This is my 60th fanfiction, and my 34th for NCIS. When I wrote my first NCIS fanfic ("Hell and High Water," which was also my first fanfic ever) three years ago, I never imagined that one day, I would be writing a tag to Ziva's last episode. Like many fans, I'm deeply saddened by her departure, but writing this story made me feel a little better. I hope reading it will do the same for you.
Thanks to Grande for the prompt.
Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be
And this is the light of festivity
When your broken heart yearns to be free
– Matisyahu, "Miracle"
By the time he ends the call with Ziva, he's finished off the beer bottle in his hand and pulled another one from his refrigerator. He goes downstairs to his basement, as he does almost every night, but this time, he doesn't make any measurements for a new project, doesn't saw or sand any boards. He simply sits on the bottom step, sips his beer, and looks around the silent room at the dust and sawhorses, at the small, dark stain – still just visible – of Ari's blood in the corner.
He drinks more than usual than night. He drinks to ease the pain in his face from the fight with Mendez's hired thug, the pain in his heart from his conversation with Ziva. He drinks so much that when he wakes up on his couch the next morning, he remembers the phone call with Ziva only in bits and pieces.
He remembers her asking, "You are not... angry with me?" with a nervousness in her voice that he rarely ever heard from her.
"No one here is angry with you, Ziver," he had answered immediately, his own voice sounding exactly how he felt – accepting, but sad.
He can't remember their whole conversation, but that doesn't bother him so much. He remembers the things that matter. He remembers teaching her to play baseball, kissing her forehead and calling her his kid, holding her in his arms when, desperate to jog his memory, she sobbingly confessed that she'd killed Ari.
Before he falls asleep that night, his last thought is, It wasn't supposed to be like this. He remembers that, too.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, he'd told himself in the cemetery years ago, the first time he stood over the double grave of his wife and daughter. He was the one who'd been serving in a war zone. He was the one who was supposed to have been in danger. It was Shannon and Kelly who were supposed to put him in the ground.
Despite all his drinking, he doesn't sleep much that night. When he closes his eyes, the number eight flashes on the backs of his eyelids. 8 8 8, over and over, as if it were the number of the day on Sesame Street. How Kelly had loved Sesame Street when she was a toddler. She was convinced that it was a real place, and she used to beg him and Shannon to take her there to meet Snuffleupagus. But before he knew it, she'd outgrown Sesame Street, and by the time she died, she was already all nail polish and lip gloss. And then, before he knew it, she was gone.
Eight years Kelly was his little girl. Eight years Ziva was on his team. Was all the time he'd had with each of them? Just eight years?
Kelly was only a few minutes old when the maternity ward nurse first laid her in his arms. Gibbs held her against his chest and looked down at her, slightly stunned by this tiny, helpless new person who had just come screaming so loudly into the world. Everything else in the hospital room – in the whole world – seemed to fade away, until it was just the two of them. Kelly looked back up at him, and from the moment their eyes met, he was in love. He'd never loved anyone so much in his life – not even Shannon. And even though they'd been hoping and planning for this baby for the last nine months, Gibbs was still shocked that he could already feel so much love for someone he had just met.
He'd only known Ziva for a short time when Gibbs realized that she knew things about him that almost no one else did. She knew about Shannon and Kelly. "I am sorry," she told him in the lab, when it was just the two of them. Gibbs looked hard at her, a bit stunned by this petite, dangerous new person who had just come striding so boldly into their agency. And from the moment his blue eyes met her dark ones, he trusted her. He couldn't explain why. No one else at the agency had ever earned his trust so quickly – not even Jenny or Ducky. Gibbs had thought that at his age, after all he'd lived through, nothing could shock him anymore. But he was wrong. It shocked him that he could already feel so much trust for someone he had just met.
"I did not know how to walk away from my father's world, Gibbs," she told him on the phone that night. "I did not know how to be anything but a killer until I met you. I know you said that part of me died... in Somalia, but... after Eli died, I wanted to kill Bodnar so much. Killing him was all I thought about. And I do not want to go back to that place. I do not want to become that person again." Her voice started trembling then, and Gibbs could tell that she was struggling not to cry. "I do not want you to be... disappointed w— "
"I'm not disappointed with you, Ziver," he said quickly, cutting her off. His own was thick and a bit rough, because how could she even think that that? "Aren't many people who could start over like you're doin'. It takes a lotta... chutzpah."
She actually laughed at that, very briefly, and that made things a bit easier. It felt good, making her laugh. God, he was so tempted to get on the next plane to Israel, find Ziva, and drag her back to DC with him... but he knew that he couldn't do that. He knew that he had to respect her decision. Kelly was a little girl, but Ziva was an adult. Her father had already controlled too much of her life; hell, he'd be no better than Eli, if he forced her to return to DC now.
No, he couldn't do that. He would have to accept that Ziva would be in his life for only eight years, too – just like Kelly.
Gibbs was mowing the front lawn of their home on the Marine housing base, while Kelly rode her bike up and down the sidewalk, when he happened to look up just in time to see her lose her balance on the curb at the end of their block.
Dammit, baby, I told you not to cross the street, Gibbs thought, and his heart skipped a beat when Kelly cried out as she toppled off her bike onto the pavement. It terrified him to see his daughter hurt, no matter how slightly, and he abandoned his lawn mower, ran full-speed to the curb, and was there scooping her up before she even had time to flinch.
Inside, he sat Kelly on the kitchen counter and cleaned up her skinned knee. Kelly didn't cry once, not even when he disinfected her knee with the hydrogen peroxide that stung so much, and Gibbs smiled at her proudly. "That's my girl," he said softly.
"Thank you, Daddy," Kelly said, as he stuck a Sesame Street band-aid on her knee. "That feels gooder."
"Better, baby," Gibbs corrected gently. "It feels better. And try not to go too far on your bike yet, Kells. Remember you just learned to ride without training wheels."
They decided not to mention it to Shannon, who was out grocery shopping. It would be their little secret.
Gibbs rounded the corner of the perimeter just in time to see Ziva grabbling with a suspect. She pinned him and cuffed him quickly enough, but not before he knocked her to the ground with a blow to the head that made Gibbs flinch.
Dammit, Ziver, he thinks, I told you to be careful. He hated to see his agents hurt, even though injuries were inevitable in their line of work. He ran full-speed to Ziva and was there helping her up, even as she brushed him off, insisting that she was fine.
He made the guys take the suspect back to the car while he pulled Ziva aside to make sure that she was okay. She protested, but allowed him to look at her eyes, to make sure her pupils were normal, and check her head for scrapes or bumps. Ziva never flinched once, and he never expected her to – she had always been stoic, like him – but she was surprised when she admitted, "I do feel a bit... wibbly."
"Wobbly, Ziver," he corrected. "You feel wobbly. And try not to get into fights. Remember you're still a probationary agent, technically." He told her that if she let Ducky check her out when they got back to the Navy Yard, he wouldn't make her go to the hospital. She smiled at him, and they called it a deal.
His head feels fuzzy when he wakes up the next morning, but he can still remember his dream – a strange one in which Ducky walked up to him and said, "You know, Jethro, in Judaism, eight is the number of eternity and perfection. Seven, you see, represents the natural, finite world, because God created the world in seven days. But eight, on the other hand, is one step above that. Eight symbolizes an infinite, limitless perfection beyond our limited nature." Gibbs runs one hand through his hair, puzzled, as he pours his morning coffee. How could that information have gotten into his dream? He knows nothing about Jewish numerology. And yet, somehow, it makes perfect sense to him. Eight should be the number to represent something impossibly perfect, something beyond a man's limited means.
At some point, on the phone with him last night, Ziva had started crying. "I love you, Gibbs. I know that you and I – that we do not usually... say things like that, but I wanted to be sure you knew."
And damn it, he'd been close to tears himself, telling her that if she ever wanted to, she could always come back to DC, telling her that his door was never locked, least of all to her, telling her the words that he'd said to precious few people in his life – I love you, too.
Today he would go in to work and break the news to the rest of their little family that Ziva won't be coming back to DC. He knew that they wouldn't let her go easily. McGee and Ducky would be stricken and dismayed. Abby would almost certainly cry. They would deny it, demand explanations, and want to know why. There would be tears and heavy sighs and questions with no easy answers. Gibbs would do his best to explain Ziva's decision to them, but he wouldn't tell them what they said to each other on the phone last night. He could never explain the significance of the number eight.