Finding The Way

AN: It took longer than I originally intended, but Breathe is back. :) If you have read the series, this picks up right after Life is Made ends. (Seriously, about five minutes after it ends.) If you haven't read the series up until this point, here's the basics: We're at the end of Season 7, everybody's back from Mexico and Gibbs has gone up to get Jack after Paloma and her men shot up the store. McGee and Tony are married, Jimmy and Abby are living together and Sarah McGee moved in with Ziva after a nasty ex caused issues that forced her out of the Waverley dorms. She stayed when she graduated a few weeks ago. Oh, and she's pregnant by nasty ex, but not everybody knows that. ;) The story is done, and I'll post a chapter every day or two, mostly because it's a lot to absorb at once, both in word count and in topics. It will be completely posted by the end of November.

General setting/timeline info: This is set shortly after Abby and McGee return from Mexico at the end of Season 7. While the series has tracked reasonably closely to canon (excluding relationships) up until now, that ends here because the trajectories of everybody's paths are headed too far away from canon. One thing I'm specifically changing is the length of time it takes to capture Paloma. I'm shortening it for reasons that will become clear.

Warnings: This is going to be a fairly dark story in many ways, with lots of difficult issues all the characters must face. Possible triggers: Sexual trauma, rape, issues surrounding fertility and pregnancy (miscarriage, abortion, infertility), PTSD, BDSM, abuse, torture and questions of consent. All of these likely will enter into the story at various points. If you want more information before deciding whether or not to read, please message me.

Thanks: First, HUGE thanks to rose_malmaison for her stupendous art! This series has a lot of threads, and she managed to capture all of them and communicate the feel in her cover art and banners. Also, thanks to Kyrie for brainstorming help and Kesterpan for beta reading - she made several great suggestions that made the revised version a million times better. JetGibbs read one section when I drafted it almost three years ago and her input was invaluable. Any mistakes in that section are mine and mine alone. Finally, thanks to all the readers who didn't give up on Breathe despite what I thought (at times) would be a permanent hiatus. I finally managed to get my McDad and McAdmiral separated in my head, and I shoehorned in the space between Exeter books to FINALLY write this. I hope you enjoy it. And now, on to the story!


Chapter 1

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ziva watched as Tony grabbed a sawhorse at the bottom of the stairs in Gibbs' basement and angled it so he and McGee could both lean against it and face the rest of the room. Sarah chose to sit on the lower set of steps, and Ziva did not believe it was a coincidence that she was half-hidden behind McGee.

"Sorry we're late," Tony said.

"As long as everybody's here, Agent DiNozzo." Vance looked around the room, his suit and tie incongruous in the old-fashioned workroom. "Now, as some of you know, we have a bit of a situation on our hands." As he outlined what had happened in 1991 and more recently — skimming over the legality of what Gibbs had done — Ziva watched Eileen McGee's fair skin pale just that bit more, while Sean McGee straightened as though he was in uniform. Sarah gasped and wrapped her arms around herself. Jack's face reminded her more of Gibbs on the warpath than the kindly grandfather she normally saw. Damon's jaw twitched, and Ziva knew the warrior they had come to trust wanted to help.

As soon as Vance finished, Sean spoke up. "Director Vance, I'm assuming that you've called Eileen, Sarah and myself here because you believe we're in jeopardy because of this woman's vendetta against Gibbs."

"Correct, Commander," Vance said. "Now, as you are still on terminal leave, you fall under our jurisdiction. Even if you didn't, I would make sure you were protected." He turned to look at Gibbs. "We believe that Paloma Reynosa will stop at nothing to avenge her father, especially since she already made one attempt on Jackson Gibbs."

"That woman didn't know who she was messing with," Jack said, thumping his cane on the floor. "Now, what are we going to do about her?"

"Protect you," Gibbs said.

"Correct," Vance said. "We're adding a protective detail here, to keep both the house and Mr. Gibbs safe." He paused and looked over at the McGees. "That will also provide some additional protection for you both, and we're hoping that Paloma does not realize exactly who you are."

"What about Sarah?" Sean asked.

"Sarah is staying with me," Ziva said. "She will be safe there. She is not on the lease, so Paloma will not be looking for her there, and you would not think she and McGee are sister and brother to look at them." She redirected the conversation. "I would be more concerned about Jimmy and Abby."

"An excellent point, Agent David," Vance said. "Miss Scuito, Mr. Palmer, we'll be putting a protective detail on your apartment." He paused. "Mr. Palmer, please make sure your paperwork is up-to-date before somebody in HR asks why I'm not putting security on your old apartment as well."

Jimmy blushed. "Yes, Director."

Damon had been leaning against the concrete wall, but he straightened up. "Director Vance, why am I here? I'm not on the team, and I would think Brad Pitt would be a target before me."

"Excellent reasoning, Werth," Vance said.

"You're extra protection." Tony spoke up from his spot at the foot of the stairs. "You've got the training and nobody will suspect anything if you're at Sarah's coffee shop or in the apartment with her and Ziva or out with Jimmy or Abby."

Ziva almost missed the small lift of Vance's lips.

"Correct, Agent DiNozzo," Vance said. "Covering this many people without alerting anybody is difficult, and I know this is an intrusion. There are times when even those of you who are trained agents will need additional protection, and there are times when those of you who are not agents would be safe as long as you are in the presence of somebody who is trained at these sorts of duties." He looked over at Damon. "Since the city doesn't allow anyone except law enforcement to carry firearms, I've arranged for you to receive a temporary NCIS ID for your protective detail duties. After we finish here, you and Gibbs will go to the range so you can take and pass your qualifying test. I'll have a service weapon and badge ready for you once you finish."

"Well, Director, it seems you do indeed have all the bases covered," Ducky said. "Is there anything else we should know?" He looked toward the stairs and Ziva saw McGee flush before turning to look at Tony. They looked at each other for a bit, and Ziva was sure they could transcribe text of what they were communicating without words.

Ziva knew even before McGee opened his mouth what was coming.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~

Tim watched as Vance went through everything they knew and all the details for protective details. Ziva had bought them a little time by redirecting the questions away from Sarah, but Tim knew they would have to tell before this planning session ended. Correction, he would have to tell, since Tony and Sarah both agreed everybody would take it better coming from him. He ignored the churning in his stomach that usually only surfaced when he got on a ship.

Tim was just trying to figure out how to bring the subject up when Ducky prompted him — and Tim knew that's just what it was. When he looked over at Tony, his husband knew it, too — and he wasn't about to step in and get Tim off the hook for telling.

"There's one more thing," Tim said. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw Sarah trying to shrink into a small ball on the steps. "Director, I'm not sure exactly how this fits in, but..." Tim hesitated before a kick in the ankle from Tony gave him the push to continue — but not before shooting a glare at Tony. "Sarah discovered this week that she's pregnant — by Evil Josh — and she asked me and Tony to adopt the baby. We agreed."

The basement filled with babble as everybody started talking — even the team members who knew about Sarah's situation. His sister stayed on the steps, hidden behind him and Tony, and Tim couldn't help but be reminded of the time Tony and Ziva had to go find her in the Waverley Library, hiding from the murder charges.

Gibbs' sharp whistle cut the air and everybody stopped talking.

"This changes things," Vance said. "We're going to need to rethink our plans in light of this new information."

Sarah popped up. "Rethink how?"

"I don't know, Sarah," Vance said. "However, I do not believe this discussion needs to involve everybody." He looked around the room. "David, Werth, DiNozzo, Agent McGee, Gibbs and Dr. Mallard, please stay. The rest of you are free to go, though I suggest you stay in this house until we have the security precautions for everybody else dealt with."

"Come on, I think we could all do with a good lunch," Jack said as he levered himself to his feet.

Tim wasn't surprised to see Sarah head up the stairs first, but he knew their parents were going to catch up with her — and Abby, provider of the initial, incorrect, test — upstairs. He was glad he and Tony would miss that part of the discussion.

Once the room had cleared out, Vance scanned the room. "How long have you known?"

"Ziva figured out Sarah was pregnant last week and they told Abby," Tim said. "Abby told Jimmy after we got back from Mexico, and Sarah finally told Tony and me yesterday — then she asked us to adopt the baby."

Tony chimed in. "Gibbs knew Sarah was pregnant, and so did Ducky, but none of them knew Sarah had asked us to adopt."

"I did not know myself," Ziva said. "Not until today when Sarah told me."

"I didn't know any of it," Damon said. "But this changes things a lot — from what you guys have said about this Paloma woman, if she finds out about Sarah, she's going to target her."

Vance nodded. "I'm familiar with Miss McGee's resistance to authority, but not protecting her is not an option in this situation, however little she'll like it."

"Let us talk to her tonight," Tony said. He looked around the room. "I think a planning session back at our house tonight — one that looks like a game night to anybody observing — would make more sense."

"Tony's right," McGee said. "Sarah will be more likely to accept whatever we decide if she feels like she's had a voice in it, and we'll be able to discuss a lot more options if you and Gibbs don't know anything about it, Director."

Ziva nodded. "They are right," she said. "Damon, perhaps you can keep the McGees occupied while I tell the others?" At his agreement, she headed upstairs, leaving Tony and McGee downstairs with Gibbs and the director. She was sure they all had much to discuss before tonight.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~

Once upstairs, Ziva stopped in the kitchen to say something to Jack. Damon kept walking and wasn't surprised when Sean caught his eye and headed toward the front door, not after Vance and Tony had tagged Damon for extra protection of Sarah. He left distracting Eileen McGee to Ziva since he knew the sailor would want this conversation in private.

When Sean reached for the front door, Damon stepped forward. "Let me," he said. As he opened the door, he scanned the street and neighboring yards for potential threats. He'd seen the NCIS agency cars often enough to recognize the one where one half of the protective detail maintained a watch, while the other agent focused on the back and sides of the yard. At the end of each round, the agent would just come into Damon's view before turning for another sweep of the yards.

Once he was satisfied that the area was as safe as possible, he walked out, taking up a position leaning against the corner of the house at the top of the steps. There, he could see anybody approaching.

"You're all taking this seriously," Sean said.

"Gibbs doesn't mess around," Damon said. "And Ziva doesn't spook easily. None of us are willing to risk somebody else getting hurt."

"You and Ziva are certain you can protect Sarah?"

Damon nodded, then studied Sean's face. He didn't see doubt there, just concern. "With both of us and Jethro, she'll be safe. Your grandchild, too."

Sean shook his head, a smile crossing his face before morphing into a small frown. "Never figured things would happen like this," he said. "Don't get me wrong — I'm excited about the boys' news. But I know my daughter, and I know this isn't what she wanted at all."

"No, but she's finding her way," Damon said. "I first met the team because I had done something wrong while trying to do something good. Agent Gibbs understood, and he did what he could to help me. That helped me find my own way out of the mess I'd made."

"Are you saying Sarah-"

"No." Damon cut him off. "Sarah didn't do anything wrong. Josh is the only one who did something wrong here. But Sarah does have to find her own way out, and this is how she's choosing to do it."

Sean didn't say anything for several seconds. "Promise me one thing?"

"Of course, sir."

"You'll tell me if-"

Damon saw sunlight flash off reflected metal and pulled Sean flat to the ground, shielding him with his body as he shouted. "Ziva!" He felt helpless without a gun as the bullets hit the house, one whistling past his head.

Ziva burst through the front door just as the agents on duty started firing back. She aimed her SIG and next thing Damon knew, he was in a firefight. Ziva used the wall of Gibbs' house as a shield, but the way the cartel was spraying bullets around, it wouldn't take much. Damon scanned the street for the enemy, his eyes in constant motion. The bright mid-day sun made him squint, but he saw one of the enemy take cover behind a car before firing, and Damon ducked, reaching for the weapon he wasn't carrying.

Instead of green grass, he saw sand and dust covering everything. The gunfire was so loud, he could swear it was kicking up sand and he shielded his face.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~

At first, Sarah thought she was hearing fireworks. Then Ziva went running for the front door and everybody else hit the deck, Abby and Jimmy pulling her to the ground with them. Sarah curled up as much as she could, but when Tim, Tony, Gibbs and the director thundered up the steps she wanted to reach out and tell them to stop.

She didn't know how long it lasted, how many shots were fired. All she knew was that she'd never been this scared, even when she showed up at Tim's apartment covered in unknown blood with no memory of how she'd gotten it on her.

The noise stopped, and Sarah wondered if that meant she was dead and just couldn't feel it. Then she heard Jimmy.

"Is everybody OK?" he asked.

"We're not the ones you need to check on," Abby said. "Jimmy, what if they're hurt?"

Sarah looked up to see Ducky putting a hand on Abby's shoulder. "Abigail, just a moment," he said. "Mr. Palmer, please proceed cautiously, and do not go outside unless they say it is safe."

"Yes, Dr. Mallard." Jimmy scrambled to his feet and Sarah figured that meant it was safe for her to sit up. She hugged her knees, but couldn't curl up as much as she wanted. Stupid baby. She looked over to see her mom looking pale, but okay.

"Wait, what about Dad?" Sarah pushed herself up, but Abby grabbed her hand and pulled her back to the floor.

"Stay down," she said.

"Abby's right," Jack said, looking out from behind the chair where he'd taken cover. "Leroy will tell us if it's safe."

"It's safe," Jimmy called from the front hall. "Sean and Damon are fine, and the others are investigating."

Sarah pulled free from Abby's hand and stood up, then walked over to where Jack was sitting. "Come on," she said, offering a hand. "You can't stay there all afternoon." Her mom joined her, and the two of them got Jack to his feet, with him muttering about Sarah needing to take it easy the whole time.

"I'm okay," she said.

"Ducky, you should take a look at him," Abby said.

"I'm old, not dead," Jack retorted, reaching for the cane Abby had picked up off the floor. "I just can't move as easily as you kids anymore."

"It was a sudden situation," Ducky said, as he bent over to rub one knee. "I rather think I should check all of you out for bumps and bruises."

Sarah tested everything out, rolling her shoulders. One hip twinged as she moved. "Ow." But as Ducky moved toward her, she held up one hand. "Ducky, I'm okay. I think I just overstretched something when I landed."

"Ah, yes," Ducky said. "That is something you'll have to be careful about these next few months." He motioned for her to sit, and Sarah decided it wasn't worth arguing. "Your ligaments will start loosening up during these next few months to prepare your body for when the baby arrives. You will find you are able to move further in some ways, but you must be careful not to overstretch, or it could become quite painful after the baby arrives."

"Great." Sarah grimaced. "Another thing to look forward to." She saw her mom start to say something and cut her off. "So now that we know that they were serious when they said somebody wants to kill Gibbs and everybody else, what are we going to do?"

"For those of faith, I rather think a prayer or two might be in order," Ducky said. "It certainly can't hurt."