Many, many thanks to Amilyn, who is essential in helping me turn nonsense into something. Thanks to all of your for the perpetual favorites and review and love and good stuff.

. . . .

Seems every castle is made of sand.

The great destroyer sleeps in every man.

-Gillian Welch, "Silver Dagger."

Gibbs nudged the stroller against the wall and waited for Tony to get his candy and soda from the hallway vending machine. He'd been summoned by a text message while Sara was with her therapist. The session had been difficult, and now she catnapped under the long sunshade with her green blanket draped over her head.

DiNozzo looked worried. Grizzled, even. He badly needed a shave, a haircut, and—judging by the slightly fetid odor emanating from his clothes—a shower. "You sure you're ok with this, Boss?" he asked. He tore the corner off the candy package with his teeth and spat the slip of plastic into a trashcan. "The nurses took off the compression bandages but she still looks pretty bad."

Gibbs pulled back the visor. Sara pulled her blanket down and peered up with red-rimmed eyes. "I know you're tired," he said gently. "But Ziva really wants to see you. Are you ok with that?"

Sara nodded and bunched the blanket around her face. "M'not scared," she said from inside the fabric.

"It's ok if you are."

She put the blanket aside. "M'not. M'not scared of seeing Zeeba."

He looked back up at Tony and shrugged. "Guess we're ok with it. She awake?"

"Doc just finished. Let me make sure she's still up for it." He slipped into the darkened room and then his voice filtered out though the door as he pre

Gibbs knelt before his daughter and put both hands on her legs. "Sweet pea," he said firmly. "Ziva isn't feeling well. She might be sick, or sad, and her face doesn't look like it usually does. She has some broken bones and she's dizzy. She can't talk, either, so we have to be very gentle and patient. Can we trust you to do that?"

Sara gave her father a hardened look and he got a glimpse into her huffing, eye-rolling teenage years. "Yes, Daddy," she grumbled. "I know. Zeeba got hurt by her daddy. She can't see too good."

"That's right, sweet pea. That's why we're going to be very gentle and calm."

She hooked her fingers over the top of her cast and gave him a withering, grey-green glance. "I be'd in a hospital before."

Tony poked his head out. "Come on in, guys. She's ready for you."

Gibbs lifted Sara out of the stroller and carried her in. Ziva was propped on a dozen pillows, good eye closed against the shaft of hallway fluorescence. A patch was taped over her left eye and her head was still swaddled in gauze.

"They're going to repair her eardrum tomorrow morning," Tony explained, motioning toward the bandages. "Her ear canal will be packed with gauze for six weeks afterward. Make sure you're standing in front of her if you want her to hear what you're saying—she needs to see your mouth move to understand. It's temporary, though. She'll heal fast."

He doubted that. "Hey, Ziver," he said, taking her small, undamaged hand. She blinked up at him, momentarily confused. "Got someone here to see you."

"Hi," Sara piped. "Hi, Zeeba. We sleep at your house. I miss you."

Ziva patted Sara's leg and then the bed. Gibbs waited for Tony to approve before lowering her to the mattress. She threw one arm over Ziva's and sighed.

"You feel bad?" Sara asked tenderly.

"Yes," Tony supplied. "She feels pretty bad."

"I know," she continued. "I know you feel bad. But it's ok. There's Tony and Daddy and me and Abby and everyone to take care of you. And Ducky. And Jimmy Palmer. I took a ride on Jimmy's shirt and now Daddy carries me on his shirt." She softened and rubbed her hand over the scab on Ziva's arm; the extra IV port had been removed. "I know you feel bad," she said again. "Your daddy was mean to hurt you."

Ziva broke down, crying silent, desperate tears against the scratchy hospital pillowcase.

Tony adjusted the oxygen tent beneath her chin. "Slow breaths, Zi."

She pointed at ok scrawled on her message board and closed her eye.

Sara put her thumb in her mouth and hummed, wiggling her toes and stroking Ziva's arm. "S'ok, Zeeba," she slurred in sing-song. "S'ok. S'ok, Zeeba. S'ok."

Ziva drifted off, only to startle awake again when a nurse barged in. "You need to sit up," she urged, businesslike. "And we need to see if you can handle swallowing blended food. You can't leave until you're eating."

Gibbs scooped Sara away. Ziva eased herself up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She pointed at the in-room recliner.

"Yeah," the nurse acknowledged. She removed the oxygen tent and her tone hardened. "But don't you stand up before someone's got you."

Gibbs glanced at her wrist. A yellow band indicated she was a fall risk. Tony moved to her good side, threaded his arm behind her back, and put his hand on her hip. It took the four shuffling steps to get to the chair and then a long descent to get her seated. She exhaled and a pillow was shoved between her broken ribs and the arm.

"Chest tube is out," the nurse informed them. "So is the Foley. If she can swallow we'll send her home tomorrow after her tympanoplasty."

Gibbs smiled and reached out to stroke her hair, but Tony pushed his hand away. "Don't touch her head," he snapped. "She's hurting. Shoulders, arms, hands—all fine. Nothing higher."

He nodded, oddly indignant. "Doing ok, Ziver?" She gave a tiny shrug. "We're going to your place when they cut you loose." he reminded gently. He'd told her before but her recall was poor and he doubted she could remember. "Palmer and McGee and I cleaned out my house. It's going on the market Monday morning."

She motioned for her white board and pointed at yes. He guessed that meant she was ok with his decision.

You stay with me? she wrote.

"Until you're ok to be on your own."

She patted Sara's leg and then the empty space on the seat beside her. The nurse shook her head. "No, Ziva. Little ones are pretty wriggly. I wouldn't want her to hurt you."

Gibbs lifted the hem of Sara's dress to show off her cast. "This one doesn't," he said easily.

Her cheeks reddened. "Oh, I'm so sorry. With her dress and those funny tights I didn't even notice."

He gave her a small smile. "Can I put her down?"

"Yes. Let me get another pillow. Ziva, you tell me right away if something hurts. I'm going to grab your lunch order and we'll work on getting it down, ok?"


Sara put a hand on Ziva's leg and began to croon again. "S'ok, Zeeba," she sang. S'ok, s'ok. Zeeba is ok. Ziva relaxed, sinking further into the pillows, and Tony gave Gibbs a small smile.

"Buglet's got some good juju, Boss. Zi hasn't been that calm since…well, not in a long time."

He nodded and paced, arranging the flower vases into a perfect line on the windowsill. Tony's guilt was obvious and all consuming. Gibbs swallowed a sigh—he knew how that felt. It would be a long time before either of them slept through the night.

The nurse clamored back in. She pinned a drape around Ziva's neck and held up a wide-bore syringe and a thin tube. "This is how you'll eat until the oral surgeon adjusts your splint. The end of this tube goes all the way back in your cheek—I'll guide it, just sit tight—and when you're ready I'll push a little bit of this soup. It's very bland, but you can make your own stuff at home. Feel free to be creative. I had a patient who found a way to blend tacos while he was wired shut."

She paled.

"Don't knock it," she quipped. "You'll get tired of soup in a hurry."

She gave Gibbs and Tony an imploring look that meant don't you dare liquefy anything without my approval.

Sara took up crooning again, patting Ziva's leg in time with her little song. S'ok, Zeeba, you're ok.

The nurse had to smile. "You're a sweet little thing, aren't you?"

"Yes," Sara agreed sincerely.

There was laughter, but everyone grew serious again when the syringe was attached to the tube. "You might have some trouble swallowing around the appliance. We'll go very slowly."

Ziva pointed at yes, but recoiled the minute the mixture hit the back of her throat.

"Weird, huh?"

She pointed at yes again and wiped her mouth with a gauze pad.

Gibbs took it from her and ran his fingers down her arm. Her hand was swollen under the splint. "Take it easy," he said gently. "And I think this is too tight."

Ziva hadn't heard him. She flapped a hand at the syringe. Again, it meant, but she coughed and pulled back a second time.

Sara peered up at her face. "Slurp, Zeeba. Slurp like—" she made a loud gulping noise. Ziva followed suit with a sound of her own and the blended broth began to disappear.

Tony gave a nervous smile. "There ya go, sweet cheeks," he praised.

She pulled away when the soup was halfway gone and waved her hand again, indicating no more.

Tony jumped up. "Is it ok that she only took half? Do you like it, Zi? Should we try something else?"

"She is done," Sara said tartly. "She doesn't want any more."

"A hundred and fifty ccs is a good start," the nurse said absently, adding notes to Ziva's computerized chart. "She can get back in bed."

"Don't make her do more," Sara warned, one finger pointed at Tony's face.

"I won't, Bug," he replied distractedly. He took Ziva's hand and ducked his head to get her attention. "Back in bed?"

She pointed at Yes and stood when he took her elbow. He scooted her back onto the mattress and tucked Sara in next to her, draping the green blanket over both of them. Ziva sighed, Sara sighed, and then they were both dozing, hands intertwined.

Tony sat in the abandoned recliner. "Looks like the Bug has taken it upon herself to be Ziva's spokesperson."

Gibbs shrugged and stared out the window. Low clouds meant snow. He'd have to buy Sara a winter coat. Maybe they already had one; he'd have to check the storage unit. "She's paying it forward," he finally said.

Tony nodded, but seemed unsettled, even anxious. "You think she's going to be ok, Boss?"

"Yeah," he answered noncommittally. He didn't have a clue, really. "Gonna take a while."

He nodded again. "Is Sara psychic?" he blurted suddenly. "She just…knows stuff. Weirds me out. And it happens all the time, especially with Ziva."

Gibbs scoffed aloud. "You gotta be kidding me, DiNozzo."

"She knows stuff, Boss. She knew Zi was going to get hurt, she knew Almsolino had been killed, and I think she knew David was coming for her."


"Explain it, then," he ordered, running a hand through his hair. He wouldn't look away from Ziva's face. "Explain how she knew about Almsolino after her surgery, because she sure as hell wasn't watching ZNN in the OR. Explain why she was so adamant that Ziva didn't go running on that morning Murphy and his crew were out looking for her."

"She was throwing a tantrum because she wanted something she couldn't have. My kid isn't a fortuneteller. She's a little girl with developmental delays and a nasty genetic disease. You want psychics? Call a hotline. And go home. Shower. Eat. You look like hell."

"I'm not leaving."

Gibbs softened and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'll keep watch. Go."

Tony shook his head. "I'm not leaving," he replied simply. "I'm not leaving this building unless it's with Ziva."

He jabbed the button and the nurse came quickly. "Tony needs a set of scrubs," he solicited. "And some soap. He needs a shower."

She smiled. "I was wondering when you were going to ask. I'll be back in a second. Are Ziva and the little one comfortable?"

Tony stared at the bed's occupants with a little wonderment. He gave his most charming trademark smile but there was a definite sharpness in his green eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Just don't move them. I don't know who would throw the bigger tantrum."

. . . .

Abby let herself into Ziva's condo at a little after seven. Gibbs had dusted and vacuumed while Sara took her afternoon nap, then had her help direct him in creating clear paths between the kitchen, living room, and master bedroom.

"Looks good," Abby complimented quietly. Her eyes were still a bit watery, but Tim came in before Gibbs could ask about it. He was carrying a stack of plastic food storage containers, each containing watery goo.

"Blended potato soup, blended vegetable soup, and blended chicken soup," he explained nervously. "More in the car." He left again, keys jingling in his pocket.

Abby wrung her hands. "I stopped by the hospital after you left. Ziva was still asleep. She looks better but…"

He grimaced and poured whole milk into a sip-cup. "I know. We'll get her through it."

She wasn't appeased. "I read about Jewish death and mourning rituals. I think she'll want to sit shiva for her father."

Anger wrapped icy fingers around his gut. He almost slammed the refrigerator door. "He tried to kill her, Abs."

"He was an awful human being. He abused his family, abused his position, abused his country but…but he was still her dad, Gibbs. She still loved him. She needs to grieve. It's not for him; it's for her." She paused to swallow. He could feel her eyes on his face. "So there are a few things we need to do-cover the mirrors, prepare food. I don't think her broken ribs will let her sit on a low bench, so the couch will have to work." She paced the small living area, stacking Ziva's many novels and placing them strategically at the corner of the end table. "And one thing the website kept stressing was not to speak to a mourner—they're too distraught to make small talk or entertain idle gossip or pleasantries. Let her address us first."

Gibbs smirked mirthlessly. "Ziva talk first? Tell me when she can do that. I'll be putting my kid to bed."

Sara grinned at him from the beanbag on the guest room floor and held her arms up. His heart rate slowed as he breathed in the scent of her lavender soap and clean pajamas. "Hi, baby," he cooed. "Are you going to have a good night?"

She gulped milk and studied his face, blinking in the low lamplight. "Dunno," she admitted.

"Should you go in Daddy's bed?"

She nodded, still drinking.

"Ok. You can sleep in the big bed. Can I put you back in the beanbag to get the pillows ready?"

She shook her head. "No. You hold me."

"Ok. I'll hold you, then." He kissed her head. "You did such a nice job at the hospital today. I liked how gentle you were."

"Yeah," she slurred. "We take care of her."

"We will," he agreed. "We all will."

"She is sad. Her daddy died."

Yes. Eli was dead. Gibbs had killed him. He'd climbed atop the arrivals monitors, lined up the shot, waited, and taken it. Eli had fallen directly on Ziva, breaking her wrist and sending the jagged edges of her broken ribs into her pleural cavity. He'd heard her gasping for air in the silence after the shot had been fired.

"Her daddy died," he echoed softly.

"He hurted her," Sara asserted. "He hurted her face and she sees blurs. And he hurted her ear. And he hurted her head. And her back."

"Her back?"

"Mm hmm." She was falling asleep fast. "With his belt. Mur'Wolcott."

"Mr. Wolcott is gone," he whispered. "Your daddy is here. Sleep, sweet pea." He put the empty cup on the nightstand and wiped a few drops of milk from her lower lip. She pressed her face against the front of his shirt, dark curls a heavy thatch over her face, and sighed a soft, baby-sigh.

"I love you, sweet girl," he whispered. Sara didn't respond, but her fingers curled around a fistful of his shirt. He swayed on the edge of the bed, swallowing tears. He'd awoken that morning and known that leaving would be a mistake, but he'd ignored the familiar rolling and churning, the fire in his esophagus, the ache somewhere in his chest; Eli was dirty, but never in a million years did Gibbs think he'd fly halfway across the globe to beat the living daylights out of his adult daughter.

Daughters. Such complicated things. Sara could run hot and cold, but she loved her family fiercely. Maybe she had known, he mused silently. Maybe those morning tantrums meant they weren't safe, and he needed to stay home and protect them. She was growing heavy in his arms. He peered down at her face. "Were you trying to tell me something, baby?" he asked softly.

Sara slept, breathing softly, still clutching a swatch of his shirt. He worked it from her hand and laid her in the bed. He fussed, propping her with pillows and rolled towels, until he was certain she was comfortable. "Goodnight," he whispered. "I'll be in soon."

Tim was arranging the contents of the fridge. Each dish of soup had been labeled with contents, amount, date of preparation, and possible allergens. Gibbs retrieved a can of club soda.

"The soups are all vegan," Tim said urgently, Adam's apple bobbing in his pale throat. "I wasn't sure if gluten or dairy were appropriate for Ziva, given the medications she's bound to be on. I researched the modified Herbst appliance the oral surgeon prescribed. It's bonded to her teeth, right?"

"Think so," Gibbs shrugged and took another pull of sparkling water. He couldn't get enough of it. Was there another in there, among the soups and smoothies?

McGee carried on, rambling in nervousness. "If it's bonded that means they'll probably leave it in for a while. The literature says it's hinged at the upper and lower molars. The surgeon can open the hinges so she can eat and speak once the initial healing takes place."

He finished one can and popped the tab on another. "English, McGee."

"She'll be on liquids for a while," he finished awkwardly.

Gibbs put the empty in the recycling bin. "She can't hear. Not unless you're right in her face, anyway."

Tim nodded. "Nothing is definite. So much of treating head trauma is just waiting to see how she heals."

He snorted. Fury tightened his fists around the lip of the sink. He had to take many deep breaths to quell the urge to punch out he window before him. Downtown Silver Spring sparkled six stories below. People shopped, shared tapas and bottles of wine, herded their children from one storefront to another, pointing out items in the old-fashioned window displays. He wanted their wholeness.

Tim labeled a basket of feeding syringes and tubes and pushed it back against the backsplash. He drummed his fingers for a minute, then stood up straight and looked Gibbs in the eye for the first time.

"I keep wondering if I could've worked harder or smarter…if there was a way to prevent Ziva from getting hurt," he said sadly, shaking his head. "Call me if you think she's up to visiting." He offered a half-wave and let himself out.

Abby hustled from the laundry room into the bedroom, arms laden with clean towels and sheets. Gibbs fished a screwdriver out of Ziva's toolkit and leveled the pantry door, then threw it back in, hard. The contents rattled. He slammed the drawer shut and they rattled again, louder.

Abby snapped a throw blanket and folded it into a neat rectangle. "You're going to wake Sara," she warned.

He turned to look at her, stiff and angry. Claustrophobia tightened its fingers in his throat. "I need to go out," he said thickly. "Watch her for me."

Her brows went up. "You ok? Want me to get you something?"

"I just need to get out of here," he maintained. He yanked his coat down from the halltree and crammed his arms into the sleeves, feeling trapped and useless.

She nodded urgently, bouncing on her sneaker soles. "What should I do if Sara wakes up?"

"Tell her I'll be back," he said easily, rooting for his keys. "Tell her I'll always be back."

. . . .

He'd gone to his basement. His cold, damp, familiar basement, still redolent with the smells of his work—sawdust, oily rags, wood stains, the faint smokiness of bourbon. There were other smells, too, both real and imagined: Kelly's nail polish, Shannon's shepherd's pie, Sara's lavender soap. Absent was the musky sandalwood and bergamot of Ziva's perfume. Gibbs craved that bourbon but the workbench was empty; his tools in storage, his booze poured out, the bottle recycled.

He swayed like an elephant until Ducky tread lightly down the stairs. His overcoat was wet with sleet, his hair sparkling with thawing ice. "Jethro," he said mildly. "I assumed I'd find you here."

Gibbs leaned on the bench and crossed his arms. "Ya think, Duck?"

"I just came from the hospital," he carried on, ignoring the jab. "Ziva appears to be improving steadily. She's relieved to be going home tomorrow."

"She tell you that herself?"

"Of course not, Jethro. She isn't up to speaking."

He fought the urge to stomp his heavy boots and won. "She can't."

"She could make herself understood if she needed to, but there simply isn't a need. What is there to say? Her father is dead, she's in pain, and now it is time to grieve. Allow her that; it's only human."

His jaw tightened. "Where's David now?"

Ducky's voice was light and even. "Jewish burial laws dictate a body must be interred within thirty-six hours. Transport picked him up the minute he landed on my table."

"You get anything? Prelims?"

"I took x-rays and a few noninvasive samples, but there was little I could do given how quickly they removed him from our custody. He was a healthy adult except for the French cigarettes he enjoyed."

"Healthy adults don't kill their children."

Ducky rocked. "Eli David's illness wasn't something I could find on an image of his lungs or his brain. He was not just a sick man, Jethro; he was toxic."

Gibbs nodded, eyes on the dusty basement floor. "He beat her."

"Of course he did. He beat her, shamed her, sent her into dangerous situations again and again with the idea that she was expendable, replaceable. Eli has taken everything from Ziva—family, country, sense of safety, sense of purpose. Let her mourn. Let her need the only family she has ever known."

"Families protect each other," he snarled.

"Ziva is alive because of you," Ducky said lowly.

"He never should've gotten to her in the first place," Gibbs exploded. "We shoulda had a mark on him the minute he sent Michael Rivkin over here."

He shook his head. "That's where you're wrong, Jethro; the danger began long before you or I or Jenny met Ziva. Eli prescribed her role the minute she entered the world. We could not save her and it isn't possible to go back in time to do so. We can only move forward." He put his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. "I'll call next week to check on Ziva's progress. Perhaps I'll visit if she's up to it. Goodnight, my friend. Go to your daughter and sleep."

. . . .

Gibbs didn't sleep. He tossed and turned and paced the apartment, waiting for light to appear on Ziva's framed photos. He eschewed making a pot of coffee and woke Sara instead. "Big day, sweet pea," he announced. "We're going to pick Ziva up and bring her home."

She yawned and hugged him hard. "And Tony," she reminded.

"And Tony."

He dressed her in her favorite purple dress and legwarmers. Socks and soft leather moccasins went on her feet. She grinned at him and he sat back, awed and smling. His daughter was cute. Really cute. And he was suddenly very anxious to get going. "Want to eat breakfast in the car?" he asked.

She scowled. "No, Daddy. Breakfast at the table."

He served instant oatmeal in one of Ziva's heavy stoneware bowls. Sara scowled again, spoon poised at her mouth. "Where's my poppins, Daddy?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "Do you remember where you left them?"

"In my bed," she said slowly.

He hadn't seen them when he'd broken down her bed and moved it into storage. "Maybe they're in your backpack with your books and your crazy legs."

She shrugged and didn't appear totally distraught. "Zeeba will finding them," she said resolutely.

"Probably. Remember—she's still not feeling well and she still can't talk. We have to be very—"

"Gentle," she interrupted. "I know." She pushed her bowl at him. "I'm done. Did you pack clothes for Zeeba? She needs them. And shoes. No one bringed her shoes yet."

He gave her a toothbrush, water, and a spit-cup. "Brush and rinse. I'm going to get her clothes."

"She needs the grey sweater with buttons and soft pants, not jeans. And socks. And underwears. And her soft coat and…that's it, I think. Maybe mittens. I need mittens, too. It's so cold out."

He tuned the television to ZNN and listened to the local weather insert while he packed Ziva's clothes and took the sneakers he'd bought her out of the box. They were small and light. He laced them and finished with runner's loops, though he doubted she'd be running anytime soon.

He returned to the kitchen with Ziva's go-bag on his shoulder and wiped away Sara's toothpaste beard. "Ready, kid?"

"Yeah," she said happily, but sobered quickly. "I want to be on your shirt. I don't want to go in the stroller."

He picked her up. "I love you," he breathed. "I love you very much. I'll hold you as much as you need, ok?"

"Ok." She sniffled and glanced up briefly, revealing tears in her eyes.

"Why are you sad?" he asked delicately.


"Are you sad for Ziva?"

"Yeah," she admitted.

"Are you sad for you?"


"Can you tell me why?"

"I miss Mommy," she said lowly.

He knew it would have to come up sometime. The near loss of her closest ally and idol had been the trigger. He strapped on the carrier though it was a short walk down to the car. "I am so sorry, sweet pea."

She sniffled again. "I wanna go get Zeeba."

"We will. Should we get her a present?"

"Some poppins," she decided. "Let's go."

. . . .

Ziva was still clearly concussed. She bobbed and weaved up the hall to her door, even with Tony anchored to her side, and leaned against the wall while he opened up. Gibbs watched from a few steps behind with his daughter in the carrier on his chest. Sara had fallen silent as soon as they'd entered the hospital room and had remained so the whole way home.

"C'mon, Zi," Tony urged. "Careful." He turned her so she could see the living space and motioned to the couch. "Nice clear road there. Let's take a load off, eh?"

She peered around the condo with her one good eye and gave the tiniest headshake Gibbs had ever seen. It spoke volumes about the pain she was in.

"She needs meds," he groused at Tony, one hand cupped over Sara's head. She was quiet, sucking her thumb and watching everyone with cautious curiosity.

"I'm on it," he replied, digging through the bags for her prescription painkillers. Gibbs hovered, stroking Sara's arm with his fingertips. Tony paused, bottle of liquid Percocet poised in the air over the dosing syringe. "I said I'm on it," he said quietly.

"I know."

"You're not the only one who loves her, Boss."

"I know."

He turned slowly, worrying about startling the child strapped to Gibbs' chest. "I know you need to be here. I know Sara needs to be here. I need to be here. Let me do this."

Gibbs stepped back and they both looked at Ziva. She was still standing between the living room and the foyer, swaying slightly, the bad side of her face toward them. It was a wash of purple and black, left eye and ear hidden by bandages and protective covers. Her broken hand was pressed over her broken mouth.

Tony went around to her good side. "Zi? Let's do this and then you can lie down. Does that sound ok?"

She gave a tiny nod, took the tube from him, and stuffed it back in her cheek without so much as a glance at him. He didn't use the syringe plunger, but rather held it in the air so gravity could do its work. Ziva swallowed delicately, crimped the tube, and handed it back, still without making eye contact.

He shoved the dispenser at Gibbs and took her elbow. "C'mon, babe. Bed?"

They disappeared, but Tony left the bedroom door open. He could hear the quiet sounds of sleep—her sliding out of her sweater, Tony peeling off her sneakers, the shifting of blankets. He was murmuring soft things to her, promises, Gibbs assumed, that she was safe, that they would take care of her, that the pain would fade and she would be better, better. He knew she didn't believe him.

Sara sighed and clutched her father's shirtsleeves. "Don't go, Daddy," she murmured.

"I won't, baby girl," he cooed. He washed the medication syringe and put it to dry in the dish rack. He hummed under his breath, hoping she'd fall asleep. She did, eventually, seawater eyes sliding closed as Tony resurfaced from the bedroom, eyes drooping. They exchanged looks over her head, and Gibbs raised one finger, indicating he'd put her down for a nap.

She went down with her pacifier and without a fuss and he returned, only to sink onto the sofa next to Tony and kick his feet up onto the sturdy coffee table. "You leaving?" he asked.

"No. You?"

"Nah." He fell silent, then: "This isn't the end, Boss.

He reached for the television remote and clicked over to ZNN. Hamas was firing rockets on southern Israel. The fine-featured reporter was dwarfed by his combat helmet and flack jacket. "No," he acquiesced slowly. "DiNozzo, this is only the beginning."