A/N: Sorry for the long delay. A family member had to have unexpected surgery so I've been busy helping out. Single parents work hard! Just as a reminder, I haven't seen any of Season 11. Everything about Bishop is OOC except her name and the Palmers' adoption story is different as well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014…

"I came as soon as I got your message. What happened? What's wrong? What do you need me to do?"

Abby rapidly fired questions at Tony as she moved toward his desk as briskly as her platform shoes safely allowed.

"Relax, Abby, Tony is just making a huge production out of delivering invitations," McGee told her soothingly.

"Invitations for what?" Abby immediately demanded to know.

"Our little Israeli Perle Mesta has decided she wants to cook for you. The invitations were the girls' idea," Tony explained handing Abby a hand drawn card adorned with glittery stickers, sequins and feathers.

"Who's Perle Mesta?" Abby asked with a quizzical expression.

The forensic scientist was usually able to follow Tony's pop culture references but this one stumped even her.

"Hostess with the most-ess, Abs," Gibbs surprised everyone by answering after briefly looking up from the file he was reading.

"Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam? Ethel Merman played Mesta," Tony hinted.

"Her sister, Marguerite Skirvin, was a famous silent film actress," Ellie contributed earning everyone's incredulous stares.

"What? I know stuff about her," Ellie defended.

"Why?" McGee wondered sarcastically.

"Perle Mesta was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1951. She was very active in campaigning for equal rights for women. I wrote my social studies report on her in the fifth grade," Ellie reluctantly admitted.

"Aww, Ziva wants to have us all over for dinner. She's a great cook. You do not want to miss this," Abby told Ellie.

"Check in with your significant others. RSVP's by Friday," Tony ordered.

"It's all yeses," Abby assured him replying confidently for everyone else.

Thursday night, July 31, 2014…

"I think her husband is very unhappy with us," Ziva giggled.

The Israeli woman had surprised Abby earlier by easily relinquishing the role of designated driver for their ladies' night. For Abby, it was just another indicator of the changes in her friend. Ziva would have chosen to be the one to remain in control in the past.

Having just delivered a drunken Ellie safely home, Abby was now completely focused on an apparently tipsy Ziva. Silly was a side of her Israeli friend the forensic scientist had rarely experienced. The two laughed for most of the drive to Tony's condo but the atmosphere changed when Abby pulled into a parking space.

"Abby, I am not drunk," Ziva stated clearly and soberly.

Ziva was deeply apprehensive to begin the conversation she knew was necessary to restore her relationship with Abby. Knowing it was worth the cost and determined to succeed no matter how painful the process, Ziva charged ahead with her usual audacity and bluntness.

"Abby, I know that you arranged tonight so you could ask about my plans for the future. I will not hurt Tony or the girls. I…love them. I would not be staying with them now if I were not certain Washington is my home. I needed to be in Israel for a time but I have returned."

Abby listened intently. Her uncharacteristic silence was a testament to the rarity of witnessing Ziva being completely open and honest.

"When I went to Israel last summer, I thought I was going to settle my father's estate and visit my memories of my lost family. I needed to grieve for them but I did not expect to confront the truth of what my past had made me. That truth is more terrible than you could imagine. I could not allow any of you to go through that with me," Ziva tried to explain.

"But we love you, Ziva. We loved you the way you were before and we would have loved you into anything you wanted to be. You didn't have to leave us. You could've let us help you. Families help each other. We're a family. I thought you understood that," Abby protested in a voice mixed with pain and anger.

Abby expected a denial, an excuse or simply nothing in response to her admonition but what Ziva said next stunned the forensic scientist into another momentary period of silence.

"Perhaps you are right," Ziva conceded her voice almost a whisper.

"I have been thinking about Tony and the witch doctor case. His children were in danger and he relied on his family for help. He could not protect the girls and eliminate the threat at the same time. He did all that he could and trusted us to do the rest."

"You said us. You were talking about family and you said us," Abby interjected softly causing Ziva to pause briefly and attempt a trembling smile in response to Abby's joyful expression.

Ziva had almost forgotten how little it took to invoke Abby's grace. With just the briefest glimpse of Ziva's true feelings, Abby was wholeheartedly charging down the road toward complete forgiveness.

"I think I understood best what Tony was doing when he stayed in the safe room with us and allowed Gibbs and McGee exact revenge on the men that tried to harm Jamison and Kori. Tony was where his children most needed him to be. It was not the choice my father would have made. He would have sought the satisfaction of revenge. That is the choice he taught me to make as well," Ziva shared.

"I know he hurt you, Ziva. Maybe getting revenge for him wasn't the same as forgiving him," Abby suggested gently.

"No, Abby, it was not. I have learned this. I have also learned that only forgiving my father was not enough. I needed to forgive myself as well. My only defense for staying in Israel is that I felt the need to protect you from all that I was learning. I cannot undo the past year. I can only change the future. I will try to let you help me now," Ziva offered her eyes welling up again.

Abby stared at her friend in shock unsure if it was the alcohol or Ziva's recent journey of self-discovery that was prompting the woman's uncharacteristic willingness to be so vulnerable. Regardless of the cause of Ziva's honesty, a fierce protectiveness arose in her friend because of it.

"I'm here for you, Ziva. Always," Abby declared offering one of her signature bone crunching hugs as further reassurance.

"Feeling a little queasy there, Baby Probie? Ziva sent you this. Some kind of Australian hang over remedy," Tony teased his partner.

The senior agent had arrived at work Friday morning and found Ellie with her head down on her desk. Given that Ziva had come home after midnight and had been slow to wake this morning, Tony assumed ladies' night had been a success.

"This is completely your wife's fault. Stupid mojitos," Ellie mumbled without lifting her head.

"You must still be drunk there, Probajito. Ziva's not my wife," Tony reminded Ellie setting the bottle of pills on her desk.

"Yes she is," McGee disagreed eavesdropping from his desk.

"You and Ziva are sooo married," Abby added as she joined the team in the squad room.

Tony leveled McGee and Abby with a stare that was a mixture of stern censure and guilty acknowledgement.

"Think about it, Tony. You made me set it up so you have access to each other's calendars," McGee pointed out.

"She takes care of your kids," Abby added accusingly as evidence to bolster their assertion.

"Her stuff takes up more than half of your bedroom closet," McGee contributed.

"Ziva runs all your errands and does your laundry," Abby added.

"She sends you to work with a homemade lunch, DiNozzo," Gibbs settled the argument as he joined them with coffee in hand for both himself and Ellie.

Tony gazed sheepishly at the insulated lunch bag on his desk and conceded defeat while Gibbs placed a steaming cup on Ellie's desk.

"Take the pills. Drink the coffee," the team leader ordered the young agent softly being unusually kind given her condition on a work day.

Ellie finally sat up and reached for the pill bottle before glaring at Abby and asking, "Why the hell are you so cheerful?"

"I was the designated driver, remember? Mojitos are your truth serum," Abby reminded her smugly.

"Oh, do tell. What did our littlest probie say?" Tony nosily wondered.

"It's more like what she asked," Abby announced happily.

"It worked?" McGee queried eagerly.

"It totally worked," Abby declared triumphantly.

"You knew about this?" Tony asked Gibbs suddenly understanding the team leader's uncharacteristic patience with partying on a work night.

"That these two were going to try to liquor Ziva up and interrogate her? Yeah, I knew," Gibbs confirmed with a smirk.

"Guys, come on. This is Ziva we're talking about. You really think she wasn't in control? Whatever she said last night is exactly what she wanted you to hear," Tony reminded them as he and Gibbs shared a meaningful look.

It was clear Gibbs knew the plan had been pointless but he also understood that Abby had needed to do it. In truth, the team leader was also a bit curious about Ziva's responses when asked pointed questions about her future.

"Maybe getting Ziva drunk wasn't the point, DiNozzo," Ellie revealed somewhat arrogantly.

"Everybody knows you can't just ask Ziva stuff straight out, Tony, but…," Abby began.

"But she thought the alcohol was talking for Ellie so she tolerated the questions...that was actually pretty genius," Tony decided.

"Last night it was genius. This morning it feels like idiocy," Ellie mumbled.

"Alright, tell me everything. What did Ziva say?" Tony demanded to know.

"I don't know if you're ready to hear all of it," Abby replied thoughtfully.

"Like he's going to let it go now, Abby. You might as well tell us," McGee sided with Tony.

"She said the Italian Stallion always lets her finish first," Ellie announced bluntly.

"Awww, I always knew Tony was a gentleman," Abby confirmed with a grin.

"Maybe he's just afraid to frustrate Ziva," McGee disagreed earning a glare from Abby.

"Ziva misses working with us but she can't be an agent again because she might have to kill someone," Abby added next changing the direction of the conversation.

"All of this is old news. Tell me something I don't know," Tony dismissed eager to hear more.

"Not being an agent isn't just about the killing thing. There's also rule…uh...whatever…the dating one. Anyway, God help her, I think the poor woman actually loves DiNozzo more than the badge," Ellie revealed with a teasing smirk.

"She's so happy being a mom, Tony. I mean, she wants a job too eventually, but she just really loves taking care of you and the girls," Abby shared joyfully.

"And she wants a baby, too. A boy," Ellie announced gleefully knowing Ziva had intended for them to use that tidbit to torment Tony.

Seeing her partner's look of terrified shock, Ellie scoffed, "Oh, relax, DiNozzo, she said someday."

"Ziva totally has inner peace now. I think I understand why she had to stay in Israel to find it," Abby said changing the direction of the conversation once again as her tone became much more serious.

"Wait, did I miss something?" Ellie asked puzzled but Abby didn't explain.

Instead the forensic scientist turned to Gibbs and told him, "You need to be more supportive and stop making Ziva feel like she disappointed you, Gibbs. She didn't want to hurt us. Losing her dad really messed with her head but it turned out to be in a good way. And you need to say the words, Tony. She knows you love her but she still needs to hear it."

"Okay, I was drunk but I know I didn't black out. When did Ziva say all that?" Ellie demanded to know.

"She didn't say it in those exact words but she did really talk to me. It was…un-Ziva like. I think…she was trying to make it up to me for just disappearing before by being open now. She said she was sorry but she had to go to a really dark place and she didn't want to take us there with her. She thought she was protecting us because she really does love us. Especially you, Gibbs. And Tony, of course. Really everybody. She even likes Ellie. I mean, she'll love you eventually but she just doesn't really know you yet. Ziva's not like me. It takes her awhile to warm up. But we all love you."

"I'm good, Abby, really," Ellie confirmed quickly worried that hug from Abby and a hangover would be a bad combination.

"It's kind of amazing…it's like Ziva finally let go of all her inner turmoil. She was always haunted before and now she's not but she's not completely happy either because she hurt us. I told her I understand but she needs to hear it from you too, Gibbs," Abby ordered.

Abby's words gave Gibbs a moment of pause. He had welcomed Ziva back in the same manner he had let her go by simply giving her the freedom to do what she needed to do. He understood it but now he wondered if perhaps, given her current state of mind, Ziva had not. Had his matter of fact approach led her to believe he didn't care?

Late morning, Friday, August 1, 2014...

Ziva jogged comfortably on the trail around the park playground area while keeping a close eye on Jamison and Kori. Kori had found another girl her same age and the two were busy building sand castles while Jamison scaled a miniature rock climbing wall. Running laps was not Ziva's favorite form of exercise but it was one of many compromises she was finding parenting required.

On her fifth lap Ziva pulled up short when she recognized the figure approaching them. She could think of only one reason Gibbs would seek her out in the middle of a Friday morning. On the outside she remained stoic but inside her heart froze with fear for Tony. Gibbs gave her a reassuring smile as he drew close.

"Just came by to say hello. Haven't seen much of you and the girls," he explained as Ziva sighed with relief.

Being the equivalent of a law enforcement spouse was a new experience for Ziva. She was finding it was not an easy transition when she had watched Tony's back herself in the past.

"The girls are doing well. They are quite busy as you can see," Ziva told him gesturing toward the playground as she stretched.

"Then sit with me," Gibbs requested of Ziva nodding toward a nearby bench.

Ziva was shocked when Gibbs sat right by her side and put his arm around her shoulders. Pulling her close, he dropped a soft kiss into her hair.

"Abby talked to you," Ziva surmised quietly having finally discerned the real reason behind Gibbs's visit.

She accurately interpreted his silence as an affirmation.

"I want to offer an apology but I have not forgotten how you feel about them," Ziva admitted softly.

"You don't have a reason to apologize, Ziver. Besides, I didn't come here to listen," Gibbs asserted.

"Perhaps you should tell me why you are really here then," Ziva responded warily resulting in Gibbs tightening his embrace for reassurance.

"I turned in my badge once too. I even left town and spent a few months down at Franks's place in Mexico," Gibbs reminded her pointedly.

"Yes, I remember, Gibbs. It was a difficult time for everyone especially Abby. We missed you but I understood you needed to grieve and heal from the past…," Ziva's voice trailed off as her eyes filled with tears from the gift of empathetic understanding Gibbs had just given her.

"We're alright, kid," Gibbs whispered softly into Ziva's ear.

As Jamison dropped to the ground from the monkey bars, she noticed Ziva talking to her father's boss.

"Kori, look, Boss is here," Jamison told her sister using the nickname the girls had given Gibbs as they imitated Tony.

"Why are you sad, Ziva?" Kori asked worriedly as the girls approached the bench and realized Ziva had been crying.

Kori edged her way into Ziva's lap. Wrapping her arms around Ziva's neck, the little girl tried to offer comfort.

"Is Dad okay?" Jamison asked nervously thinking of Ellie's recent on the job injury.

"Your father is fine," Ziva quickly assured the girls as Jamison continued to study her intently.

"It's okay, Kori. I think it's that weird thing grownups do where they cry when they're happy. Are you happy, Ziva?" Jamison inquired hopefully.

"Yes, I'm very happy," Ziva told her.

"I don't even get a hello?" Gibbs finally growled with feigned irritation.

Although he pretended to be frustrated with their lack of greeting, Gibbs was actually glad to see the girls focused on Ziva. Giggling from his phony display of irritation, both girls moved to give Gibbs hugs and he spent a few minutes talking with them. He was satisfied they were coping as well as Tony had described and was glad to see how much their bond with Ziva had grown.

When the girls returned to the playground and Gibbs got ready to leave, Ziva asked, "You will not accept an apology but will you accept the dinner invitation?"

Gibbs was the only remaining member of the team who had not formally agreed to attend the casual gathering Ziva was hosting. That was not unusual behavior for Gibbs and Ziva had counted him among the yeses knowing it was likely he would show up without having ever committed to coming.

"I'm not about to turn down a home cooked meal especially if you're doing the cooking," he responded causing Ziva's face to alight with a brilliant smile.

As Ziva returned to the bench to watch Kori and Jamison play, she thought about what had just transpired with Gibbs. She had been wrong to think he was angry or disappointed. He was simply being Gibbs. He had understood the necessity of the past year and had unselfishly faded to the background to allow it to happen.

"What?" Gibbs growled at Abby Friday afternoon when she stared at him with a joyful smirk instead of giving him evidence for their latest case.

"I'm proud of you, Boss Man. You made Ziva feel really good."

"Just said yes to an invitation, Abs, that's all," Gibbs shrugged but his twinkling eyes told a different story.

"It means the world to her that we are all coming to her dinner party," Abby shared.

"None of us are going if we don't solve this murder," Gibbs reminded her gruffly.

"Right," Abby replied with military precision turning back to her computer monitor and beginning to explain the displayed results to Gibbs.

Sunday evening, August 3, 2014...

"You're haven't been returning my calls," Vance stated as he approached Ziva from behind.

"I have been busy, Director," Ziva responded turning to face him with a smile.

"Busy avoiding me?" Vance asked pointedly.

"I invited you," Ziva protested referring to the casual dinner party she was in the process of hosting.

Vance patiently spent several minutes answering Ziva's questions about his children before he brought up his intended topic.

"Have you thought about what you are going to do now that you're back?" Vance asked deliberately assuming her return was permanent.

"I'm a nanny," Ziva countered attempting to deflect the question.

"And I'm sure DiNozzo's grateful for the help but we both know that's not going to be enough long-term. School starts in a month. You're going to have more time on your hands," Vance argued.

"You are right. I should find a hobby. Perhaps Abby can teach me to knit," Ziva teased.

"I've got a lead for you. I think it's a very good fit," Vance asserted remaining serious.

"Director, I have explained why I cannot be an agent. To be a part of NCIS without being on Gibbs's team would be difficult. The risk is too great I would allow myself to be pulled into…" Ziva began hoping Vance would understand and finally accept her decision.

"Relax. I'm not making an NCIS offer this time. I've got a friend I want you to meet. You need to hear him out, Ziva. That's all I'm asking. Do it for me. As a favor," Vance requested earnestly.

Ziva studied Vance closely. This was important to him and Ziva sensed it was her key to reestablishing her relationship with her former director.

"What is so important about this that you will not let it go?" Ziva asked curiously.

"His granddaughter was a third grader at Sandy Hook Elementary," Vance offered quietly.

"She survived?" Ziva asked now giving Vance's request the consideration it merited.

"She was out of the line of fire but still traumatized, of course. Herman's spent the past few months traveling all over the world studying the laws and security systems in countries where mass shootings are rare. He's decided gun control isn't the complete answer," Vance started explaining.

"He is right. Laws will help but they are not enough. Despite the threats, there are very few mass shootings in Israel because…," Ziva began clearly having a strong opinion on the topic.

Vance pounced on her interest and interrupted to enthusiastically promote his friend's endeavor once again.

"Herman's been to Israel, Ziva. He learned a lot while he was there and he's going to use it to develop a prevention program for schools based on making parents and caregivers the first line of defense. He's going to get in front of school boards, parent teacher associations, anyone who'll listen. He's not necessarily trying to make a big profit. He just wants to get the message out. He could use your help."

As she listened to Vance, Ziva felt a stirring that had been absent for a long time. She was confronted with an instance where evil was triumphing and the battle to end it could be fought with words instead of weapons. Ziva agreed to the meeting.

Neither Ziva nor Vance realized they had been overheard. The small ears listening to their conversation had only heard bits and pieces, though. Taken out of context, the words "all over the world" and "your help" had struck fear in the heart of a young girl. Jamison was now convinced she was going to lose Ziva.

Ziva had been socializing for almost an hour when the party began to wind down. Reluctantly, Ziva returned the Palmers' baby to Breena and went to the kitchen to begin cleaning. Instead, Ziva found the room sparkling with leftovers neatly packed in rubber containers and stored in the refrigerator. The extra plate she had promised Gibbs was already prepared. Ellie was drying one remaining spot of the counter top.

"You did all this? You are amazing," Ziva complimented a bit puzzled.

"I come from a big family. Lots of practice cleaning up after holiday dinners," Ellie brushed off the compliment.

"I am sorry your husband had to work. I was looking forward to seeing him again," Ziva changed the subject.

Ellie sighed and admitted softly, "He didn't have to work. I just didn't invite him."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Ziva surprised herself and Ellie by asking.

It was like a dam broke for Ellie and everything she had bottled inside poured out. Her husband had only reluctantly supported her move to NCIS and her injury had badly shaken him. She had also kept the truth from him about killing Tyler Warner. Communication had broken down between them and Ellie was beginning to fear her job might destroy her marriage.

Ellie also told Ziva of her desperate need to feel strong in front of the men on the team when inside she was crumbling from having taken a life. The two commiserated about how it felt to be the only female on the team and the internal pressure to constantly prove worthy of the badge as a woman. As Ziva listened to the young agent talk, one thing became very clear. Despite all the struggles she was facing, Ellie Bishop loved being an NCIS agent.

"How do you get to the place where it doesn't affect you like this?" Ellie asked referring to killing Tyler Warner.

"You don't want to be in that place. If you find yourself there, it is time to walk away," Ziva answered in a hard voice.

"Oh, God, I'm sorry. I always say the wrong thing…"

"There is nothing wrong with what you said but you are misunderstanding if you think your teammates do not regret ending lives. They are not indifferent. They have found ways to cope with it. You will find yours," Ziva encouraged.

"If I don't end up choosing between my job and my husband first," Ellie responded bitterly.

"Perhaps it is time to talk with him," Ziva suggested bluntly.

"There's an idea," Ellie muttered sardonically.

"Hey, Ziva…," Tony entered the kitchen and stopped short when Ellie turned quickly away to hide her tears.

"The Palmers need to head home and get the little palm branch to bed. I thought you'd want to say good night," Tony explained his eyes trying to ask about his young partner.

"Yes, we should say good night," Ziva told him pushing him out of the kitchen in front of her.


"I. Am. Not. TIRED!" Jamison yelled at Tony.

It was almost eleven o'clock and thankfully the last guest was gone. Tony was trying to get Jamison to go to bed and he was at the very end of his patience with her. Taking a deep breath, he counted internally before speaking.

"I didn't ask if you were tired. I said it was time to get in bed. You can choose to go now and have an iPod tomorrow or you can continue to argue with me and it'll be on top of the refrigerator. Take a minute to think about it."

"I don't need to think about it because it's MY iPod not yours. Ziva bought it for ME," Jamison argued angrily her hands on her hips.

"You seem a little confused so let me explain it to you. You are the daughter and I am the father. If I say the iPod goes on the refrigerator, it goes on the refrigerator. And since you decided to argue with me, you can kiss it goodbye until bedtime tomorrow. Or it can be longer if you don't get in bed now," Tony told her done with the arguing.

"You're not in charge of me," Jamison declared crossing her arms tightly and injecting a small moment of amusement into Tony's escalating frustration.

"That's right, I'm not. You are in charge of your behavior but I'm in charge of this house and in this house you need to follow directions if you want to have privileges. Having an iPod is a privilege and you've lost that privilege until I see you change your behavior. I hope you decide not to lose any more of your privileges tonight," Tony told her.

"Ugh!" Jamison yelled before turning and stomping down the hall to her bedroom.

"Don't you want a hug and kiss good night?" Tony called somewhat sarcastically down the hall.

"Not from you!" Jamison told him with a glare.

"Didn't think so," Tony muttered pretty sure that if Jamison had known what it meant to flip him off she would have done it.

"Somebody stayed up way too late," Tony commented as he joined Ziva in the master bedroom after battling with Jamison to go to sleep.

"Perhaps the night was a bit too overwhelming for her," Ziva wondered.

"Who knows? We'll deal with it in the morning if sleep doesn't cure it," Tony decided.

"I will deal with it. You will be at work," Ziva reminded him teasingly.

"Yeah, good luck with that. Hope she sleeps late," Tony joked before turning serious.

"Jamison isn't the only one who melted down tonight," he hinted.

"I am not breaking her confidence, Tony. If you wish to know what is bothering your partner, ask her," Ziva told him emphatically.

"You two acting like BFFs is just weird," Tony decided.

"She is young, Tony, and being the probationary agent is not easy. I have been in her place particularly as a woman. Is it that surprising that she feels she can talk with me?" Ziva asked.

"You're hinting. Are you saying I haven't been paying enough attention to what's going on with her?" Tony wanted to know.

"I am saying that perhaps her needs as a young agent were overlooked by everyone in the midst of a case that hit much too close to home and that is all I will say," Ziva told him firmly.

"You talked to Vance for a long time," Tony noted curiously changing the subject.

"I agreed to meet with his friend about a job. It is only a meeting," Ziva explained remaining noncommittal.

"Can't hurt though, right?" Tony encouraged.

Vance had given Tony insight into what the potential position entailed weeks ago. Tony had agreed it was a good fit for Ziva if she was willing to consider it. He knew better than to push with this, though, and remained neutral so Ziva could make her own choices about her future occupation. He was thrilled that Ziva had agreed to the meeting, though.

"Jamison was very good with the baby," Ziva observed changing the subject.

"She wasn't the only one," Tony noted.

"I like babies. That is not new," Ziva observed.

"Talking about having one of your own is," Tony teased with a smirk.

"They told you? Ladies night is supposed to be confidential," Ziva asserted with mock indignation.

"Is this your new hobby now? Using your little buddy Ellie to torment me vicariously on the job?" Tony joked.

"Hmm, yes, now I have the pleasure of torturing you at work and at home. It is very satisfying," Ziva agreed.

"I can think of a few things that are a lot more satisfying, Ziva," Tony promised before preventing any response with a practical demonstration.