. "Which means you can still go out for drinks with me tonight, Agent David." His voice rings with the confidence of one already knowing the answer.

Gibbs watches as she straightens up quickly at the proclamation and studies her partner. The call had provided the perfect 'out' from their earlier conversation, but he wasn't taking it. Gibbs can almost see her teetering on the line now as he watches a half-dozen emotions flickering across her face. Tony, having spent the better part of six years mastering the art of Ziva-reading, probably caught twice as many.

Gibbs can't quite get a handle on the expression she settles on, but it comes with another nod and a small smile that he recognizes as one that she reserves just for DiNozzo. "I suppose it does, Tony."

"Okay then," he says simply, grabbing his bag and striding ahead to the elevator. They really should notice Gibbs now, but Tony is studying Ziva's face again as she stares distractedly at the metal doors.

"Surround yourself with people you would give your own life for," Tony says suddenly, quietly, randomly; catching both Gibbs and Ziva off-guard. He is quoting Rule 47, a rule that Gibbs has only mentioned twice since writing it on the back of a take-out receipt nearly fifteen years ago.

Ziva doesn't know that, but the missive is clearly well-timed and well-received. "I am lucky to have such people around me every day, Tony." That he is counted amongst the select (and that Ray is not) rings out loudly across the quiet floor.

A smile tugs at the corners of Tony's mouth as he develops a slight accent. "You call it luck. I call it destiny."

She laughs then, stepping into the car as the elevator doors finally open. "Sean Connery. The Man Who Would Be King. I love that movie."

He rocks back on his heels and stares at her long enough that Ziva has to throw out a hand to keep the doors from closing. She raises an eyebrow in confusion or curiosity, but he is suddenly grinning at some inside joke that neither Gibbs nor Ziva seem to understand. "Yeah...yeah me too."

Tony steps into the elevator and glances up just then, catching a glimpse of Gibbs leaning against the bullpen wall. "Night boss!" He calls simply as the door closes.

Gibbs smirks and shakes his head. "Night kids," he says softly to himself, settling into his chair and folding his hands behind his head. Rule fifty-One...sometimes...well sometimes, he really was wrong.

Looked like there was time for maybes after all...

:) Thanks for reading, as always, and please leave your thoughts!