DISCLAIMER: NCIS and its characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Can be read as an accompaniment to KIDON, but it's also a stand-alone piece. Acknowledgments: Many thanks to both my Editor Law_nerd for the fine polish and tons of encouragement (and many, many other things besides), and to Proofreader mayIreadtoday for straight talk, reminders to "Write American!" and extra patience regarding the letter O. Per usual... Con-crit is welcome, and thanks in advance.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To needledinkrsa[at]gmail.com
The suspect threw another haymaker punch. The edge of Ziva's hand struck the inside of his wrist, and she moved through, her eyes seemingly unfocused. Unstoppable: his arm flew back, leaving his armpit vulnerable. Her fist struck, sank in. He dropped, gasping, writhing in agony.
She looked on without pity.
"When are you gonna teach me that?" McGee rubbed his aching jaw.
"When you can take more punches," Ziva said.
McGee looked at the still-writhing suspect, then looked sidelong at Ziva.
"What? I will be wearing boxing gloves," Ziva said.
Their suspect laughed through pain.
"What he said," McGee drawled.
"I hate this," Gibbs said.
"You and me both," Jen said, shrugging. "But what can we do? Their budget's genuinely short. We go in there ourselves, now, or we hope like hell that Taylor stays put until the Bureau can help us out."
"He won't stick around."
"I know. Do it tonight."
Later, in the dark, he could practically hear the pulses of his team-mates over his own heartbeat. Gibbs suddenly remembered Kate. He ignored cold sweat and booted a door open.
Yells. Shots. All over.
"Sound off," he ordered.
All their names came back, bar one: Kate. Still gone.
He liked to look at her. If she minded, she'd have told him by now. Tony knew that he'd never get used to her brand of confidence. It was, in some ways, even more present than Ziva's. Maturity leant something extra. What that ultimately meant to Tony was that he had a gorgeous, sophisticated boss whose presence provided him with a short break or two each work day, in which to look. The longer he knew Jen, the more looking turned to admiring.
With respect came true appreciation: the difference between seeing the woman, before seeing her face and body.
"If I was dared, I'd totally kiss her."
"You need to be dared?" Ziva scoffed.
"She's the Director, hello?" Abby said. "You don't need to be dared?"
"Why are we talking about this?"
"Choices, choices. Remind you that you started it, or should I change the subject?"
"I am sorry," Ziva said sincerely.
"If you get all touchy about... whatever, Ziva, there's gonna be talk. More talk."
"Abby, I dare you to kiss my best friend," Ziva stated.
At a New Year's party, that kiss was witnessed. Several of those people glanced Ziva's way. A jealous lover wouldn't have smiled.
Jen dropped the chef's knife on the board and moved hastily to the sink. Movement behind her. Ziva's hand arrived on her wrist, thumb pressed firmly against veins, while water ran and rinsed, showing the extent of the damage.
"Band Aid. No stitches. Lucky," Ziva said.
"Which is your polite way of calling me an idiot," Jen drawled.
"No. It is my relieved way of saying I am glad it is not worse," Ziva said, smiling. "Did you bleed all over the vegetables?"
"Then you are a genius, not an idiot."
"Such a brat," Jen chortled.
Ziva had never seen Jen so angry: angry enough to pace, unable to sit still. The spark that lit her fury had been struck in a crowded room.
"And that was deliberate," Jen said, her voice gravelly, tight, almost hoarse.
A sexist, almost misogynist joke a small thing, but also an abuse of power.
"He earned no respect for it," Jen muttered. "No-one laughed. But the people around me couldn't say anything either: he's the fucking Secretary of Defense."
She stopped pacing and leaned a forearm on the mantel.
"How much harder must I work?" Jen whispered, staring at flames.
"No easier way?" McGee muttered.
"The Hebrew word for 'patience' is..?"
"Savlanut," McGee grumbled.
"Good," Ziva said, shoving yet another armful of twigs under a wheel. "This will be enough, I think."
"You will end up covered in mud. Besides, more weight in the car will be better."
McGee decided not to argue: it was freezing out. Ziva keyed the ignition. Nothing.
"Don't tell me..." McGee groaned. "So what do we do now?"
Ziva pocketed both their pride and called the state troopers.
"Now... Now you learn more Hebrew: ha'kol dafuk."
"FUBAR?" McGee chortled.
"Exactly," Ziva giggled.
When last she'd seen Gibbs working on a boat, it had been in someone's backyard. Jen decided not to ask how he was going to get this boat out of his basement.
"Gotta be bad for you to come here," Gibbs said.
"I sort of got ordered here."
"If an apology is owed, Jenny, it's"
"Ours. Not yours, not mine. Ours. Let's just..."
"Kiss and make up?" Gibbs teased. They'd done lots of that, in the past.
"In your dreams," Jen said, but she was smiling. "No getting personal while on-the-job?"
"Deal," Gibbs said, handing her a beer.
Jen was asleep. Ziva left the light off, quietly removing her sneakers and sweats. That left a T-shirt and panties. She eased under the covers and tucked up behind Jen, hugging her middle.
"You're homesick," Jen mumbled.
"Ken," Ziva said softly. Yes. Tonight Israel was too far away.
"Stay the weekend?"
"I brought a bag."
"Good..." Jen said.
Ziva smiled. To know that she could come here whenever she wanted to, was lovely. To be able to come here when she needed... this, was sometimes a lifeline.
"Says my breakfast chef."
"You call me a brat?" Ziva laughed.
On a bookshelf in Ziva's apartment sat a small brass statue of Janus, two-faced god of doorways and bridges, beginnings and endings, past and future, life and death. He might have been called the god of spies, who often wear two faces. People who knew a little about Ziva, might've given themselves that reason for his presence in her home.
However, he stood there as something of a friend. He never criticized her habit of regularly looking back.
"I must look back," Ziva said.
"I know," Jen said quietly. "There's no honor in blaming it all on 'just following orders.'"
"Have you ever wanted children?"
It was an odd thing for Ziva to ask. She was engaged in the morning ritual of cleaning her pistol. But this was something her hands did, while her mind traveled other paths.
"I'm not the maternal type," Jen said. "You?"
"I could not ever be completely honest with my children," Ziva said quietly. "And so it is settled: no children for me, even though I want them."
"I'm sorry," Jen said sincerely.
"I used to be sorry. Then I learned more of the world."
Ziva reassembled her SIG, and smacked a full clip home.
"Sometimes I miss the point. I mean, we catch one bastard and there's still seven open cases on our desks."
Gibbs wouldn't have said anything like that if Tony and McGee were around. This kind of conversation was for Ziva's ears only.
"If we do not try..." she said.
"I know, but sometimes... Anyway, I tried retirement. It's boring."
"Because of your example, I will not retire early," Ziva joked.
"Bullshit. Because of bad guys, period, you won't retire until you can't shoot straight," Gibbs stated.
She grinned, clinking her beer bottle to his. They'd catch a few more yet.
Ziva wore combat gear like it was her skin. People noticed, generally, but Jen knew her better. What she noticed tended to go beyond Ziva's bearing.
Ziva stood there, now, after a successful SWAT op, a little apart from her team-mates, sipping from a soft drink can. And Jen knew what Ziva was thinking, knew that her mind was going over this afternoon's operation in critical detail, looking for errors; looking for things to do better next time.
Ballistic armor and guns were not what kept Ziva safe.
"Good day, General," Jen teased.
"Good afternoon, Madame Director," Ziva shot back.
"The Scheds-O gave me a chit says I gotta take the Chaps down to NoFuck, but I'm getting static from that JO-JO! Who's in charge of this goatrope anyway?"
"The Schedules Officer gave you permission to take the Chaplain to Norfolk, but a junior officer is arguing with you?"
"That's what I said. Can I go or not, sir?"
Tony watched the petty officer walk away.
"What is 'goatrope'?" Ziva asked.
"This emergency drill, so-called. Goddamn Charlie-Foxtrot."
"I know that one: cluster-fuck," Ziva said.
"Checks-five-oh," Tony drawled. "Meaning, 'perfect.'"
"In the Navy, nobody speaks English," Ziva chortled.
"Nuts!" McGee laughed.
"Not arguing," Tony drawled.
"If I could take punches, maybe I'dFootwork!" Jen hollered. "My mother moves better than that!"
Ziva growled something that might've been 'Fuck off!' but her mouthguard muffled it. She blocked the next jab from Gibbs, and hooked a left to his ribs. He dropped his elbow in time, and snapped out another jab that Ziva caught on her gloves.
"They'd be smiling if mouthguards weren't in the way," Tony said.
"Probably," Jen replied. "The case is going nowhere. This is stress relief."
"Gloves?" Tony suggested to McGee.
"I'll stick with video games, thanks!"
"And what does the other fellow look like?" Ducky asked, while stitching a punch-split over Ziva's knuckles. He'd put four stitches into her eyebrow, too. "Worse, I take it?"
Ziva said nothing.
Nearby, in Ducky's kitchen, Jen was also silent. They'd gotten a flat on a dark road, and someone had stopped while Ziva was changing it. He'd then made a bad mistake.
"He put his hands on Jen," Ziva said eventually.
"Is he still alive?" Ducky asked seriously.
"Death is neither a solution nor a lesson," Ziva said.
"He got what he deserved," Jen stated.
"I daresay," Ducky said.
"One more, and push it," Ziva ordered.
"I hate you," Jen grumbled, but she lengthened her stride.
NCIS and Army CID just had to be different. Their directors were expected to pass fitness exams once every year. The FBI, DEA, ATF, DHS? Their directors probably had a good laugh over this business.
"How did I do?" Jen wheezed at the end of the lap, her third.
"I do not know why you were worried," Ziva said lightly, expression mischievous.
"Your first lap was under the time limit," Ziva said, grinning.
"You'd better run!" Jen squawked, chasing a laughing Ziva.
"Does it have to be guys-only?"
"That's the definition of 'male bonding,' McGee," Tony said.
"I'd prefer 'team bonding,'" McGee said.
Tony glanced at Gibbs: eyebrows arched in that 'He's got a point' way. Next, Tony looked over his shoulder. Ziva was doing paperwork. Ignoring them.
"You three have a right to go somewhere, guys-only," Ziva said, not looking up from her paperwork. "And McGee, 'team bonding' happens here daily."
"But I feel better now: at least we made the offer," McGee said.
"I'll remember that next time," Tony said to McGee.
"The kids are growing up," Gibbs drawled.
"Are you ever going to tell her?"
"Mom..." Jen warned.
"Jennifer," Ellen Shepard whispered. "I'm not meddling. I'm caring. Big difference."
"I know, thank you. But I'm going on my gut, which says not to rush her."
"Ziva could do with some rushing," Ellen drawled.
Jen's answer was a glare. Ellen might've tried another tack, but Ziva called from the kitchen (Jen's kitchen) to say that lunch was served (at Jen's table). More like their kitchen, their table: Jen's and Ziva's.
"At least drop a hint?" Ellen suggested quietly.
"Maybe," Jen dissembled, while listening to her gut, which said, No.
There were times when she wanted to forget the job and the Regulations. There were times when she wanted to forget the man they were hunting. Times when her focus was a thin line that fought to hold back three things: passion, desire, longing, and each day's passing brought to her a quiet, certain truth, that all three had not so much lain dormant, perhaps for years, but had simply been waiting for acknowledgment.
But Ziva held her focus. A single glance at Jen was enough, always.
He was out there. Finding him and stopping him had to come first.
After several hesitations, Jen signed the papers and initialed where applicable. She sat still a moment. It could be undone. She could tear up the forms. She could fill out other forms: she'd resign and Ziva could stay. She closed her eyes, teeth gritted.
Her PA arrived in seconds. Jen's eyes were still closed.
"Take them before I shred them. Badge and gun, too, please."
"Yes, ma'am," Cynthia said quietly.
Watching her leave, Jen fought back tears. Gibbs eventually came in.
"We'll get used to it," he said.
"Not soon," Jen whispered. "But at least she's not going away."
"Sometimes she terrifies me," Eli stated.
Ziva had long since gone to bed. Jen added an extra ice-cube to his glass, and another double shot, before giving it back to him.
"Did you ever try to stop her from joining the Mossad?"
"I didn't have the chance," he said wryly. "The first I heard of it was from the recruitment administrator. By then... By then they wanted her very, very badly. You know what that takes?"
"Yes. The only way to break her, is to kill her. That's what frightens you," Jen said.
"But not you."
"Never," Jen said, smiling.
"She did not let me do any of the cooking."
"Cos you're not supposed to be standing," McGee said.
"Tell her!" Jen hollered from the kitchen.
The doorbell rang again; Ziva opened the door, again.
"McGee, why'd you let her do that?" Tony complained. And to Ziva: "Gibbs is just behind me, so leave the door."
"Fine. And I can get the damn door," Ziva insisted. To Gibbs: "Please tell them that I am not going to break."
"Won't break, but taking a break is"
"Tafsik!" Ziva muttered. Stop!
"Can it, all of you," Jen said, laughing. "Come and eat!"
"I do not think that this needs fixing, so much as... polishing," Ziva said to her new boss.
"How would you do that?"
"If you want to polish a floor, sweep it first, then mop it. You must take away the dirt before polishing, yes?"
"That makes sense. Put it in writing, and get back to me."
A week later he read through a detailed plan to 'polish' the relationship between the FBI and the Mossad. He whistled in appreciation and looked at Ziva over the tops of his glasses.
"If you can pull this off"
"I can," Ziva said.
Almost nine p.m: long, long day. Tired, leaning more on her cane than usual, Ziva didn't object to Jen's suggestion to go upstairs and draw a hot bath. When Jen was able to leave various pots to look after themselves, she found Ziva half-asleep in the bathtub.
Ziva's first and only protest came when Jen helped her into bed.
"I will fall asleep, and dinner"
"Can wait until you wake up," Jen said gently. "Remember: take your rest before you're forced to rest."
"I am almost forced now," Ziva admitted.
"Even God rested one day."
"Says the atheist," Ziva chuckled.
"We gotta close this case now," Gibbs stated.
"But all we've got is"
"Tim, sometimes you've got to have faith in almost nothing," Jen said.
Ziva joined her former team-mates at the dining table.
"May I say something?"
"No," Tony said.
"What?" McGee squawked; Jen and Gibbs were equally astonished.
"She's asking permission," Tony stated. "Not 'may I,' Ziva. Just speak up. Okay?"
"Okay," she said, smiling. Then, all-business: "You are right. At this point, there is a fine balance between no evidence and circumstantial evidence. You must push the judge for that warrant, or watch the case go downhill."
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