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They’ve been together almost a year, floating under the radar, when a Marine Corporal is found to have beaten both his children to death. He also shot his wife. The scene is bloody and wrenching, broken bodies sprawled in bedrooms, and no one misses the way Tony loses all colour when he walks in the door.

The case spans three days.

Gibbs swallows his own fury and steps aside for interrogation, so Tony rips into the Corporal with a cold precision that, while effective, is so unlike him that even Abby refrains from giving him a hug when he comes out. He waits only long enough for McGee to enter and formally arrest the older man; he leaves with shadows in his eyes.

By the time the paperwork is wrapped, Gibbs pulls her aside.

“Go with him tonight,” he says. No names, no reasons; she doesn’t need them, even if it’s the first time he’s given the slightest indication he knows. She just nods.

They leave separately, and she follows him home without asking. She has enough things at his place that she doesn’t need to go to her own, and she’s grateful, because she doesn’t want to give him even that long. She slips through the door just after he does, noticing the careful measurement of his movements. It’s like watching a crystal glass hover on the edge of a countertop.

“Tony.” Her voice is unusually gentle; she gets it, even if he hasn’t said a word.

He turns, and the look in his eyes almost brings tears to hers. “Ziva, I…” He trails off, closing his eyes and drawing a shaky breath.

“If you say you are fine, I will—” She bites back that sentence. “I will hit you” is not something he needs to hear right now, even in jest. “—yell at you,” she finishes after just a beat.

There’s no movement, like he’s afraid he’ll trigger an explosion if he breathes. He has, however, taught her both empathy and how to express it, so she does it for him, stepping closer and wrapping her arms around him. She holds onto him like she’s afraid he’s going to slip away, and she lets him break apart.


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