A/N: Okay, so yet another episode tag hit me from this season for "Up In Smoke" (9x23). It wouldn't let go until I wrote it and the timing is perfect for a HAPPY BIRTHDAY shout to my friend WithTheGrain. :D (I'm so tickled I managed to get my obsessive editing under control so I could actually start posting this on your day, even if it's just under the wire in my time zone. :p)

For the purposes of this fic, the episode ends with that last conversation between Gibbs & Dr. Ryan, so Vance has not disappeared. That aforementioned conversation ends a little differently, as well. ;) This was "supposed" to be a 1-2 shot, but it appears there will actually be 2-3 more chaps after this one. *rolls eyes at self* Hoping to have the updates up fairly quickly. I think you'll see as the story progresses that I've taken their relationship out to play in a little different manner than I usually do; that has been both challenging and fun.

I also must give a shout-out to spinakker18 who sent me 3 Zibbs images from this very ep today from the scene where Gibbs pulls Ziva up from that bench when she's dressed in that HOT black dress *thud*; hopefully, I can use one for a new avatar. :D THANKS for thinking of me and for your impeccable timing. =)

For those of you following "Waves of Grace," I am working on the next installment there, as well, and should have an update ready soon.

Enjoy - and thanks for reading!

Thud. Thud. Thud.


Thud. Thud. Thud.


A stranger listening to the sounds coming from Ziva David's apartment would have wondered what in the world would make those rhythmic "thuds" broken by brief, but seemingly measured periods of complete silence.

Those who knew her well would have no trouble recognizing the sounds for what they were: three knives thrown in quick succession into the door jamb she would no doubt have to replace before moving, followed by controlled, deliberate footsteps to retrieve her current weapon of choice. Walk back. Repeat.

They'd reached that point in the Dearing case earlier tonight where they were all beyond exhaustion, both physically and mentally, and there were no new leads to chase. Being drained and frustrated-to-furious did not make for clear thinking and Gibbs needed them on their A game. So, in an unexpected move, he had sent them all home around midnight to catch some sleep, take a shower, whatever.

Ziva hadn't really expected Gibbs to leave, so she stayed behind when Tony and Tim wearily walked to the elevator after being given The Gibbs Stare until they moved. She had purposely busied herself and kept her eyes averted to avoid that very look. However, he surprised her by getting up shortly after and heading out himself, stopping at her desk to order her gently to do the same. He laid a finger light as a feather over her lips before she could deny the need to leave and stood there expectantly until she reluctantly gathered her things and walked out with him.

She needed to change out of her little black dress anyway, Ziva shrugged to herself. She'd brought a change of clothes with her when she'd returned to NCIS after running home to dress in on-the-job attire of a very different sort than usual for their field work tonight, but guessed she could change back at her apartment just as easily, if not more so.

They spoke not a word to each other in the elevator. In fact, Gibbs seemed to be concentrating his eyes straight ahead with particular focus in a way that struck her as a little odd. In the parking garage, she called out a See you soon as they neared their respective vehicles. He simply lifted his hand in acknowledgment, climbed into his truck, and sped away.

She sat there for a moment reflecting on his mood … he was stewing about something and she had a gut feeling he wasn't headed home. And that left her gut feeling hollow, though she had absolutely no right to feel that way.

In her apartment, she'd been too wound up to sleep. She'd taken a long shower, then spent time brushing her hair out straight while it dried. Neither of those activities had relaxed her enough to rest, so she'd pulled on soft black cotton pants paired with a running tank and had moved into a few yoga positions that normally helped calm her mind and release tension in her body.

But not even that had worked very well tonight.

So, she tried another relaxation technique in her arsenal: practicing her knife throwing. If this didn't do it, she'd clean her guns. All of them.

Surely after that she would have killed enough time to go back to work.

It wasn't really the case that had her feeling restless, even though it felt like time was slipping away before Dearing pulled off something big. No, she'd managed to allow the bulk of those thoughts to wash down the drain with the hot water from her shower. She was experienced enough to know that sometimes you had to stop thinking about a case and then come back to it fresh before something would gel in a way you hadn't seen before.

Turning her head off about Gibbs and Dr. Ryan … now that was proving elusive tonight.

She'd wanted to duct-tape Tony's mouth shut earlier when he wouldn't stop talking about them. She'd nearly gagged when she'd referred to them as a couple – had, in fact, hesitated before she could force the word out – and declared they should all back off. She'd like to back someone off all right, she thought darkly.

Dr. Ryan off the nearest cliff.

Ziva wanted Gibbs to find happiness, she really did. She cared for him too much not to want that for him. But … in the most secret corner of her heart, she wanted him to find it with her. Not with Dr. Samantha Ryan. Not with anyone else. Just her.

The odds of that happening were slim to none, to be sure – but that didn't mean that her desire for it never snuck out from behind the rigid wall of control she attempted to keep around it.

Like tonight, apparently.

And, frankly, Gibbs didn't seem all that happy with his new girlfriend. In fact, as the weeks went on, the more troubled he seemed. And today that unrest had seemed to go off the charts as time kept ticking away and tidbits of information were slowly revealed – but rarely by Dr. Ryan. No, the woman Ziva presumed was Gibbs' lover seemed to almost relish keeping her information on a "need to know" basis, usually only deigning to confirm something the team had already worked hard to figure out.

An especially loud, vicious-sounding THUD followed that last thought.

Ziva had known from the moment Jenny had introduced them that she'd never met anyone like Leroy Jethro Gibbs and wasn't likely to again. Actually, if she were completely honest, her fascination with the man had begun as soon as she'd started researching him prior to arriving in the States. Meeting him in person had only solidified her interest, even as it set in motion a chain of events that no one saw coming. The fallout from that could have derailed them completely, but ended up forging a bond between them on which they'd eventually built a working relationship and more.

He appealed to her on so many levels … not just physically, though God knows that was in the mix. In many respects, they were a lot alike and they understood each other in ways that often required no verbal communication, in ways that no one else truly understood either one of them. There was no measuring the depth of emotion that stirred in her.

She occasionally allowed herself to fantasize that he could be happy with her, that they could bring happiness to each other's lives … something they'd both been missing in a deep, meaningful way for a very long time.

She didn't kid herself, however, into thinking that was likely to happen. After all, he had rules about that and, truth be told, she understood as well as he did that getting romantically involved with a co-worker could go to hell in a handbasket in the space of a heartbeat. Besides, given the women he'd married or dated, she clearly wasn't his type.

But he was hers.

And enticingly, despite his rules and the color of her hair, sometimes when they were alone together she felt a zing of attraction that seemed returned and had from the very beginning. Those feelings gave her a glimpse of what it could be like between them. It was like a bright, sparkling, breath-taking ball just out of her reach that she longed to grasp and cradle protectively to her heart.

Like that was going to happen.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

And when he touched her … Ziva closed her eyes and swayed slightly in place as the sensations that were her body's instinctive response to him cascaded through her.

No matter the reason for the touch – accidental, comfort, an affectionate hug, getting her attention, playing a part for an op – her body responded to the bone as though recognizing him on a deep elemental level … There you are; I have been waiting for you.

She retrieved her knives and walked back to her starting position.

Earlier tonight was an excellent case in point. She'd been dressed for a night on the town, playing her part in the sting they'd constructed in hopes of catching Dearing. She was seated on a bench as though waiting for a friend, a lover or even for someone to proposition her. How she was viewed was not important; she simply needed to blend into those around her while keeping an eye on that security guard and a lookout for the limo.

The men with whom she worked had come strolling out of the nearby bar after their "bachelor party," seemingly jovial and without a care in the world. Gibbs had smiled at her, had pulled her up to join them, his arm settling around her waist, his hand cupping her right hip tantalizingly close to her ass.

His smile turned into a suggestive grin as he'd whispered into her ear … just playing his part, she knew. However, in spite of the seriousness of the situation, her soul had taken one moment to absorb the feelings running through her, to breathe him in … to pretend it was real.

Then she'd resolutely turned that off and once again became fully engaged in being the federal agent she was.

Maddeningly, it was not Dearing in that limo, but Maple. At the Navy Yard, she and Gibbs had interrogated him only to discover that the man had been embezzling from Dearing's company and that Dearing was still managing to lead them on a merry chase, always at least one step ahead.

It was at that point that Gibbs had decided they needed a break. He was right, but she would have preferred to keep working. Only after he'd quietly insisted – had, in fact, waited for her – had she left to come home to an apartment that felt lonely tonight, instead of like the warm, comfortable refuge she'd purposely created.

And that was the long explanation as to why she now stood in that apartment throwing knives into a narrow strip of wood at 2am.

Thud. Thud.

Suddenly her cell phone rang, shattering the silence. She'd just released her third knife again and cursed when the unexpected noise made her jerk, ensuring that she missed her mark.

She knew from the ringtone that Gibbs was calling. Ziva answered on the second ring.

"Yes, Gibbs," she greeted him, well-practiced at slipping into her professional, almost stoic voice. "Has there been a break in the case? I can –"

"No break," he cut her off succinctly in a low voice.

"Oh," she uttered, her surprise evident. Silence stretched between them for a moment. Her voice unconsciously softened. "Is there something that you need?"


Gibbs mentally head-slapped himself. Jesus, where the hell had that come from? Jethro knew he was feeling out of sorts and could not get the picture of her in that little black form-fitting dress from earlier tonight out of his mind, but still …

He kept a tight lid on those thoughts with regard to Ziva.

Most of the time.

He'd been driving for a while after seeing Ryan. Gibbs had gone to her office when he left NCIS as his gut had been churning over that theory she'd floated about Dearing's activities and over all that he was certain she knew and wasn't telling him. After a conversation that had gone from quiet to strained to absurd to confrontational, he'd informed her that he might have to put up with head games on the job, but he damn well didn't have to in his personal life.

"So what are you saying, Gibbs? We're done?" Dr. Ryan asked, almost cocky in her disbelief, clearly expecting him to say no.

"Oh, yeah – we're done."

Knowing on some level that it had been a mistake to get involved with her in the first place, he'd walked out the door and never looked back.

Much to his surprise, he ultimately found himself driving to Ziva's instead of toward home without any conscious thought.

Once he realized where he was headed, he told himself if her lights were dark, he wouldn't bother her.

What he didn't say was that being near her often soothed him, that sometimes he just wanted to be wherever she was.

That sometimes he wanted more.

His feelings toward Ziva had always had an undercurrent of desire that complicated things if he examined it too closely – so he'd become an expert at avoiding that.

He could acknowledge that a certain warmth lay between them that he didn't share with anyone else. Despite the circumstances under which they'd met, their connection had formed almost immediately and strengthened over time … and had become something he wanted to move toward and away from in equal measure because he didn't fully understand it.

Or maybe you understand it all too well and it scares the hell out of you a voice whispered in the back of his mind.

He'd become an expert at ignoring that voice, too.

On the very rare occasions when he was deep into a bottle of bourbon and admitted to himself that he found her very attractive, he immediately played it off. She's a beautiful woman – who wouldn't?

Tonight, he reminded himself they were friends as well as co-workers, so it was no big deal to show up at her place for company or conversation or whatever the hell he was there for … and wondered who he was trying to convince.

As he pulled to the curb and saw lights on in her apartment, he honestly couldn't put into words exactly what he was doing here, but had the sense that this could be a really bad idea.

Or a really good one.

He couldn't decide that either.

He called her anyway.

"Gibbs?" Ziva's almost-hesitant voice in his ear brought him out of his ruminating.

"I'm here," he answered softly. He released a silent sigh and took a step into the gray. "Think I could come in?"

To say she was taken aback would be an understatement. People went to Gibbs; he never came to them.

Automatically, she walked over to the living room window that overlooked the street. Parting the drapes slightly, she peered out. Sure enough, he was sitting out there in his silver truck.

"Certainly," she replied reflexively. What else could she say? And, honestly, there was no other answer she wanted to give him. "I will buzz you in downstairs."

True to form, he hung up without saying goodbye. She laid her phone down on the table in front of the couch and walked over to the intercom to release the lock on the security door. She then unlocked her apartment door and opened it, stepping into the doorway to see him coming up the stairs to the second floor with only a hint of his usual jog.

As he came toward her, she couldn't help but notice that he looked a little worse for wear than when he'd left NCIS, though he still had a ghost of his characteristic smile for her.

"Please, come in," she invited somewhat formally, struggling to get her emotional shields back in place after the kind of thinking she'd been indulging in just before he'd called. She stepped back into her apartment and opened the door wider so he could enter.

She closed and locked the door behind him. He moved a little further into the room, seemingly at a loss as to what to do with himself next.

Ziva grew vaguely concerned; there was something different about him tonight. The part of her that had always been driven to protect him rose up inside her, nudging her to take care of him.

She touched his forearm gently, murmuring, "Sit." She gestured toward the couch.

He sat, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes as though he couldn't help himself, as though it was finally safe to relax, even just for a short while.

"Can I get you something?" Ziva asked quietly. Her voice became more affectionate as she went on to lightly offer him, "I even have bourbon."

He huffed out a brief chuckle.

"Not sure that's such a great idea right now," he admitted honestly.

"Okay - now you have me worried," Ziva informed him. She laid the backs of her fingers against his forehead as though checking for a fever. "Are you sick?" she asked, not quite joking.

"Sick and tired maybe," he shared without opening his eyes. He felt a little guilty at just how much he enjoyed the feel of her skin against his, but not enough to move out from beneath her hand.

"Of what?" she asked softly, removing her hand to sit beside him, angling her body so she was facing him.

He took so long to answer, that she thought he might not.

"Being a step behind. Head games. Dearing." His next pause was a little longer than the ones he'd put between the first three words. "Ryan."

Ziva's heart gave a little leap which she quickly tried to squelch.

"We will get Dearing, Gibbs," she assured him, starting with what felt like the safest topic. "You are better than he is."

"Not today. Not lately."

"You are and will be," she reiterated firmly. "You are just exhausted, pushing yourself even harder than you push any of the rest of us."

Her words were met with silence, but it was not an uncomfortable one.

After a few moments, Ziva observed quietly, "Given that you are wearing the same clothes you wore all day, it appears you have not been home, contrary to your own directive."

"There a question in there, Ziver?"

"Only if you want there to be one, Gibbs," she answered.

Her voice was soft, but the tone curled through him, warming him. Funny, he hadn't realized he was cold.

He kept his eyes closed and found himself wishing she'd put her hand back on his forehead.

"Went to see Dr. Ryan," he revealed, making her name sound very formal and professional.

Ziva shoved aside the feeling of disappointment that washed over her. After all, she'd known he was headed there when he left the office. She didn't say anything, just gave him space to talk if he wanted to continue.

"More head games," he shared, clearly disgusted. Then his tone took on a definitive edge. "But told her I'm done with those."

There was that little heart leap again.

"What does that mean?" she couldn't help but ask.

He kept his head back against the cushions, but finally turned his head and opened his eyes to look at her. "What do you think it means?"

"That you …" she answered slowly, "are no longer seeing her on a personal basis - ?"

Her voice was tentative, clearly surprised and more than a little worried about making a misstep.

"Got it in one," he congratulated her.

Silence reigned once more.

Their eyes stayed connected, opening that communication highway that ran only between the two of them.

"Are you all right?" she asked softly, unconsciously laying one of her hands on his left one which was resting on the couch beside his thigh.

A small smile graced his lips and he turned his hand over so he could squeeze hers back. He rolled his head so it was tilted back against her couch once more and closed his eyes again.

"Yeah," he breathed out on a sigh. "Just tired."

His stomach suddenly protested the fact that it had been far too long since he'd ingested anything but coffee.

"And apparently hungry," he noted wryly as her lips curved.

As she sat there thinking over what she could offer him to eat, he rubbed his right hand over his face and through his hair, then made to get up. "I should go grab a shower and let you get some sleep."

"No," Ziva said quickly. He looked at her with a little surprise. "I mean, I was not able to sleep so there is no need for you to go." Impulsively she asked, "Do you have a go-bag in your truck?"

He nodded.

"Then you should stay here," she told him, staring down at where their hands were still clasped, avoiding his all-too-seeing eyes. Haltingly, she added, "You could take a shower while I make you something to eat, then you could sleep here for a while. We need to be back at work soon; there is no need for you to waste part of that time driving home."

She could feel him looking at her for a moment and fought the urge to squirm.

"You sure?" he asked searchingly.

"Yes, I am sure," she nodded, glancing cautiously back up at him.

He gazed into her eyes for a long minute and saw sincerity in hers, along with something she wouldn't let him read. Gibbs realized he wanted nothing more right then than to stay, though that worried him some.

Okay, more than some.

He had the strangest feeling that something was shifting between Ziva and him. He could almost see possibilities that he normally left clouded. But why tonight? And … was that a good thing?

Jethro honestly didn't know and was a little uneasy about that, but right now the bottom line was that he couldn't marshal the energy to fight himself. Tonight he simply wanted … to just … be.

His silence lasted long enough that Ziva's stomach dropped and she worried that she'd been too forward or revealed too much. She started to retreat – physically, emotionally.

"Never mind. You should go, if you want to." She tried to pull her hand from his as her eyes flicked away.

"Don't want to," he admitted softly, lacing his fingers through hers, keeping her hand in his.

"You don't?" she repeated, her heart lurching and hope – for what exactly, she wasn't sure – rising in her chest.

He gave her that half-smile of his that could honest-to-God make her melt and slightly shook his head as her gaze met his once more.

Her smile peaked out and those clouds in his head cleared just a little more.

She handed him her keys to get back in the security door and he went out to get his bag from his truck. While he was gone, she laid towels and a washcloth out for him in her bathroom and gathered bedding for the couch. After he ate, she'd give him her bed and rest out here, certain she wouldn't actually sleep.

They passed each other in the short hall leading from the living room to the bathroom, her arms full of linens.

"You can have my bed and I will take the couch," she informed him with a casualness she did not feel.

"Not kicking you out of your bed, Ziver," he said firmly. "Caused you enough trouble already tonight. Besides, I'm used to the couch." She looked at him questioningly. "Usually sleep there at home."

"You are my guest, Gibbs; I will take the couch," she said firmly.

He let it go for now, but had no intention of going along with that.

The idea that they could share the couch – or her bed – flitted through his mind and caught him completely by surprise.

Okay, so it wasn't that he'd never entertained such a thought or three about one certain Israeli American - it just usually took a lot of liquor before his thoughts wandered into that dangerous territory.

Gibbs searched around for some kind of distraction and noticed two of her knives sticking out of the wood around the doorway. He looked at them deliberately, then lifted his brows at her in silent question.

She actually blushed a little and shrugged as she explained, "I was trying to relax."

He grinned – and loved that about her.

"Missed one," he observed in surprise, spotting the last one she'd thrown that had ended up bouncing off the wall in the hallway and landing on the floor.

"My phone rang unexpectedly just as I released that one." She gave him a meaningful look.

Breaking one of his cardinal rules and tilting his head a little to the side in that way he had, he offered, "Sorry - ?"

The word was more of a question than a statement and he didn't look repentant in the least.

It made her chuckle lightly.

"I am not," she responded quietly with a small smile.

"Me either," he admitted quietly.

Her smile brightened even as it became a little shy, a little sweet, a little hesitant.

"You cleaned your guns yet?" he asked, the twinkle in his blue eyes moving them past what could have become an awkward moment.

"Those were next on the agenda," she shared wryly, loving that he knew that about her.

It was his turn to chuckle.

"I think you will find everything in there," she said, changing the subject with a nod toward the bathroom. "Just look around if there is anything else you need."

An unintentional double-meaning to her words arced between them, until the ghost of a smile graced his lips and broke the moment. With a murmured, "Thanks," he headed toward the shower.

"What do you feel like eating?" she called after him before she could blurt out something stupid like, say, an offer to wash his back.

He threw her a look over his shoulder. "Beggars can't be choosers," he noted. "Whatever you feel like fixing is fine."

With a little nod, she turned toward the couch and quickly made it up with a sheet, pillow and blanket. She heard the water go on in the bathroom and went into the kitchen, figuring he would probably be out soon. She contemplated her choices while she tried really hard not to dwell on the fact that Gibbs was in her shower. Naked. Wet.

With a deep, bracing breath she ordered herself to get a grip. Despite the fact that something extra seemed to be humming on the air between them tonight, it just wasn't likely that things were really all that different.

In that secret corner of her heart, though, that shiny ball of hope glinted wistfully. But wouldn't it be wonderful if they were?

P.S. - Psst, WithTheGrain. Perhaps you'd share a showering Gibbs with Gibbsredhoodie, as rumor has it she's had a birthday recently, as well. I think there's enough of him to go around ... but you both might want to be on the lookout for a certain ninja! :p

Welcome aboard my Zibbs ship, Hoodie; pleasure having you along for the sail. =)