AN: Thanks for all the comments throughout this story, and to everybody who's stuck with it so far. I know some of the subject matter has been difficult — that was always the nature of this story — and I appreciate those who were willing to join me (and Ziva) in tackling it.
Gibbs sat in the passenger seat and watched as Ziva wrapped her fingers around the mug. She breathed in the steam from the small slit in the lid. He waited. She wouldn't talk until she was ready. She never had.
The minutes ticked by, the pair of them sitting in silence. Finally, Ziva spoke.
"You are not going to ask?"
Gibbs turned toward her and lifted one eyebrow.
"Of course you are not. You are, as Tony says, a functional mute." A smile was gone from her face almost as soon as it appeared. "You will not talk. And I-" She paused, breathed in and exhaled. "I do not know if I can."
Gibbs sat and waited.
"When I returned last year, I wanted to be back to normal," she said. "Too much, I think. I did not see how I could put Somalia behind me until I was back on the team as an agent."
"Psych eval?" Gibbs prompted.
"You and Tony both know it is possible to get through those," she said. "You should not be surprised that I, too, was able to pass."
He nodded, once.
Ziva set the mug in the cupholder and reached for the Star of David that hung around her neck. "I learned much in Mossad. Too much, maybe. I pushed some things aside, convinced myself it was the best way to deal with them." She paused. "I was wrong." She let her fingers fall away from the small pendant. "I do not say that often," she said. "But I need to, this time."
Gibbs reached over and covered her hand with his. She turned hers over and squeezed his hand, then removed her own.
"I-" She broke off and started over. "There are things that happened in Somalia, ones I have not talked about." She bit her lower lip and looked at him. "I do not want to talk about them with you, and I do not think you want to hear them." Before he could reply, she continued, "But I do need to talk to somebody about them." She looked down, and he couldn't see her eyes anymore. "I do not-" She started over. "Until I do this, I should not be in the field. I cannot do my job, not the way you need me to."
Gibbs reached over and tipped her chin up until she looked at him, her eyes damp.
"You'll get your time," he said. "I'll square it with Vance. This won't affect your job, once you're ready."
He let his hand drop. "Ziva, you have a chance. Make sure you take it. Don't come back until you're ready. Don't let any of us push you into doing that."
"I will not."
He smiled. "You can do this, Ziver — and we'll be here if you need us."
"I will remember that," she said. "I- Thank you." She started to hand him back the mug.
"Keep it," he said. "If you want a refill, Jack's usually got the kettle on. Any time, day or night."
Ziva nodded, and set the cup back in its place. Gibbs opened the car door and got out. He stood on the sidewalk and watched as she drove off. He would talk to Leon tomorrow, make sure her badge would still be there when she was ready.
Ziva felt lighter as she left Gibbs' house. But the closer she got to the house in Silver Spring, the heavier the weight in her heart became. She had talked to Gibbs, but she still needed to make things right with Damon, and she did not know if that was possible. It should not be, after what she did.
When she pulled up to the house, all the lights on the second floor were out. But the one in Damon's bedroom still burned. Ziva knew she could not escape this conversation.
She walked inside. Damon was sitting on his bed, legs crossed, with Jethro's head on his lap.
"Tony and McGee will not be happy he is on the bed," she said.
"Special circumstances," Damon said, his fingers combing through the dog's fur. "I heard you went to see Gibbs."
She wanted to argue, but as she opened her mouth, she stopped. No. That was not the way. And she did not know who had told him. If Tony knew, Tim would know, and Tim could have tracked her. Any of the three men could have called Gibbs, or Gibbs could have called them. It did not matter. Fixing what she had broken was all that mattered.
"I did." She stood in the doorway to his room. "I did not tell him everything, but he knows the important things." She squared her shoulders. "I should not have yelled at you earlier. You were right, and I was not."
Damon got up, leaving Jethro staring after him with a puzzled expression on his face. At least Ziva was sure Abby would say it was puzzled. She forced her mind back on its unpleasant track. Damon would yell now, and she would take it because she deserved it.
"Did you figure anything out while you were gone?" he asked.
"That is all that matters, then." He stopped in front of her and smiled.
Ziva looked at him, but could not understand.
"Why do you not hate me?" Ziva stood there, eyes dry. Her body was rigid with tension. "What I did to you-"
Damon cut her off. "I broke Tony's nose. I dislocated McGee's shoulder. I could have thrown you into the wall. You never hated me for that." One side of his mouth quirked up. "Even Tony's forgiven me for the nose."
"But you did not know what you were doing," Ziva said. "I planned this. I seduced you, knowing what you wanted and knowing I did not mean it that way, even if I wanted to."
"You did what you thought you needed to do to protect yourself," Damon said. "Was I mad? Yeah. I was. But I couldn't hate you." He hesitated. "I love you too much to ever hate you."
Ziva stared at him, and he was afraid he had said too much. Still, he wouldn't take it back.
"I do not deserve your love," she said, her voice barely audible. She looked down, her dark lashes veiling her eyes.
"You don't 'deserve' love," Damon said. "You think Tim loves Tony because Tony deserves it? No, he loves him because he's Tony." He reached down and tipped her chin up. "You never have to deserve my love. Not me, not the rest of the team, not Gibbs. And if anybody makes you think you need to do something or be somebody to be loved, then it isn't love. It's control."
Ziva nodded, a single tear spilling out from one eye. "Ani ohevet otcha," she said. "The last time I said those words, they were to a man who did not return them." She put a hand to Damon's chest, right above his heart. He put his hand over hers.
"And now?" he asked.
"Now I say them in English, language of my country," she said. "I, too, love you." She swallowed audibly. "I... I did not do what I should have before. I made a mistake."
Damon put a finger to her lips. "We both made mistakes," he said. "We're going to get this right, and that means you set the pace." He put his hands on her shoulders. "It also means you need to get help."
Ziva nodded. "Gibbs is going to work with the director to allow me to get the help I need, and I am taking a leave of absence, until my doctor says I am ready to return."
Damon felt his shoulders relax. "Good," he said. Then she wrapped her arms around his ribs and hugged him, and Damon let her, his arms wrapping around her back. He bent down to whisper in her ear. "I know you'll find your way through this, and I'll be here for you every step of the way."
Thank you for sticking with this until the end. This was a challenging story to write on several levels, but I've wanted to tell the story of Ziva's Somalia aftermath for quite a while. I only hope I was able to do her story justice. And yes, there will be more Breathe stories at some point. I'm also toying with an NCIS/NCIS:LA/Hawaii 5-0 crossover. But first I need to finish an Exeter draft for the book coming out next year.