Tagged to two episodes, 8x02 "Worst Nightmare" (slight spoilers for that) and 8x24 "Pyramid" (pretty major spoilers for that). Starring Gibbs, Ziva, and Ducky; Ray Cruz also makes a small appearance. As usual, chock full of angst and hurt/comfort.
While writing this story, my muse couldn't decide whether it should be Gibbs/Ziva father/daughter (which is what I usually write) or Zibbs romance (which I've written only once before). And honestly, I think it can kinda be read either way (which is really weird, I know). So please comment and let me know which way you took it!
And now, enough with all these parenthesis brackets (which are getting annoying, aren't they?) and on with the story!
With all those interns getting in the way and asking questions, he wasn't really able to get a word in with Ducky. So that evening, before he goes home for the day, Gibbs takes the elevator back downstairs to autopsy, to see if Ducky got anything else from Carmichael's body. DiNozzo accompanies him.
He stops short - so suddenly that DiNozzo almost bumps into him from behind - when the autopsy doors slide open and he sees Ziva is already there. Gibbs doesn't know why she would be in autopsy, or what she would need to see Ducky about. Something is obviously wrong, though, because Ducky has his medical bag out. And Ziva doesn't have a shirt on. She's sitting on the autopsy table in her pants and sports bra.
Ziva's reflexes are fast. As soon as he and DiNozzo walk in, she grabs her shirt up from where it's lying beside her on the table. She doesn't put it back on - and Gibbs briefly wonders why not - but holds it against her torso with one arm, covering her top half. She's fast, but not quite fast enough. Gibbs just has time to see, before she hides them from him with her shirt, the dark bruises on her ribs.
For a moment, none of them say anything, and Gibbs tries to take the time to bring himself down from the anger. Ziva is hurt, and she didn't tell him. Which means she lied to him earlier, when he asked her if she was okay. She must know that he's mad at her, because she's not meeting his gaze. Instead, her dark eyes glare daggers at Ducky; Gibbs can tell she thought Ducky had locked the autopsy doors and is furious at him for not doing so. Ducky, meanwhile, is blinking at him and DiNozzo, politely puzzled; he thought they had gone home for the day.
His brow doesn't furrow, and his blue eyes are as calm as ever. Nothing in his expression betrays how his gut tosses with worry and anger. He wants to ask her what happened, but he sets his jaw and holds back the question. First thing's first - Ziva is never going to admit anything's wrong with DiNozzo standing there. Gibbs turns to his Senior Field Agent and jerks his head at the door.
But instead of leaving, DiNozzo makes the mistake of actually laughing. "Boss," he scoffs, "you know I've seen her a lot more naked than th - "
But he's abruptly cut off by what might be the hardest head-smack that Gibbs has ever given him. He turns and leaves, rubbing the back of his head and muttering under his breath. Gibbs catches "It's not like I've never..." and "Just when you think..." before the autopsy doors slide shut behind him.
He waits until DiNozzo is gone before he turns back to Ziva. "What happened?" he demands bluntly, as if he doesn't already know.
Ziva grips the edge of the table with her free hand and sits up straighter. She tosses her head back and says in her most professional voice, as if this were all completely normal, "It was Mason. When he kicked me at the pharmacy. I just wanted Ducky to make sure it was nothing... serious."
"Which it isn't," Ducky quickly supplies for her, and Ziva gives him a grateful look. "It's superficial. She'll be fine."
He has to take a deep breath before he answers, to keep from yelling at her. "I asked you if you were hurt back at the scene," he says lowly, and her eyes dart away from his, guilty. "And you said - "
"I am not seriously hurt, Gibbs. It is superficial. Ducky just told you - "
"Yeah, but you didn't know that when I asked you," he cuts her off. "For all you knew, he could've broken your ribs." The sight of Ziva flying backwards into the shelves from Mason's kick replays in his mind. That was when he'd realized just how dangerous Mason really was. If he could take down a ninja like Ziva...
"Please, Gibbs, I would have known if he broke one of my ribs," she scoffs, and her tone sounds so superior that Gibbs is tempted to head-smack her. But he doesn't; he can't possibly head-smack her when she's sitting on Ducky's autopsy table bruised and shirtless. "I have had broken ribs before, and I know what it feels like."
His anger softens at that. She has a point. Gibbs thinks back, briefly, to the medical report from the field hospital in Somalia; broken ribs were just one of the many injuries the doctor there had treated. Gibbs read the report once, right after they brought Ziva home, and tried to never think about it again. No one else on his team had ever seen it, including Ziva herself; she didn't want to.
He rubs one hand over his mouth, frustrated, and blows out a sigh. "Let me see," he orders, his voice more gentle now.
Ziva hesitates, but then, to his surprise, she actually obeys, lowering her shirt so that he can see the bruises on her torso. They're bigger and darker than they looked at first glance, and clearly in the shape of Mason's boot. Gibbs's gut churns again, and he feels like head-smacking himself for letting Mason get off so easily.
He still doesn't trust Ziva to give him an honest answer, so he looks over her head to Ducky. "She got any other injuries, Duck?"
"Yes," Ducky answers, and Ziva glares at him. He ignores her and says calmly, "She has some more bruising on her back, but again, it's superficial." Gibbs glances over Ziva's shoulder and sees a smaller, slighter patch of bruises on her upper back, just below her bra. There's a bandage there too, and Gibbs frowns at it. Had she somehow cut herself during the fight?
Ducky sees him looking and explains, "There must have been some sort of glass on the shelf Mason that kicked her into. Something breakable, in any case."
Gibbs nods, and without meaning to, he touches Ziva's bare back, just below her bruises. Her golden-toned skin is warm despite being exposed to the cool temperature in autopsy. But she shivers slightly when she feels his calloused fingertips brush her skin. He pulls his hand away but fixes her with a hard look.
"Ziver," he says, his voice quiet but very firm, "next time you're hurt, you need to tell me."
"I will, Gibbs," she answers. She raises her head and looks him in the eye as she says it, and he hopes that she means it. He won't go this easy on her if she tries concealing injuries from him again.
Ziva's eyes shift to Ducky, who nods that she can put her shirt back on. As she does, Gibbs realizes why she didn't do that as soon as he and DiNozzo walked in. It hurts her to raise her arms that way. When she pulls her shirt over head, she hesitates and flinches - just for the briefest moment, but Gibbs catches it. Ziva isn't quite as good at hiding her emotions as he is - almost, but not quite.
Ducky gives her some instructions about painkillers and not straining herself, then sends her on her way. She doesn't say another word to Gibbs as she leaves, and he suspects she's still wishing that Ducky had locked the autopsy doors in the first place, so that this whole thing could've been avoided. He watches the doors slide shut behind her, and he's about to go after her when he notices Ducky roll his eyes - actually roll his eyes - and start to pack up his medical bag.
"Honestly, Jethro," the old doctor says, letting out an angry sigh.
He's still so preoccupied with Ziva that Ducky's frustration with him catches him off-guard. "What?" he demands, irritated.
"I do not appreciate you charging in here like a raging bull while I'm with a patient." Gibbs tries to point out that Ducky's patient is his agent, but Ducky doesn't give him a chance. "I had only just gotten Ziva to relax when we were interrupted by your arrival." Ducky looks up from packing his medical bag and levels his gaze at Gibbs across the table. "You were too hard on her."
"I asked her back at the scene if she was hurt, Duck," Gibbs answers loudly, his voice rising a bit to match his temper, "and she said she was fine." He knows, in his gut, that he overreacted, but he couldn't help it. His mind goes back again to that medical report from Somalia. God, why did that doctor have to be so detailed? As much as he tried to never think about it, he knew that report was the reason for his reaction to Ziva's injuries. Her body had been through too much already.
"She was not seriously hurt," Ducky argues quietly. "I can assure you, that bruising was not as serious as it might have appeared."
But Gibbs is too stubborn to let himself be assured so easily, even by Ducky. "She's my agent," he grinds out. My responsibility, he means. He racks his brain, trying to remember - after that kick, had Ziva's movements been slower, more careful and controlled? Had he failed to notice signs that she was hiding injuries from him? And how had he been stupid enough to believe her when she told him she was fine? His eyes remain hard, and Ducky's own narrow in acknowledgement.
"Let me explain something to you, Jethro. Ziva came down here of her own accord - not because you ordered her, or because I asked her. She told me what happened and asked me to make sure that her injuries weren't grievous." Ducky pauses to let that sink in. "For someone like Ziva, that's progress. There was a time, not terribly long ago, when we both know that she never would've done that, even if you had told her to, even if her injuries were more severe."
Gibbs leans against the table with one hand and lets out a long, slow sigh, his anger seeping out of him. Ducky is right. He always is. "She gives me more gray hairs," he mumbles.
"Ah, but your hair was already that color when you met her," Ducky says with a little laugh. Then he turns serious again and says in a quiet voice, "She's making progress, Jethro. You both are."
But finding Ziva bruised and shirtless on Ducky's autopsy table is nothing compared to finding her gagged, bound, and bleeding, on the hard floor of the barn where Cobb dumps her eight months later. Gibbs and Cruz reach her at the same time. Cruz drops to his knees on the straw beside her and pulls the duct tape off her mouth.
"Ziva," he breathes, sounding so relieved, "are you all right?"
Gibbs almost head-smacks him. Is she all right? What the hell is that man thinking? Anyone can see that bloody gash on her head. Anyone can see that she isn't all right, whatever she might say.
And sure enough, as soon Ziva can talk, the first words out of her mouth are "I'm all right." Gibbs vaguely wonders if she's been casually lying to Cruz like this for the entire time that they've been dating.
Cruz cuts away the zip-ties that have been digging into her wrists all night, but Gibbs makes sure that he's the one who grips her arms and hauls her onto her unsteady feet. He doesn't want Cruz or the guys touching her right now. She's been missing overnight. They don't know what Cobb did to her.
"Hiding me is a decoy, Gibbs," she tells him, trying to make her voice sound steady, but he catches the slight trembling in it. "It's a distraction." Her legs are shaking beneath her, and Gibbs's gut churns harder when she grabs onto his forearms to keep her balance. God, she looks like hell. What did that bastard do to her?
He doesn't insult them both by asking her if she's all right. Instead, he starts assessing her injuries - she would never let anyone else do it. Ziva presses one hand hard against her head wound, but Gibbs gently bracelets her wrist with his fingers and pulls her hand away. He sweeps her hair to one side to get a better look at the gash, and she winces but makes no move to stop him. Then he runs his hands over her neck, her shoulders and arms, to make sure that no bones are broken. Ziva's shirt is rumpled and askew, with one side of the collar hanging off her shoulder, and Gibbs can see that the strap of sports bra is soaked through with blood. His eyes keep flicking back to it.
Finally, he takes a small step back from her and carefully looks her up and down, trying to guess if she has any more significant injuries - ones that aren't as obvious as the bloody gash on her head, ones that she wouldn't want to tell him about. She doesn't seem to. Her pants aren't rumpled; they don't look as if... Gibbs pushes the thought away quickly, grateful that behind him, Cruz and the guys are standing back while he checks Ziva over. They must know that isn't even comfortable with Gibbs doing it, and certainly not with them watching.
Gibbs doesn't leave her side as they walk out to the car to head back to the Navy Yard. Her steps are steady again, almost as if nothing had happened, and the question bursts out of Gibbs before he can stop it.
"You okay, Ziver?"
She hesitates, then says in a small voice that only he is close enough to hear, "My head hurts."
He puts one hand on her shoulder and squeezes harder than he means to. They stop walking. His voice drops to the same low level as hers, almost a whisper. "Anything else?" he asks, and when she doesn't answer him right away, he prompts, "Besides the head wound?"
Ziva pauses and purses her lips. Gibbs's blue eyes watch her closely as she moves her arms and shifts her legs, taking stock of what hurts where. Her dark eyes meet his blue ones, and she says calmly, "Nothing else. Aside from some scrapes and bruises."
"You're sure?" Gibbs presses, almost holding his breath. "Cobb didn't..."
"No, Gibbs, I am sure." As she says it, she starts to shake her head, but the movement makes her wince hard. "But my head really hurts," she adds, her lips pulled back in a grimace.
Despite the circumstances, Gibbs actually smiles with relief. Ziva didn't just brush off his concern or lie to him, like he half-expected her to. Ducky was right - this is progress.
"It's okay, we're gonna have Ducky fix you up," he says. Ziva returns his smile, and Gibbs knows she's grateful that he isn't making her go to the hospital. His hand moves from her shoulder to her back, the same spot where he had touched her when she sat on Ducky's autopsy table. She's tense, but he feels her body relax a bit under his touch, and they fall into step with each other, side by side, as they walk to the car. They're making progress - both of them.