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Per Aspera ad Astra

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Summary: *Sequel to Smoke in the Wind* Ziva has abandoned her past and now has to find her place in an uncertain future. Tony's finding his feet in the present but is about to be hit with a blast from his past. Life isn't simple, but there's beauty in the battle.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
NCIS > Non-BtVS/AtS StoriestigerlilyFR15520,3460113,03212 Sep 097 Jan 10No

Men of Steel

A/N: Dedicated to a certain chatty Canadian that I just can't thank enough for being handy with the bail can the last few months.

Hope you enjoy. :)


The bullpen is bathed in dim evening light as Gibbs ascends the stairs like a bull hunting down the matador. The catwalk near MTAC is silent and dark, the retinal scanner blinking urgently near the door as if to warn him of the foolishness of his charge. Nobody waits on the couch near Vance’s office and his secretary is long since gone for the day, and so there’s no trumpet sound of warning, no bleating protests from her to herald his arrival. He doesn’t bother to knock, just pushes through the double doors, the noise all the announcement he’s ever needed.

For a moment Gibbs freezes just inside the doorway, imagines a flash of red hair behind the desk, a familiar air of indignance that Jen could never quite pull off, then Vance clears his throat in resigned annoyance and the illusion fades.

“Agent Gibbs,” Vance says with a slight nod of something resembling respect, stacking up the paperwork on top of his desk and depositing the bundle in his outbox to be delivered in the morning. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” His gaze doesn’t falter under Gibbs’ steady stare.

“Heard anything from our friends in Israel lately?”

At that, Vance sighs and pushes the chair back, rising like he’s been sitting too long behind the desk and wants to stretch but will not allow himself the moment of weakness.


Gibbs can almost taste the sweet smokiness of the top-shelf bourbon that he suspects Vance keeps for occasions just like these. There have been more since their return from Egypt than he would care to mention, but such is the price of protecting one’s country and one’s own.

“You stalling, Leon?”

Vance offers him a glass anyway, and motions toward the table. They sit across from one another, all pretence that Vance will take the chair at the head of the table long since gone. In these dark evenings, they are not Director and subordinate, but two men trying to find a solution to a problem that haunts them both for different reasons.

Vance swirls the amber liquid in his glass and ripples of caramel and gold weave across the grain of the wood in the dim light from the television screen behind his head. “Eli David has been suspended from his position, pending investigation,” he says quietly, heavily. There’s no need to speak of the classified nature of this information. If nothing else, they have learnt to trust that conversations like these are not to be shared – or even acknowledged – outside this room.

“Shin Bet after him?”

“There is some dispute over the illegal and unsanctioned actions of Mossad Agent Michael Rivkin while on American soil,” Vance replies simply. “Netanyahu is out for blood, and as Director of Mossad – ”

“David will be the first to be cut,” Gibbs supplies. Such is the price of power. “And Amit Hadar?”

“One assumes he was the one to tip Netanyahu to the security concerns within the Institute and the cover-up of Rivkin’s Los Angeles snafu.”

Careful cursive dances in Gibbs’ memory.


Further contact?

Two days ago. Same demands. My resignation for my daughter.




“Hadar’s been made temporary Director?” It belies all sense of rationality and belief that the Prime Minister would put the man responsible for this whole mess – though to what extent, they’re still not sure – in charge, thus giving him the power he sought to twist to his own destructive ends.

“Amit Hadar has disappeared from Mossad’s radar entirely.”

Gibbs’ hands tighten around the glass so fiercely that Vance looks as though he’s considering prying it from his white-knuckled grip. “Since when?”

“Three days ago.” Leon fixes him with a warning look. “If you throw that tumbler at the wall, you’ll be picking glass from the carpet until morning.”

“You give the cleaning crew the night off?” It’s not what he wants to say – the blood is boiling in his veins and Gibbs dearly wants to shout loud enough to be heard across the ocean – but it serves to cool his temper enough to stave off the explosion. For now.

“As we sow, so shall we reap.” It’s almost wistful, and Gibbs is certain that they are seeing the same bruised face and dark hair hovering in the thick air between them.

“And Ziva?” Ziva, who has already borne the brunt of what others have sown with her usual grace.

“A description of Amit Hadar has been sent to all major airports, shipping ports and means of entry to the United States. If he plans to enter the country by normal channels, it will not go unnoticed.”

The absurdity of it makes Gibbs snort with something that could be mistaken for amusement. Mossad agents – especially rogue Mossad agents – are not the type to be waylaid by a simple customs checkpoint.

“You think he’ll come for her himself?”

“Eli is concerned about the possibility. Personally, I think it would be a foolish thing to do, but it’s not for me to judge. In the enemy’s eyes, she is a loose end that must be tied, and the investigation has turned up records of Eli’s travel to Egypt, as well as the gate log from El Gorah stating that we were there. It’s only a short step to locating her medical records, should they choose to pursue it further. Hadar is aware of her connection to NCIS, and should he have contacts inside the Shin Bet task force...”

“You should have covered your tracks better!” Gibbs barks, furious. “Hadar’s not an idiot. He’ll know that we’re watching, and he’ll send someone else to do the job, if he wants it done at all. Maybe he already has.”

“Agent Fornell will arrange for discreet protection detail. As a guest of the United States government with possibly vital information as to an international terrorist plot, Miss David’s safety is of great importance.”

“Nice story you spun there, Leon,” Gibbs forces out through clenched teeth, flattening his hands on the table top with enough force that he imagines his fingers biting into the wood. “Sec-Nav’s no doubt sweating over the threat to Domino. Don’t much care about that, personally.”

Vance leans forward and pins him with a stare that could cut granite, and Gibbs is reminded of his ruthlessness in ascending through the ranks of NCIS and the stubborn nature that he displayed like a badge of pride during the investigation into Jen’s death. It’s tempered with genuine concern, though whether it’s directed at the thought of national security being compromised or concern for Ziva’s safety, Gibbs does not know.

It doesn’t matter, really.

“I heard she showed up here this afternoon, looking for DiNozzo. How is she?” Vance asks quietly.

“You asking for yourself, or someone else?”

“Does it matter?”

“Guess not.” He thinks of what Ducky told him over the phone not long ago.

“She is struggling, Jethro, though she is far too proud to admit it. I suspect that her wounds will heal, given time and the proper support – if she will accept it.”

“She’s get through it. She’s a fighter,” he says to Vance, and from the answering look he knows that his tone was perhaps a shade too fatherly for the Director’s liking. “Tony’s watching her six. We all are.”

“Ah, your Agent DiNozzo, champion and white knight.” Gibbs isn’t sure he likes the tone underlying the words, though it’s a shade more respectful than he expected. Vance drains his glass in a single swallow and sets it on a coaster. “You trust them not to kill each other?”

Following suit, Gibbs upends his own, foregoing the coaster and purposely ignoring Vance’s barely-noticeable wince at the rings of moisture that the glass leaves on the table top.

“I trust them to remember that if they so much as try, I’ll kill them both with my bare hands.” He pushes back from the table as he says it and turns to leave. He pauses halfway to the door, thinking of fathers and daughters, and the words spring from his mouth before he can stop them. “Tell Eli that we’re taking good care of her.”

Vance is silent for a long moment.

“I already have, Jethro.”

There’s no real answer to that that doesn’t confirm that Vance is far more perceptive than Gibbs wants to give him credit for.

Gibbs doesn’t bother with pleasantries or requests to be kept in the loop, simply opens the door a little more gently than he did on his entry and steps through, not looking back as he pulls it shut quietly, his own way of bidding the Director a good night by way of not leaving him reeling from the bang of a slammed door. There’s no point in it, because there’s no point to make.

The squad room is quiet save for a faint rustling of paper as he moves toward the stairs, his own desk light and Tony’s the only beacons of light in the near-darkness, two lone signals casting shadows across desks and partitions and for a minute seeming oddly foreboding rather than welcoming. Night is his favourite time to work, away from the constant hustle and bustle that is part of working in an open office.

Obviously it’s not only him that prefers the quiet.

“DiNozzo,” he says from the top of the stairs, and Tony’s head snaps up as if surprised. Gibbs knows better – without the noise of other agents and personnel, the sound of the Director’s door closing would have been audible even to someone who wasn’t listening. His Senior Field Agent is a fair actor, but not quite good enough.


Gibbs makes a show of checking his watch. “It’s 2100. Go home.”

“But – ”

“It will wait. Go.” For a moment, Tony looks as though he’s preparing to argue, but at Gibbs’ glare (no doubt more menacing in the half-light) he shuts his mouth with an audible snap and has shuffled the papers he’s reading into an untidy pile and shouldered his backpack by the time Gibbs rounds the bottom step and enters the bullpen.

“You and Vance have a nice chat?”

“Had to cut the campfire short,” Gibbs shoots back. “Forgot the s’mores.”

Tony blinks in surprise at the joke, but recovers quickly enough. “You don’t strike me as the Kumbaya type anyway. Ghost stories, maybe.” He cocks an eyebrow, likely absorbing the double meaning of Gibbs’ words. “Any news about – ”

“None that you need to know right this minute.” Gibbs has already weighed the implications of telling Tony everything and the scales have come down heavy on the side of ‘wait’. While all they have are faint possibilities and maybes, the risk that
Ziva will read Tony like a book as she does so well is too high to warrant reading him in.

“But – ”

“You have four seconds to get your ass in that elevator, Tony, or so help me – ”

The threat is cut off by the echoing ‘ding’ of the elevator doors opening. Still watching as they slide shut with a pneumatic hiss, Gibbs leans over what used to be Ziva’s desk and switches off the lamp, leaving his desk the only signal of safe, firm ground in an ocean of darkness.

It’s only the thought of the security cameras that stops him from resting his head in his hands and allowing himself to drift into the depths of unrest at the new twist of events.

We reap what we sow, indeed.


Tony eases his car into the designated space (which reminds him that he promised to take Ziva car shopping when she’s allowed to drive again, a thought that fills him with equal parts enthusiasm and horror) and switches off the engine, glancing up at the windows of his apartment. No light is visible, not even the flickering of the TV. He checks his watch – almost 2200, pretty early for Ziva to be in bed but not unusual – and pushes through the door into the foyer, stopping to check his mailbox as is his normal routine.

Gas bill, credit card, white piece of paper folded double and obviously hand-delivered, though blank. The last makes him pause for a minute and hold it to the light before shrugging – must be a mistake, it’s not the first time – and folding it again absently as he waits for the elevator.

His keys are in his hand the minute he steps up to the door, careful not to let them knock against the wood and disturb a certain light-sleeping ex-ninja. There’s no light under the door, so he opens it carefully and steps through into darkness, thinking about Gibbs’ odd behaviour earlier – none-too-subtly encouraging Tony to push Ziva into talking, making the s’mores joke that didn’t do much to hide the tenseness of his shoulders (after so many years, Tony’s learnt all the signs of the Gibbs Stance of Doom and this was a textbook case).

Gibbs and Vance, holding a ‘campfire’. It’s almost as unbelievable as when he first heard Daniel Craig was the next 007. A blonde Bond? Defies belief in the same way as the thought of Gibbs being all friendly with –

The gun barrel presses up against the back of his neck and effectively chases all thoughts of Gibbs from his head, except that the boss is probably going to kill him when he hears about this.

Stupid, Tony; stupid to sneak into an apartment that’s the temporary home of a skittish ninja.

“Hands behind your back,” Ziva says in a voice that he almost doesn’t recognise. Equal parts fear and command, with a touch of supervillain to it. She’s the Luthor to his Superman, but with the Kryptonite of cold metal no doubt leaving a nice little hole-shaped indent in the back of his neck, he’s not about to argue.

“An open beer and Tivo-ed Buckeyes replays say ‘welcome home, darling’ just fine, thanks,” he says into the darkness, and before he’s gotten more than a handful of words out the gun withdraws and Ziva draws in surprised breath. “I really hope you didn’t find the –”

“Back of the linen closet,” she says, cutting him off from somewhere across the room and damn, she’s fast for someone with a busted knee. He should know.

“Stupid question,” he says, fumbling for the switch near the door with slightly-shaking fingers. “Surprise homecoming bad. Noted. I’ll make sure to call ahead, knock with a closed fist and possibly serenade you from the other side of the door at the top of my voice next time.” Deep down he knows he’s probably making her feel worse, but the words spew out like he’s caught McBabble’s oversharing disease or something.

Light floods the room as he finally finds the switch, sending fireworks careening into his line of sight. He blinks against the explosion of colour and drops his backpack with an unceremonious thud, fighting the urge to rub his eyes and slink into the master bedroom like a petulant child.

He’s really too tired for this crap.

Ziva is wild-eyed and wild-haired, dressed in her too-large sweats and refusing to meet his eyes. The gun – his gun – is still in her hand like it’s her buoy and she’s afraid that if she lets go she’ll sink under the surface. She attempts a smile.

“How was your day?”

“Little hard to answer that while you’re still pointing my gun at me,” Tony replies abruptly, toeing off his shoes and kicking them a little too hard into the corner. Ziva winces and sets the gun on the coffee table. “Gibbs and Vance are busily plotting in dark corners, McGiggle is running in circles over plate numbers and bank statements, Keating didn’t set anything on fire which is a step forward for him. Abby’s probably making braking-bus noises in her sleep and dreaming of Keanu, who was much more interesting when he was choosing between blue or red pills.”

She shoots him the half-exasperated, half confused look that usually means she’s attributed his segue to some kind of movie reference but can’t quite place the film. He’s in no mood to explain or to rib her about her blind spot when it comes to American pop culture, so he just stalks toward the fridge and peers in as though the meaning of life can be found among the cold cuts and cartons of milk and juice.

Her eyes seem to bore pinholes into his back. “You are angry.”

“We’ve been over my dislike of secret agendas.”

“We have,” Ziva says in a low voice, and when he turns around with a container of chow mein in hand her face is concerned. “I do not think that that is the only reason,” she pushes. “I am sorry about before. I fell asleep on the couch and you… surprised me.”

“Not the first time I’ve been on the business end of your weapon,” he says a touch more bitterly than he intended to, and he can practically hear the imaginary clang of the shutters slamming down behind her eyes as her concern turns to something cold and dark.

“I do not know how many times I need to apologise before you forgive me,” Ziva says in a strangled voice, her good hand worrying at the edges of her cast as she folds in on herself like a crumpled flower.

In his head, Gibbs is telling him to push her and Ducky is telling him not to, but Gibbs wins as he so often does. He steps further into the minefield that is May, half wanting the explosion and half wanting to hear the click of the broken mechanism under his feet.

“Well, let’s see. I figure I owe you at least a couple more conversations of throwing mistakes you didn’t intend to make in your face. Just to even the score and all that. ‘You didn’t think this through, Tony.’ ‘You crossed the line, Tony.’ You know what? Just like before, just like always, I’m tired of pretending. You crossed the line, Ziva.”

He might as well have poured gasoline over the line, lit a match, and danced on the ensuing flames like a devil, judging by the flash of naked pain on her face, but he can’t stop the word-vomit spilling hot and acidic from his mouth.

“You knew Rivkin was in DC. You knew that something was rotten in the state of Denmark when Gibbs asked you if you knew him, and you still tried to have him extracted by Mossad when everything went to shit.”

“In Mossad, we are taught to protect our own,” she says almost robotically, as if repeating a line from a manual. The Field Guide to Betrayal. Tony sees red.

“You think I wasn’t?” he asks disbelievingly, running a hand through his hair so furiously he imagines his nails leaving a trail across his scalp. “You think that I went to your apartment, to Tel Aviv, to the black depths of some African hellhole hoping I’d get some kind of medal for valour? Tony DiNozzo, brave and noble protector of his own worthless ass.”

“I did not know then that I needed protecting,” Ziva says almost too softly to be audible, but her quiet resignation only serves to fan the flames of his inexplicable anger.

“You didn’t want to know.”

Finally, her anger flares hot and bright. “I wanted to believe that Michael was not using me. Just like you wanted to believe that Jeanne would come back to you – would still love you – after she learnt the truth.”

“She did come back!” Tony roars through the red haze, ignoring the angry pounding on the wall that joins his apartment to that of his neighbours. “Twice she offered me a chance to be with her, and both times I chose – ” His traitorous tongue trips over what he was about to say. “ – my family. And this isn’t about Jeanne.” It sounds childish and stupid like he’s a six year old child pouting over the revelation that the world isn’t flat. Yes it is. No it’s not. Yes it is.

No, it’s not.

“It is about decisions that we would take back if we could, no?” Ziva replies after a long leaden pause, and something in her voice pulls him back from the brink of storming from the apartment and slamming the door. He stares at her, too stunned to form words for agonising minutes as she refuses to meet his eyes and a block of ice forms somewhere in his lower intestine.

“You think I’d take it back?” He’s not talking about Jeanne now, and they both know it.

“You should have left me to die,” Ziva says without moving a muscle, and Tony can’t tear his eyes from her face nor catch his breath as his heart seizes in his chest at her words. “I cannot deny that I did not want it, even expect it. It was right that I should pay for the things I did to – to all of you.”

Tony deflates like a balloon, crossing the floor of the living room in a few halting strides and stopping a few feet shy of the sofa she’s curled into like she wants to disappear. “Don’t let Gibbs hear you say that,” he warns for lack of anything else to say, though he suspects that Gibbs might sympathise. There’s no movie quote for this, no mug or souvenir.

‘I went to Hell and all I got were stupid accusations from people who are meant to be watching my six.’

“It was not unjustified, and they were not entirely stupid,” Ziva says quietly, and Tony realises that he unintentionally said that last part out loud. “A Freudian trip?”

“Slip,” he corrects automatically, and then looks at her. “I mean, no.”

“You always have,” she adds hesitantly. “Watched my six,” she clarifies at his obvious look of confusion. “I should have trusted that you had my best interests at heart.”

It’s not entirely true, but he’s all out of fight for the night and he’s not sure he can explain the why of that even to himself. Exhaustion drapes over him like a wet blanket and judging by the way Ziva’s leaning her head against the back of the sofa like it’s too heavy to hold upright, he’s not the only one pushed beyond their limit.

“I know you’re not okay,” he says suddenly, and her head swivels slowly towards him. “Just wanted you to know that you’re not fooling anyone. Gibbs isn’t gonna send you back to Daddy if you admit that you’re not really all Holly Golightly, you know.”

You have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”

“Sure,” Tony replies easily, offering her his hand and gently pulling her from the couch. “Chicks go nuts for the SNAG – that’s sensitive new age guy, for your continuing information – type, or at least the kind of chicks that don’t think a perfect date involves the firing range followed by a spot of hand-to-hand combat.”

“I do not see what young fowl have to do with anything,” Ziva muses as she limps toward the bathroom. “Unless you are referring to the chauvinistic term that men assign to women they find attractive.”

“Yeah,” he says once safely she’s out of whacking range, and the answering glare Ziva shoots at him over her shoulder melts away the last traces of the heavy weight in his stomach. They always bounce back – it’s what they do. Really, it’s what Gibbs has taught them to do. “Don’t think you want to know the alternate definition for ‘cougar’, then…” he calls.

The muffled snort from the bathroom and the distinctive sound of something possibly shoe-shaped hitting the back of the closed door is answer enough.

They always bounce back. It’s what they do.


I know it's been a very long time, but reviews still make my day. :)

The End?

You have reached the end of "Per Aspera ad Astra" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 7 Jan 10.

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