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PostPosted: Fri Oct 22, 2010 7:46 am 
Director's Secretary

Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
Posts: 2382
Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
link: Blog
link: First Novel
AN: Thanks to Kyrie and harempriestess for editing and keeping this story on track and with a point. This is the fifth story in my Breathe universe, following Razor's Edge, Dares to Stand, Play For Me and Faith and Family. It's set a week after F&F in S7. Only plotline you need to know for this story to make sense is Tony is under Dr. Brad Pitt's care because he's had breathing issues that cropped up during a run the morning after Good Cop, Bad Cop ended, possibly related to his time in Somalia, and ties back to his bout with the plague in S2. Details are in Razor's Edge. The ornament exchange referenced is in F&F, but you don't need to have read that.

Heart of the Matter

Ziva smiled at Gibbs and Jack as she opened her apartment door. While Jack was in town for the holidays, the two men were spending a little time with each team member individually so Jack could get to know them better. After Christmas Day with everybody at Tony and McGee's house, they had gone bowling with Abby and the nuns — Abby had promised pictures to everybody — spent an evening with Ducky, joined Jimmy on his weekly trip to the library to help adults learn to read, and made plans to spend New Year's Day watching football with Tim and Tony. Ziva had chosen to have them join her on New Year's Eve before the rest of the team came by that night for a party.

As the men walked into her apartment, she motioned them toward her living room, where she had snacks sitting on the coffee table. She smiled at the thought that she should have just put the coffee pot there as well, so Gibbs would have ready access.

"The coffee is in the kitchen," she said to Gibbs. "Jack, would you like a cup?"

"I would love one," he said. "Of course, when it's served by such a pretty girl, I don't care what's in the cup."

"Dad," Gibbs admonished, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"What?" Jack replied. "Are you trying to tell me Ziva isn't a pretty girl? She and Abby both. It's a wonder you and the boys ever get anything done around them."

"Thank you," Ziva said. "Now, please, make yourselves comfortable." As she turned toward the kitchen, she heard a gasp from behind her and knew Jack had seen the evidence of her time in Saleem's camp. She had known choosing the halter-style silk top would expose the web of scars on her back, but had done it anyway. The team knew about them, and it did not bother her that Jack would find out. Still, as she fixed two mugs of coffee, she mentally prepared herself for the questions she knew he would have.

When she returned to the living room, Jack was standing by one of the windows, leaning on his cane. She handed one mug to Gibbs, who sat in the armchair, and carried the other to Jack.

On the wall between the windows, two framed photos bracketed the silver snowflake he had given her the previous week, a sentimental ornament bearing the year of Kelly's birth. The Gibbs family ornaments Jack had given to each of the younger team members held special meaning, and this recognition that she, like Abby, was one of Gibbs' surrogate daughters, was something she treasured. With no tree, she had looked for another place to hang it. After Tim passed along copies of the group photo from Christmas Day to everybody, Ziva'd had her answer. She had framed the picture of her new family — the team, plus Jack and the McGees — and had reframed her copy of the one remaining photo of herself, Tali and Ari to match. The snowflake hung from a hook between them.

As she and Jack stood looking at them, Gibbs walked over. "I thought that picture went down with the Damocles," he said.

"It did," Ziva replied. "Director Vance managed to get another copy from Eli for me. I suppose he thought if he made the copy, I might be willing to speak to him again."

"Eli?" Jack asked.

"Eli is my biological father," Ziva said. "He is the only other person who has a copy of this photo."

"That's you, in the middle there, isn't it?" Jack said. "Are the other two your brother and sister?"

Ziva nodded. "Yes. They both are dead now, and this picture is all I have left of them. It is all I have left of my family."

"What about your father?" Jack asked. "I know parents and children don't always get along, but-"

"Dad." Gibbs stopped his father with a word. Ziva could not help but think back to the first time she met Jack, when Gibbs muster just a single word to answer Jack's lengthy stories.

"It is a long story, Jack," she said. "But we have quite a bit of time before the others arrive."

"Ziva, you don't-"

She cut Gibbs off. "I think he should hear the story. Then he will understand why I can never thank him enough for his gift. And Jack, I know you noticed my back and perhaps wondered why I do not cover those scars."

"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable or anything. I just worry about you kids," he said.

"It is perfectly fine," she said. "They are very noticeable, and I would not have worn this top if I was concerned about that. The rest of the team has seen my scars — all of my scars — and you are part of our family, too. You should know."

She walked over to the couch and sat down, tucking her legs up beneath her. Jack joined her, while Gibbs wandered to another part of the apartment.

"I do not know how much you know about my background," she said. "Until a few months ago, I was not an NCIS agent. I was a Mossad operative, serving as a liaison officer on the team." She made herself step away from the emotions that brought to mind. "Eli is the director of Mossad. It was all I knew growing up. My brother Ari and I both joined when we were teenagers. Eli became a deputy director in Mossad not long after my sister Tali was born, so he was more often at work than at home while she was little. I was old enough to go to Mossad, to learn what was expected of me. She was not. She was just 13 when she was killed by a suicide bomber."

She paused and closed her eyes, remembering her younger sister. "Eli had not fully brought her into Mossad, and so she had not yet become the third ruthless, soulless killer he hoped for. As Jack opened his mouth, she held up a hand. "Please, let me tell the story. It is complicated, and stretches over many years."

She looked up to see Gibbs standing behind the couch, a cup of tea in hand. "Toda," she said as she took it, warming her hands on the mug. She resumed her story, telling Jack about Ari's mother, making herself admit what Eli had done to Ari, all with the goal of creating a Hamas mole.

"His own son?" Jack said. "How could any father...?"

"Dad. Not every kid gets a father like you. Remember Ethan?" Gibbs put a hand on his father's shoulder and sat on the arm of the couch behind Jack. "Ziva, Tony, Ethan: They weren't as lucky as Tim, Abby and I."

Ziva nodded. "That is quite correct. I have never met Abby's father, but you and Commander McGee are both the type of father I think we all want, much as I am sure Gibbs was that type of father to Kelly." She smiled at Gibbs' small nod of gratitude. "Tony's father, indeed his entire family, made him glad not to get any attention from them, for attention was not a good thing. In my world, the opposite was true. My father only paid attention if I did what he wanted me to do, which was train in Mossad, become an operative who would obey his every command. He trained me as an assassin, and I spent many years where my only mission in life was killing."

Jack's eyes widened, and she rushed on to explain how she met the team. She sipped her tea, allowing the warmth to center her before the most difficult part of her tale.

"This past summer was... difficult. I had forgotten who I could and could not trust before I returned to Israel. Because of that I forced Gibbs to choose between Tony and me, and he rightly left me in Israel. Eli sent me to Somalia, and I nearly died there. They thought I had died there. It is only thanks to Tony, McGee, and Gibbs, with some help from Abby and Director Vance, that I did not." She paused and took a deep breath, emotion choking her voice. "They went to Somalia to avenge my death even though it hurt Tony's lungs and may someday cost him his career. It was only after he and McGee were captured that they learned Saleem had kept me alive all that time, and it became a rescue mission. When I returned to America, I resigned from Mossad. As I told Gibbs at the time, Eli is all but dead to me. Gibbs is the closest thing I have to a father." When Jack opened his mouth to speak, she held up a hand. "Eli sent Malachi, the commander of the unit I was part of on the Somalia mission, to NCIS. He was sent to ensure Gibbs would not trust me, would not allow me to stay with NCIS. He thought then I would have to return to Mossad. It did not work out that way. Gibbs and the director, Tony and Tim and Abby, even Ducky, all worked together to prove that I had not killed a Marine as Malachi accused me of doing. It was he who fired the shot."

She stood and took down the snowflake and carried it back to the sofa. "I have learned many things working for Gibbs. One of the first is that there is no such thing as a ex-Marine. One of the most recent is that blood does not define a family, and love cannot be earned." She traced her fingers across the engraved date on the ornament. "Those scars you see on my back are not something I hide, because they remind me of the most important lesson I have learned. They remind me that family, true family, will risk death avenging you even if they do not believe you can be saved. They remind me that love and trust do not come with strings, and they remind me that none of us is ever so far gone that we cannot be saved by those who love us."

She held up the snowflake. "Kelly only had eight years of a loving father and a wonderful grandfather. I sometimes wonder what would have happened with Ari and with Tali had they been as blessed. But then I remind myself that without Eli, without Ari, I would not be here right now." She placed the snowflake on the coffee table. "We would not be family, and as much as I wish things had been different, I would not give up what I have to get it back."

Ziva blinked, allowing the tears that had formed in her eyes to wet her lashes, yet not fall. Jack slid across the couch cushions to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

"That father of yours doesn't know what he lost," Jack said, his voice rough. "If he did, he never would have given it up." He cleared his throat. "I always wondered what Kelly would be like if she had grown up." His voice broke, and he paused. "Would she be as stubborn as Leroy or as beautiful as Shannon? Now I wonder, would she be as smart as Abby? As brave as you?"

"With family like you and Gibbs, how could she not?" Ziva said. She straightened up, suddenly conscious that this was not how she had wanted to start the new year, mired in memories of the past. "But I am pulling down the spirit," she said.

"Dragging down," Gibbs said. "No, Ziva, you're not."

"Still," she said. "This is the end of an old year, and we soon will be celebrating the beginning of a new year, a new start. We have much to celebrate about this year ahead, and hopefully next year will be much the same."

She rose from the couch and headed into the kitchen. "The others will be here soon," she said. "Let me just put Tony's lasagna in the oven so it will be ready." As she walked away, she heard Gibbs speaking quietly and suspected he was filling in some of the details she had left vague, the ones explaining how her father had played her once again with Michael Rivkin and how it had almost destroyed the team.

When she closed the oven door and rose, Jack was standing in the doorway. "You know, Ziva, you tell a good story. You know what I just saw?"

She shook her head and leaned against the counter.

"I saw a little girl, waiting for her daddy to come home. She doesn't know what he does, just that he's her daddy and she loves him. He takes advantage of that love and uses her for his own means. He tells himself it's worth it, that the ends justify the means."

Ziva shook her head. "They do not."

"No, they don't." Jack looked at her, his blue eyes so like Gibbs that she wondered why she had not know they were related the first time he spoke to her in Stillwater. "I see a woman who has become strong despite her father's inattention, who has more scars on her heart than she does on her back." He tipped his head toward the living room, and she followed him back to her small seating area.

"And what else do you see?" she asked. "You said once context was important."

"That I did," Jack said. "Leroy told me what happened before you stayed in Israel." He settled back in the armchair, while she sat next to Gibbs on the sofa. "It sounds like you were out of line with Tony. He was looking out for you like a big brother, and you pushed him away."

Ziva nodded and pressed her lips together. "I made a mistake, and it almost cost me my life, as well as Tony and Tim's. It might still cost Tony his job if Brad cannot halt the damage to his lungs." She looked at Jack. "There are many days I still do not feel as though I deserve to be forgiven."

"Now that's where you're wrong, young lady," Jack said, sitting up straight. "There's none of this 'deserving' when you're talking about family. I've done plenty of things I shouldn't have over the years, and Leroy and his mom always forgave me. And Leroy, well let me tell you, that boy could irritate you faster than a mosquito on a summer's day."

Ziva chuckled as Gibbs grumbled. "You were a bug?" she said to him.

"A pest, Ziva," he replied. "I never realized how much until Kelly was running around and I was saying the same things Dad always said to me. Trying to keep children out of trouble seems like a full time job some days."

"Not that any of you were troublesome children, I'm sure," Jack said.

"No, they saved up all that fun for me," Gibbs said. "I'm can't imagine what they would have been like in high school."

"We would not have been there together, Gibbs," Ziva pointed out. "Tim, Jimmy and I, yes. But we would have been in elementary school when Abby and Tony were in high school."

"Knowing those two, they would have corrupted you three anyway," Gibbs said. He reached over and wrapped an arm around Ziva's shoulders. "You should have seen McGee when we first met him. Green as they come, stammering and gullible enough to even believe Tony."

Ziva laughed. "I wish I could have seen that," she said. "I can imagine it. Even when I met him, Tim was so innocent. I did not understand how that was possible. In my country, the innocents die young."

Jack smiled. "Now, I didn't know Tim back then, but I'm glad he was able to keep that innocence. You and Tony, even Leroy here, had enough hardship to go around. Days like Christmas at the boys' house are what family is all about. Everybody spending time together, celebrating and making memories to last through the year." He leaned forward. "Now, if that father of yours ever comes to get you again, I want you to tell me. Oh, I know Leroy will take care of him. My boy is fierce when he's protecting one of his own. But I want the chance to let that man know what he gave up and how glad I am that we found you." He leaned close, but Ziva knew Gibbs could still hear Jack's next words. "My boy hasn't been this happy since we lost those girls of his. You kids and Ducky make him happy, and that makes me happy."

Ziva reached over and hugged him, a custom she had only become comfortable with in the past couple of years. "Thank you, Jack," she said. "I did not know my grandparents. It is rare for those who make Mossad the family business to live that long. I am glad to finally know what I was missing."

Jack hugged her back, his arms strong despite his age. "There is one thing you were wrong about, though. Tali isn't the only one with compassion. She might've been, but the Ziva I know is compassionate and cares about her family."

She nodded as she sat back. "Gibbs said the killer in me died in the desert. He was right."

"That he was," Jack said. "My boy isn't always right, though I know you kids think so. But in this case, I think he is."

Before she could say anything, the doorbell rang. Within minutes, she was swallowed by an Abby hug, and before long, the other members of their family. filled her apartment and celebration was the spirit of the evening. Still, that night as they watched the ball drop, Ziva made her way to sit on the arm of the chair by Jack and place a hand on his shoulder. She looked up as Gibbs stood behind her to do the same. Watching Abby bounce around planting kisses on all the guys, she felt her heart warm as Jimmy and Tim blushed. Tony dipped the scientist to the ground, and Ducky chuckled as he wiped the lipstick off his cheek. 2010 was a new year, and she knew that whatever she might have lost in the old year was nothing compared to what she had gained.

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