Sorry for the long delay. Too much work, never enough time. Haven't really proofed this chapter so any booboos are all mine to cringe over. Thank you to everyone who took the time to post a review! For all you readers, reviewers, and visitors, please accept a big bowl of angel food cake bits drizzled with chocolate fudge syrup, and topped with whipped cream, strawberries, sprinkles, and nuts. And don't forget to brush your teeth afterwards!
Disclaimer: just borrowing them for a little fun.
A month later…
Gibbs paused sanding to listen to a light footstep heading towards the doorway to the basement. As Ziva came into view and slowly made her way down the stairs, he relaxed. Setting the sander down, he turned to face her, leaning against the work table. As she approached, he picked up his cup of coffee and took a swallow, studying her, noting the stress lines across her forehead, and dark circles under her eyes.
Looking uncertain, she stopped before him. Avoiding his eyes, she looked around the basement for several seconds before speaking, "Gibbs, I….I am leaving tomorrow. Back to Israel. I agreed to leave - to give up my citizenship and leave. It is the only way I can avoid prosecution." Uncharacteristically, she wrung her hands together, moving away to prowl around nervously.
"I do not know what I am going to do there. My father wants me to return to Mossad. I do not know if I can work there – not with him as Director. But, I am not sure what else…what I want to do. After working for you, everything else seems….less. I am not a….a spy now. I am an investigator. I am…."
She turned to face him, eyes filled with tears, her expression anxious and frustrated. "Gibbs, I do not want to leave. I want to work for NCIS, for you still. More than I have ever wanted anything in my life. I will do anything to stay, even work with Tony, obey him, his orders. I am a good worker, am I not? Did I not help the team to solve cases? Am I not valuable?"
Turning away again, she stood rigid, struggling to master her emotions. Breathing deeply, she finally relaxed her shoulders, and unclenched her fists. Turning back to him, she eyed him worriedly, "Gibbs? You once said I was…we were…you thought of us as your 'kids'. Please. This is home. The team is….my family. Please? Help me, please?" Tears were streaming down her face now, silent sobs shaking her.
Her words hurt him, brought out everything he felt as a father for his daughter. Dammit, he was going to have to invent a new rule to supplement Rule 12. Never get involved with coworkers as surrogate family. Snorting to himself, he knew that was a rule he'd never be able to follow. It took every last ounce of mental discipline not to take her in his arms and pull her to him, comfort her. Regret filled him, took his breath, leaving him feeling shaken.
Taking a deep breath, shoving his feelings down deep out of the way, he set down his coffee mug and moved to stand in front of her, locking his gaze on hers. "With your training and experience, you have no excuse for not following orders, not respecting the chain of command, not working as a team, then persuading McGee to do the same…"
He frowned, looking intently at her. "Attacking DiNozzo - you have no excuse for losing control like that. 'Even work with DiNozzo'? That tells me that you're not past the problems that got you into this mess in the first place. You're an excellent spy, and a good investigator, but as a member of a team, you've failed badly. How can you not see that? How can you possibly think that attacking DiNozzo would solve anything?"
"I was angry, upset! He was not even hurt. I admit I do not know how he…." Swallowing, she shook her head, "It does not matter. Turning the audio off - it was one time, one small thing that happened months ago. How could it cause all this trouble? Losing my job? My citizenship? I worked so hard…I do not understand how this happened. Why can it not just be fixed? I learned my lesson and will never again." She almost choked as tears once again filled her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. "I want a do over. Why can I not get another chance?"
Gibbs sighed and shook his head in frustration at her refusal to admit her failings, "This was far more than 'one small thing'. You've had your chance already, Ziva. It doesn't appear to have done much since we're in a bad situation again because of your actions." When she looked puzzled, he continued, "Rivkin. Israel. What happened between you and Rivkin was enough to have you thrown in prison for espionage. I let you back on the team, in spite of finding out you killed your own brother to win my trust. That was your 'do over', Ziva.
"And after all that, you betrayed the trust your partner had in you. You, to McGee's shame, led him down the same path. You betrayed the entire team with what you did." Taking a deep breath, he finished, "It's important to me to trust those I work with, and I don't trust you. I can't permit you to work on another team. You're too dangerous to others who'd rely on you for back up."
Finishing, he just looked at her, waiting.
Ziva took a step back, looking lost and disbelieving as she studied his face, "But, Gibbs…." When he didn't back down, she shook her head in denial at what he had said, "Can I not perhaps work with you separately from the team? There would be no…"
"Doesn't work that way, Ziva."
Reduced to shocked silence, Ziva stood still, unsure. As Gibbs turned back to the table, she felt her hopes shatter. If he wouldn't stand up for her, then there was no one else she could turn to. Faced with returning to Israel, to Mossad, she felt herself crumble inside, finally realizing she had no choice. There was not a place for her at NCIS, no team, no Gibbs, no hope. Rather than facing the gaping abyss where her dreams and hopes had been, she felt as if she had already fallen into its darkness. Without another word or glance, she turned and slowly made her way up the stairs and out of the house, moving woodenly.
Shaking his head at what had just happened, Gibbs grabbed his mug and with an expression of frustration, he threw it against the far wall where it exploded into fragments showering the floor wide and far.
McGee pulled two more cold beers out of the refrigerator and returned to Tony's living room. Passing one to Tony, he plopped himself back down in the easy chair with a sigh. "I still don't understand how we missed the connection. After all, he was the cousin, and wasn't exactly hiding they were related. And who better to make the arrangements?"
He was grateful that Tony had reached out to him recently and suggested they hit a big celebration for a group of recently promoted officers at a local cops bar. He had made some good friends at the PD and had come to realize that being a part of the force was every bit as satisfying as being a member of NCIS. The work was more 'immediate' and 'down in the trenches', but he found he enjoyed it. When he was out on the street, he found himself more attuned to what was going on around him, more aware of nuances in the people and places than he'd been before.
Shaking his head, Tony replied, "No one thought to look at the wife's side with her gone. No one else from her side of the family had been involved before." He paused, looking thoughtful, "I may have to add a new rule: if the wife isn't around, suspect her relatives."
Taking a draw from the bottle, he said, "Thanks for the help untangling the mess with those records. I thought Gibbs was gonna have a probie sandwich for lunch for a while there. I suspect Delta is gonna finagle her way into sparring with him next training session in the gym just so she can have a chance at knocking him on his ass."
Raising his eyebrows, McGee asked, "She wants to take on Gibbs? Is she that good or just crazy?"
With a wry grin, Tony shrugged, "She was…is a Marine, and as stubborn as Gibbs. She's not a fair fighter either."
"Make sure you get a copy of the security tape for me." McGee smirked back. He tossed the files he'd brought with him onto the coffee table. They'd poured over the lists and records looking for any little thing that might have indicated when the next shipment of "human cargo" was arriving. Tony had a few suggestions for McGee to investigate the next day, but otherwise it looked like Tim had already mined the records for everything useful.
Picking at the label on the beer bottle, Tony said quietly, "Abby's first day back at work will be tomorrow. You talked to her recently?"
McGee replied, "No. She's been working all hours to complete her community service; finished two days ago I understand. The diversion hearing was this morning."
Nodding, Tony stood, "Yeah, the case was dismissed. Good for her."
Looking at him strangely, McGee said, "You're not upset, then?"
Shrugging, Tony replied, "No. She earned the dismissal. And I think she's figured a few things out. I just hope she can live with the changes at work – it's going to be a drastic adjustment for her."
Glancing at McGee, he continued, "Lots of changes at work for you also, Tim."
Looking slightly abashed, McGee nodded, "I know. But, it doesn't necessarily have to be bad. And….well, I think it's been….I actually found that working with the team at Metro is interesting and rewarding. Different – the whole police scene is different from how NCIS works." He paused, lost in thought, before saying softly, "It's like waking up and finding a whole other world out there that's more intense…more alive. More cases – there's enough work for a whole building of agents, but we handle it all, juggling and working all hours of the day and night. There's always something happening…"
Tony studied him with a slight smile on his face, "Sounds like you fit right in."
McGee shrugged, looking a bit sheepish, "It was different than I thought it would be."
With a knowing nod, Tony headed for the kitchen. His cell rang en-route, and as he answered it he didn't have time to even say hello before the caller started speaking. Within ten seconds the caller had hung up leaving Tony looking puzzled. He stared at the phone for a second before motioning to McGee, "Gibbs. He said to meet him at a car accident scene – sounded shook up."
Rising to his feet, McGee asked, "Should I come?"
Grabbing his weapon and badge from a drawer of an end table near the door, he said over his shoulder, "Yeah, c'mon."
Finding a place to park two blocks from the accident site, the two men walked towards the blocked off area, edging through the gathered gawkers. They could see a utility pole leaning precariously over the street, held up by the wires running to the neighboring poles. Whatever had happened had had enough force to sheer off the pole, which didn't bode well for whatever had struck it. Fire trucks angled across the street obscured the view of the vehicles involved in the crash. Patrol cars stood with doors open and lights flashing as the officers continued to string crime scene tape around the area and move on-lookers back. An ambulance with its back doors open and gurney resting against the rear bumper was unattended.
Looking for Gibbs, they flashed their badges at an officer guarding access to the scene, and ducked under the tape. Rounding the front of a fire truck, they finally saw the car, hopelessly mangled and wrapped partially around the base of the broken pole. No other vehicles were nearby – single car crash. McGee pointed to the NCIS ME's van as it pulled in beside the ambulance. Ducky and Palmer exited the van and were met by Gibbs, who'd appeared finally.
As they walked up to the men, they noticed Gibbs was looking almost sick. Glancing at each other worriedly, they reached the group as Gibbs spoke up. "Ducky…." He paused as he saw Tony and McGee. Wincing slightly as he met their eyes, he turned back to Ducky, "Glad you came. I know this isn't officially one of our cases, but…" Gibbs looked worried.
Ducky glanced at Jimmy who nodded and went to fetch the gurney, looking uneasy himself. "It's alright, Jethro."
Gibbs cell rang, and he answered it, moving off.
Smiling at McGee, Ducky said, "It's nice to see you again, Timothy. How are you doing?"
Smiling back, McGee said, "Good, Ducky. Ah, what's going on?" He looked closer at the car, noting a sheet covering what he thought might be the driver's area of the car. Tony was also looking at the car and had gone white. McGee was extending a hand to steady him when he caught sight of what Tony had noticed. The rear license plate was visible from this angle, and the plate number, FZ I192, was familiar. Very familiar. Suddenly, the model of the car, the coloring came into focus. He knew this car. He couldn't breathe. No. This wasn't right. A red mini cooper. Ziva's car.
Gibbs appeared at Tony's shoulder, "Call your probies, DiNozzo. They can go over the crime scene and do the canvassing."
When Tony didn't move, frozen at the sight of the car, Gibbs reached up and headslapped him hard. "Move! I don't want the locals here screwing up our crime scene."
A wave of anger swept over McGee at Gibb's words, "The 'locals' here know how to process a crime scene, boss. They won't screw it up."
Stalking over to McGee, Gibbs got in his face, studying him. Quietly, he asked, "You gone native on me, McGee?"
Angry, McGee stared back, "No, Gibbs, but I've had time to work with them, and I know the quality of their work. They don't screw up. There's a lot of things you assume about LEOs that just aren't true." He paused, waiting for Gibbs to do or say something, anything. He wanted to hear that what he was thinking wasn't true; that the car wasn't Ziva's, or she hadn't been driving it, or…
Tony's voice, almost whisper quiet, asked, "Who was driving the car, boss? Did she…did she survive?"
Gibbs turned to him, finally taking in DiNozzo's pale face and McGee's distressed expression. "Not Ziva. She looks familiar though. That woman – the courier who met Ziva at that hotel when Ari first showed up…looks like her."
"Find out. And find out if this was an accident or something else."
McGee looked startled, "Not an accident? Do you think someone thought it was Ziva and tried it kill her?"
Ducky and Palmer paused, the gurney between them, and the four watched Gibbs as he headed toward the Charger without another word, and took off in a hurry.
"Tim, you wanna help process the scene until I can get the probies here?" Tony didn't look at Tim, but kept his eyes fastened on the crumpled car.
"Sure thing, Tony. What happened to Detective Farmer? Wasn't she assigned as a liaison to the team?"
As he tore his eyes from the car, Tony pulled out his cell and started dialing, "She's been in court for the last few days – some big fraud case. Should be back next week." As the call was answered, he headed off to his car to grab his backpack. "Bravo, put a hoot 'n holler out for your fellow probies. We have a crime scene to process. I'm texting the address to you…."
As he and McGee started photographing the scene, Tony said almost absently, "No skid marks."
McGee looked around at the pavement, "Yeah. The street is straight, no rain, clear and unobstructed visibility…." He examined the street. "If she'd swerved, you'd see tire marks. If there'd been another car, there should be parts scattered along the street. Was she forced off the road?"
Turning back to McGee with a scowl, Tony said in that flat quiet voice, "I hope Ducky finds the woman's been drinking or….or something."
Frowning, McGee asked, "What? Why?"
"Because the alternative is…."
Tony could see McGee trying to pull the clues together, struggling to fit them into some sort of pattern. He could see exactly when Tim figured it out.
"You think Ziva might be in some sort of trouble? That this was an attempt on her life, but she was saved because she wasn't the one driving her car?"
"Tim, she was released yesterday from custody to prepare to fly back to Israel. She agreed to give up her citizenship and return to Israel to avoid prosecution. She's scheduled to fly out early tomorrow. If someone did want her dead, they have a very small window to accomplish killing her."
"Prosecution? For what?"
"She….drew a knife on me, tried to use it, she…."
"She tried to kill you?!"
Shrugging, Tony said, "She was angry. She'd just learned she wouldn't be coming back to the team. It shook her up."
Listening disbelievingly, McGee said, "She wouldn't…." He trailed off, know that she, in fact, probably could. And probably did. Of all the stupid things….
"I wouldn't be surprised if she went to Gibbs tonight, to ask him to intervene. And if he refused…"
McGee winced. "Did Gibbs say anything…." He trailed off, looking uneasy.
Shaking his head, Tony stared at McGee. Both were thinking the same thing. If Ziva was in danger….