A/N: I would like to dedicate this to LaureEve24 for being understanding and a very good friend. =)
Occasionally, an episode tag shows up and demands to be written. I have others on the back burner in various stages of being written, but this one hit me upside the head within the last twenty-four hours and said, "Write me NOW." For whatever reason, it spoke to me in such a way, that I did just that. Contrary to my usual style, this is one of those write-and-post fics (those make me nervous!) - and it actually stayed a one-shot LOL. (OK, a long one-shot, but still - !)
THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR "SHABBAT SHALOM" (10x11) AND "SHIVA" (10x12).
For those who are wondering about Waves of Grace, I am working on the next chapter and it is my sincere hope that that will be my next posting. Never worry that I will leave it unfinished; I will not. Several chapters are already drafted - including the last one! - but these next couple weren't pre-written before I started posting and those take more time.
The first two sentences of this story are a direct description of the end of "Shiva," so I have put those in italics. All the other words are mine, though the characters belong to CBS, et al.
I find this one very moving in places; I hope you do, too, and that you'll consider letting me know if you do. =)
She wiped the Israeli soil on the sleeve of her jacket from the machete she'd used to dig a hole in the earth in which to plant a young olive tree in memory of her father.
Lost in thought, she gazed into the distance.
The pain had given way to numbness …
Which was slowly giving way to a disconnected feeling from all around her, almost like she was outside her body, observing everything, everyone.
So much loss.
Sometimes she wondered just how much one person was supposed to take.
Other times she was certain she got what she deserved.
So many regrets.
A complicated man, her father.
Like father, like daughter as Tony had all but said.
And where was there room for the girl inside the woman who was also hurting over the fact that her aba had not come to America just for her after all? Certainly what he was trying to accomplish was far more worthy than a simple visit to a daughter.
And surely she should not be surprised that he had a hidden agenda.
But he had worked so hard initially to convince her he had none … and she had wanted to believe.
Perhaps it would take a lifetime to untangle all of her thoughts and feelings about Eli David.
And perhaps she never would.
A connection to this land of her birth tugged at her ...
Even as her adopted country an ocean away did the same.
More than the country.
Her adopted family.
As she had told Tony, she knew she wasn't alone, though there were moments before and during this past week when she had struggled to remember that. And as the week went on, she felt herself retreating inside …
Suddenly, Ziva went completely still as her instincts warned her she was no longer alone in the olive grove.
Giving nothing away, she stood easily with the grace of a dancer – and with the lethality of a tigress as she readied the knife in her hand for something other than its recent purpose.
He knew the moment she sensed him.
And knew to stand perfectly still until she determined he was not a threat.
With practiced nonchalance, she slowly turned her head until she was looking at him over her shoulder.
His attraction to her slammed into him, would have driven a lesser man to his knees.
God, she was beautiful.
He gave himself an internal headslap.
Get a grip, Jethro.
Her movements froze as her eyes landed on him.
Surprise registered in those brown depths, followed by a flash of fierce gladness that was so brief he told himself he might have imagined it.
He saw her lips silently form his name.
Something moved through her eyes that he couldn't define before it was quickly masked.
Wordless emotion arced between them.
That was nothing new. They were well-versed in that particular form of communication.
Her body relaxed from its fight-or-flight response and she slowly walked toward him – when all she wanted to do was run.
But toward him or away?
Good question with no easy answer.
While he was the one person she needed most right now, he was also the last person she wanted to see.
Her emotional shields had been battered this week and she had not yet completed the act of filling the cracks that she knew were there.
That left her in grave danger of not being able to keep her heart firmly planted inside the boundaries she normally kept strong when she was around this man so that their relationship stayed on the footing he'd deemed necessary long before he was even aware of her existence.
"Ziver," he greeted her softly with a faint version of his characteristic smile tugging up one side of his mouth as she stopped near him.
"Hello, Gibbs," she returned equally quietly, her brown eyes guarded in a way he hadn't seen in many moons.
Which told him he'd done the right thing by listening when his gut had urged him to go to her.
She wanted nothing more than to touch him, to step into his arms, so, of course, she allowed herself nothing of the sort.
"What are you doing here?" she asked almost hesitantly, though not unkindly, holding herself a little more stiffly than she usually did around him.
"Checking on you," he responded, his smile growing a little more pronounced.
"I have only been gone a week and I have spoken to either you or Tony every day," she side-stepped.
She did not say how those calls had anchored her during a difficult week.
"Needed to see you for myself," he revealed. Concern moved into his blue eyes. "Couldn't always tell how you were doing over the phone."
And, truthfully, as the week went on a distance had crept into her voice that worried him. He intuitively understood that it wasn't about him or the people she'd left behind in America, but it worried him nonetheless.
"I am fine," she offered reflexively in a voice devoid of emotion.
He shook his head internally. He'd expected her to say nothing else.
Gibbs cupped his long fingers around the side of her neck and swiped his thumb slowly along the chiseled, yet feminine line of her jaw.
She closed her eyes against the emotion she was afraid he might see there and swallowed hard.
There was something about her movements that made him think Interesting.
"It's me you're talkin' to, Ziver," he reminded her gently, affectionately.
A lot had changed recently, but he hadn't.
She pressed her face into his hand unconsciously and swayed slightly toward him. She opened shadowed brown eyes filling with tears and a mix of emotions she couldn't have begun to name in that moment.
His heart stumbled and he pulled her unresistingly into his arms at last.
Where she belonged.
But that was a conversation for another time.
The large knife she was still holding fell from nerveless fingers as Ziva gave over to the overwhelming need to hold onto him, to have his arms wrapped around her. She pressed her cheek to his chest and lost the battle with tears that she thought she'd been done shedding.
He tightened his grip on her as she cried without making a sound, the shaking of her shoulders and the tears soaking his shirt the only telltale signs that she was weeping.
Ziva rarely made a sound when she was crying. His heart broke a little further as he reflected on all that might have taught her to cry noiselessly and to resist it with every fiber of her being, and he hugged her a little tighter.
When her tears had run dry, they remained in the embrace. She gripped the back of his coat with one hand and the front open edge with the other until her knuckles were white from the effort. He had one arm wrapped around her shoulders as his other hand stroked her hair soothingly.
"I thought I wanted to be alone," Ziva finally husked as she relaxed into him, exhaustion tugging at her, "but I am glad you are here."
He smiled gently as he laid his cheek on the top of her head.
A not-uncomfortable silence stretched between them for a long moment.
"What really made you come here, Gibbs?" she asked softly.
He waited so long to answer, she thought he might not.
"Needed to make sure you remembered who you are, where you belong," he finally offered. "Something about your voice the last time we talked left me thinking you weren't sure."
She recalled their last conversation.
He'd phoned as she'd been caught up in self-recrimination, playing the "what-if" game with herself … would her father and Jackie Vance still be alive today if she had made another choice that fateful day as soon as she'd seen her disguised father on the plasma screen at NCIS?
Eli … she was not so sure about that. He'd been playing a very deep, very dangerous game, even if the reasons he'd given for it were more than honorable ... and perhaps only part of the picture.
But Jackie … there was no question that Ziva had played a part in that woman being in the wrong place at the wrong time and Ziva hated herself for that. The world had been a better place with Jackie Vance in it.
She pulled away, putting a little distance between them.
Looking away, she admitted, "On some level, you are correct."
Her eyes came back to his, though her shields were going up again.
"Israel will always live in my heart, but in some ways, I feel apart from it now." She paused. "And I would not blame the director if he wants no part of having me around any longer."
Her voice broke and her eyes shifted away again as her chin began to quiver.
"So, where does that leave me, Gibbs?" she asked emotionally. "Everything I was … am … is lost."
Silent tears beaded down her cheeks once more.
He stepped closer and took her chin in his hand, gently directing her gaze to his.
"You're not lost. I found you. I'll always find you." Those last four words were stated with a deliberation that suggested they held the significance of a promise and there was no hesitation in his voice. "And it leaves you with us. With me."
Her eyes stayed locked on his. She wanted desperately to trust that he was right.
"Family's not just about blood," he told her. "It's about the people you love and who love you back."
A sob broke free from her chest and she leaned into him once more, her arms wrapping around his waist as his held her to him.
"I have been responsible for so many deaths," she whispered. "Too many to name. But the death of Mrs. Vance haunts me like no other. She did not deserve to be caught up in the mistakes made by my father, by me … nor did her husband and her children."
He waited, sensing there was more she needed to say.
"Some mistakes are too great to be forgiven."
Her head was still tucked against him so he could not see her face, but he could almost feel the shadow that crossed her heart as she said those words out loud.
"Those were my last words to him, you know." Her voice was so hushed he had to strain to hear her.
She looked up at him, the shadow now revealed in her eyes.
No, he hadn't known, until now.
"That is the last thing I said – will ever say – to my father."
She looked away from him and wondered hopelessly, "Why should I receive the forgiveness I refused him?"
She closed her eyes, unable to help wishing, just for a moment but not for the first time, that she could undo the past.
"I … ache." She did not explain that she was referring to all that had happened with those words, but he understood.
"I know," he murmured into her hair. After a moment, he revealed, "You realize you're not the only one wondering 'what if' - ?"
She looked up at him, her brows drawn in some confusion.
"And Leon's at the top of that list," he shared quietly.
He could put himself there, as well.
Ziva considered that in silence for long moments. That had not yet occurred to her, as she herself did not hold Director Vance responsible for any of it.
She had no way of knowing that Jackie had had very different plans for that night - plans that her husband had thwarted by bringing his work into their home, unwittingly setting the scene for the death of his family as he knew it.
"This is gonna bend you, Ziva, but it won't break you. You're stronger than that."
His voice brought her out of her reverie.
He clearly believed what he said … but she was not so sure.
"There are so many things only I am left alive to remember now," she revealed softly. "I am not so sure the weight of that will not break me."
Her voice was bleak.
He knew exactly what she meant, and the way that it left you feeling all alone in the midst of a crowd, even among people that loved you but who didn't know.
"Tell me. Can't be alone in the memories if someone else knows, too." He smiled slightly, gently.
Her eyes widened a bit as she reflected on his words.
It occurred to her that she wasn't the only one who'd been left behind alone when others were ripped from this world.
"Perhaps you should take your own advice," she suggested hesitantly.
"Maybe I should," he admitted, further surprising her.
Her mind was careening almost out of control and she laid her head against his chest once more, searching for peace. For comfort. For connection.
For a while they simply held each other, no words required.
Eventually, she stirred and tightened her arms briefly around him before taking a step back.
"How did you find me?" she asked, looking at him.
"Schmeil brought me," he told her. Then his characteristic smile tugged at his lips. "But I think he was counting on you to give me a ride back. You wouldn't leave me stranded, would ya?"
For the first time that day, a ghost of a smile graced her own lips.
"No more than you would me," she assured him quietly, but with a depth of feeling that washed warmly over him.
Of one accord, they turned toward the car she'd driven here, Ziva stooping to pick up her machete along the way.
"You still going to Haifa this afternoon?" he asked.
He was aware she and Schmeil and her Aunt Nettie had been sitting shiva in her father's house for the past seven days, as was customary. He also knew that she intended to spend a week at her Aunt Nettie's summer home on the Mediterranean Sea before returning to the States – and that she hadn't bought a ticket home yet. That was the unspoken reason that had driven him across an ocean to find her.
He needed her to come back for more reasons than he was willing to admit to.
She nodded in response to his question about her plans.
"How about some company?" he offered. "Promise not to talk much."
If eyes could smirk, his surely did with those last words.
Ziva snorted gently in amusement.
"Then we may have the quietest trip on record," she observed dryly, tacitly granting his request to travel to Haifa with her while refusing to consider why she did so.
A sense of satisfaction, of completion rolled through him, though, like her, he refused to examine that too closely.
After sharing a meal with Schmeil and Aunt Nettie, Ziva and Gibbs climbed into the car she'd borrowed from her father's estate and drove north along the coast. In under an hour – and with very little conversation - they were in the beautiful seaside city and pulling into her aunt's home right on the beach. It was nearing the end of the rainy season and the sun was mostly hidden behind gray clouds, but there was no denying the beauty of the place.
Aunt Nettie kept the house supplied with kitchen staples and other supplies, and had pressed several bags of fresh food onto them before they left so they wouldn't have to go to the grocery right away. They unloaded the car in an easy, companionable silence.
Ziva took her bag to the bedroom that she always stayed in when she was here and told Gibbs he could have his pick of the other two. He chose the one right next to her, though questioned the wisdom of that as he pictured her sleeping in the room next to him.
His feelings for Ziva had always been more complicated than straightforward, with an underlying depth that neither of them ever spoke of out loud. It had not gone completely unnoticed, however. Ducky had pointed out to him once that he'd taken to Ziva more quickly than to any agent before her, even Tony.
Jethro had let than slide without comment, playing his feelings close to the vest.
Deep into a bottle of bourbon one night, he'd admitted to himself that he'd fallen in love with her, but he intended that no one else would ever know that.
Still, he was drawn to protect her, to comfort her and would do so now, despite the risks.
They settled in remarkably easily. They made meals together and walked for miles along the beach. The evenings were cool enough for a fire in the fireplace and that is how they ended every night before parting ways to go to their separate rooms.
It was on those walks or sitting before the fire that he gently prodded her into opening up about those memories that she was afraid would somehow be lost if she were the only person who knew them. When she stumbled as she did so, he was there to catch her.
And she did the same for him.
They each talked about things they'd never spoken of before except with the people involved who were no longer with them: Tali. Her mother. His mother. Her father. Shannon and Kelly. Even Ari.
Her healing began and the bond between them grew … as did the zing of awareness that they steadfastly ignored.
Until a nightmare in the middle of their fourth night there together brought him to her room.
As had often happened as she lay vulnerable in sleep, Ziva's mind revisited the events at the Vances' home, but it played tricks on her. Sometimes, the scenario changed because she made other choices before that fateful dinner.
Tonight, somehow, Jethro had been at the table in place of Jackie … and it was Jethro who had died.
She couldn't know it, but it was her own cry of No! that brought her out of a fitful sleep. She sat up in bed, panting heavily, struggling to shake off the effects of the dream. Driven to make sure he was all right, she swung her legs over the side of the bed, intending to just peek into his room to check on him.
The cool tile floor helped bring her all the way out of sleep and she paused, her hands braced against the mattress on either side of her hips, her head hanging down as she concentrated on breathing. She attempted to convince herself that it had all been a dream, that he was peacefully sleeping in the room next to her, that she did not need to check on him.
Because it would not be a good idea to open the doors that separated them just now.
Her control was shattered and she knew it. The chances of holding in all that she felt for him in her current state were slim to none and there was too much to lose to risk it.
A soft knock came at her door.
"You all right, Ziver?" The query was muffled by the door, but his concern was unmistakable.
"I am fine, Gibbs," she lied, some part of her relieved to know that he really was all right.
There was a silent pause and she thought he might have gone back to his room. Then, the door handle turned and the door started to open slowly.
"It's just me and I'm coming in," he told her. "So don't shoot me or anything."
Against all odds, a smile tugged at her lips. He knew her well.
"I would never shoot you," she told him as he flipped the hall light on so he had some light by which to see her and came on into the room. "Well, not on purpose."
"Then I'm safe," he concluded in an easy tone. "'cause we both know you never miss."
The smile on her face turned a little sad at the truth of his words. He saw that as he knelt in front of her.
"Hey," he said softly, tucking her hair behind her left ear. "That was a compliment."
Her slight smile became real again, before her attention focused on not touching him.
"Wanna talk about it?" he asked quietly.
He'd heard her make some sounds in her sleep the past few nights and had even looked in on her once, but nothing had ever brought her out of her slumber like this.
She shook her head.
"Sure that's a good idea?"
She shrugged at his question. She didn't know, but she didn't want to relive it right now.
He put his hands on her shoulders, rubbing them gently. She did her best to hold herself rigid under his touch, but he just kept at it until her muscles softened beneath him and she nearly swayed into him.
"What can I do?" he asked quietly. "What do you need?"
Luckily she managed to keep that answer in her mind.
"Worried about you," he revealed softly when she remained silent, the warmth of his voice curling through her.
"I am –"
"If you say fine one more time, gonna handcuff you to me until I get the truth," he informed her, not quite joking and trying to ignore the picture of that that slammed into his brain.
"That would be a dream come true, not a punishment."
His sudden stillness alerted her to the fact that she'd unconsciously said that out loud.
She closed her eyes and tried not to panic.
Turning her head away from him to stare at the wall, she muttered, "That was supposed to stay in my head. Perhaps we could just pretend that it did."
He was quiet for a moment, but if she'd been looking at him, she'd have seen that his eyes heated up and his pulse was beating hard enough against the base of his throat to be seen.
"We could," he agreed neutrally.
Her eyes closed in equal parts pain and relief.
"Don't want to."
Her eyes flew open and back to his. He was looking at her with such tenderness that she was nearly moved to tears.
"Jethro?" she breathed uncertainly.
It wasn't the first time she'd called him that, not even the first time this week, but the sound of it coming from her lips as she sat on her bed in a tank top and soft pajama pants, hair disheveled from a restless sleep, was doing things to his body that she was soon bound to notice.
His gaze moved from hers down to her soft pink lips that were suddenly dry. His eyes darkened as the tip of her tongue came out to wet them.
"Yes?" she breathed, her heart pounding so loudly she wondered if he could hear it.
"Gonna kiss you unless you tell me not to."
Warmth flooded her belly and her pulse raced even faster.
Not only did she not tell him to stop …
She met him halfway.
Raising one hand to his cheek, just her fingertips resting lightly against his skin, she tilted her head toward his and savored the first touch of his mouth against hers.
His lips were unexpectedly soft and heat rushed to her core despite the chaste nature of that first kiss.
Their lips lingered, then pressed together again with a little more pressure this time. Her other hand came up to clutch his shoulder as their mouths slowly learned the taste, the feel of each other.
They pulled apart unhurriedly, their lips clinging before the kiss broke completely.
She rested her forehead against his and kept her eyes closed, afraid of what she might see in his.
Even worse, pity.
A surprised, relieved chuckle left her throat at his word.
She nodded mutely, a smile tugging at her lips.
He pulled back far enough to lift her eyes to his with a gentle finger under her chin.
"Expected to keep that under wraps," he observed wryly. "You okay?"
"So did I," she admitted in a voice gone husky with emotion. "And yes, I am."
She traced his handsome features with a gentle touch.
"Perhaps even better than okay."
"Perhaps?" he questioned with one eyebrow lifted.
She shrugged, then whispered another admission she rarely made.
"I am scared."
"No," she answered. "Of this."
She brought his lips back to hers with both hands cupping his face and kissed him again. This time there was a little more heat, a little more need. She traced the seam of his lips in silent request for entry and felt a kick of satisfaction as he granted her entry with a low noise that had moisture pooling between her thighs.
When they parted again, they were both breathing heavily.
"You have rules about this, remember?" she pointed out, a hint of the sadness she felt coloring her tone.
He looked into her beautiful face for a long moment, then buried his fingers in her hair.
"Yeah, but I'm covered by Rule 51," he informed her in a warm voice, leaning in to nuzzle her neck.
She swallowed hard.
"Rule 51?" she managed. "I thought there were only fifty."
"I added one."
She reluctantly pulled away from the delicious feeling of his lips just beneath her ear to look him in the eyes in silent question.
"Sometimes you're wrong."
Her heart stopped, then started racing. Her breath caught in her chest and she couldn't breathe.
A myriad of emotions crossed her face in rapid succession as her eyes stayed locked on his.
"Tell me what you want, Ziva."
"You," she whispered longingly. "I want you."
His eyes darkened and he brought his face close enough to hers that he spoke against her lips.
"Want you, too."
The floodgates of desire opened between them at his admission and their kiss quickly went hot and deep. Their hands started to wander as he pressed her back into the mattress, his body settling heavily against hers.
His lips slid from hers to her cheek to her throat and beyond. She reveled in the sensations rushing though her.
"You asked me what I need," she gasped, holding his head against her. "I need you, Jethro; I need you."
He raised his head and looked at her with eyes that burned with a brilliant blue flame.
"Please," she whispered, past the point of caring if she was begging. "Even if it is just for tonight."
"Is that all you want?" he asked quietly. "Just tonight?"
Ziva went completely still, then stepped out on a limb, praying it would not break beneath her.
"No," she husked. "But I will take it if that is all you have to give me."
He'd never expected to be in this position, had always thought the love he felt for her was destined to remain hidden in the deepest recesses of his heart. He was honored and humbled that she'd left herself vulnerable in a way she never did if she could help it.
"Want more, too," he revealed, relishing the way she melted into him, the way her eyes sparkled in the moonlight filtering in through the sheer curtains covering the sliding glass doors that looked out onto the ocean. "Have feelings for you, Ziver - real feelings – and for more than just one night."
Her heart soared.
"I have feelings for you, too," she returned quietly. Then she snorted to herself. That was an absurdly weak, pale description for the powerful love she felt for this man. She'd risked this much; she might as well risk the rest. He all but saw her square her shoulders and brace herself for his reaction. "I am in love with you, Jethro."
Though the conversation had been slowly heading in that direction, he reeled to hear those words coming from her lips. He'd completely convinced himself he never would.
She saw his reaction and began to dread what might be coming.
"I swear to you that I tried not to be," she rushed to fill in the silence as she closed her eyes. "Please do not force me off the team. I do not want to lose you. I promise not to –"
He stopped her uncharacteristic, rambling flow of words with his lips, telling her wordlessly that she wasn't going anywhere and that he loved her back, more than he could say.
But still, he knew she deserved for him to try.
He pulled back after kissing her breathless, just far enough away that he could see fully into her face.
"Love you, too," he told her, his heart smiling at the joy that spread across her face as she tightened her arms about his neck and hugged him tightly, never wanting to let go. "Just needed a minute there. Never expected to say that out loud."
"Nor did I," she husked, running her hands over him just for the pure pleasure of it, just because she could.
He bent his head to string a row of kisses along her jaw. She arched into him, silently begging for more.
"We'll figure work out," he promised, his lips still against her skin. "But you think we could do that later?"
A sultry laugh escaped from her throat and rolled through him. She felt the way his body hardened further against her belly and reveled in it.
He kissed the smile off her face as they lost themselves in each other, not even noticing that a storm kicked up outside over the ocean.
They made love and it was beautiful - and unlike anything either of them had ever known.
There was wonder and trust and sensual delight … loving warmth and affectionate laughter … slow and languid and full of discovery morphing into a raging thirst that demanded to be quenched.
When neither one of them could wait a second more, she made a place for him between her thighs, welcoming him in and relishing the weight of him as he settled fully on top of her. He slid into her snug liquid heat and knew he was home.
Wherever she was, that was home.
Then the fire raging between them consumed their words, their thoughts, their very souls until they emerged on the other side of the inferno connected and reborn.
As they slowly recovered, they murmured drowsily, tenderly until they fell asleep wrapped around each other, feeling more whole than either had in a lifetime.
Three days later, the setting sun glinted brightly off the big silver plane winging them back to the surrogate family that awaited them.
They would be home ...
Because they would be together.
And while they didn't have all the answers as to how this would work, they were already secure in the knowledge that neither of them would ever be truly alone again.
~ The End ~