A Profile in Introspection
She always felt alone when she flew. It didn’t matter that an airplane was a glorified tin can, the people it carried packed in like so many sardines. The noise of the engines was isolating and, no matter how full an airplane happened to be, Ziva always experienced a sense of isolation on a flight.
Never had she appreciated that public seclusion as much as she did now. It was fitting, considering Ziva had felt totally alone ever since she’d killed her brother.
Ari had damned himself. Ziva hadn’t wanted to believe the American, Gibbs, but after overhearing her brother’s hateful words, Ziva could no longer deny the truth. Ari was a traitor, one of the very terrorists she’d devoted her life to stopping. For all Ziva new, Ari had even been involved in the bombing that had killed their sister.
She closed her eyes in pain. Ari had been her dashing older brother, charming and intelligent, he’d always had time for his awestruck younger sister. Or so it had seemed. No doubt he’d been grooming Ziva to be his tool, just as their father had intended Ari to be his plant in the terrorist cell.
Every minute brought the plane closer to Israel and nearer the moment she would have to tell Assistant Director David, her father, that his decades-long plan had backfired and that his son was dead… at her hand.
Ziva resolutely brushed her hair back, as though she could just as easily push aside thoughts of the coming confrontation. Her father loved her as a daughter and respected her as an agent, but Ari had been special. It was certain that he would demand an account of what had gone wrong and Ziva knew that she had better be prepared.
Digging around in her duffle bag, Ziva pulled out a set of folders. Her dossiers, careful profiles of the NCIS team that had brought down Ari, were the first pieces of information she wanted to review. She’d been sent to the United States to prevent Gibbs from killing Ari. No doubt one of the first questions she would have to answer would be why she’d deviated so far from orders as to actually kill Ari herself instead of stopping the American agent from doing it.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Ziva had heard about him long before she ever met the man. Her first and best source of information had been Jenny Shepard. Ziva felt a little badly about that. She’d played on her friendship with the woman to pump Jenny for information about an ex-lover. Ziva had thought that Jenny was exaggerating about Gibbs’ tenaciousness and non-nonsense personality. She’d been wrong. If anything, Shepard hadn’t done Gibbs justice.
There was a photo of Gibbs attached to the folder with a paperclip and Ziva fingered it, lost in thought. It was one of those awkward departmental headshots, used for official identification purposes. The man’s personality came through, though, in the stubborn set of his jaw and the frank stare directly into the camera, as though Gibbs were daring the photographer to snap a bad shot.
Ari had claimed that Gibbs reminded him of their father, but Ziva wasn’t so sure. Both men had an unswerving loyalty to their country and no fear of speaking their mind, but somehow she doubted that Leroy Jethro Gibbs would have fathered a child with only espionage in mind. Each man had experienced heartbreak, but where her father had used his grief as an anthem for war, Gibbs had drawn his around him like armor, keeping anyone from getting to close to him. The American’s armor had chinks in it, though, as Ziva had discovered and exploited. Like using Jenny, it wasn’t something she was proud of.
Ziva put Gibbs’ folder aside and picked up the next one. Anthony DiNozzo. In an unusual move, she’d revealed some details to him of his profile. Just a few basics, mostly about how he’d been raised. She hadn’t let on that she knew his biggest ‘secret,’ namely that he had a very insecure personality. Of course, that was so blatantly obvious that she’d hardly needed a profile to know it.
Her flirtations hadn’t been an unkindness. Gibbs might be the one shouldering the burden of guilt for Kate Todd’s death, but DiNozzo had been the one who’d worked with her the closest. Despite their reported barbed banter and appearance of being at odds all the time, the two had actually been closer than many siblings. Ziva was confident that DiNozzo was feeling the other agent’s death keenly, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. Teasing him, being provocative, had been Ziva’s way of distracting him from his grief. It was odd that she was moved to do so; he was a total stranger to her. She’d always been a sucker for little boy eyes, however, and DiNozzo’s had been full of pain.
DiNozzo wasn’t the only one touched by Todd’s death. Ziva dug out three other folders and spread them out on the seat tray in front of her. Dr. Donald Mallard. Ari had admired the old man; that, at least, had been no act. Ziva suspected it had been partially because of the medical training Ari shared with Englishman, as well as the way Mallard was devoted to his mother. Maternal devotion was something that Ari would have respected. Abigail Sciutto. Ari hadn’t interacted with the lab specialist and Ziva wasn’t surprised. Her Goth looks would not have been appealing to Ari and her intelligence would have made him wary. Ziva shivered as she looked at Abby’s picture. This was a woman, she instinctively knew, who would be inventive when it came to revenge. Timothy McGee. The newest member of the NCIS team was timid on first look, but had a hidden spine. Working with Gibbs, no doubt, would strengthen that spine. If, that was, McGee lasted long enough.
Reluctantly, Ziva pulled out the file containing the last dossier, the one she was dreading reviewing. Caitlin Todd. By all accounts, Todd had been a strong woman with a fiery personality. Ziva ran reverent fingers over the slain woman’s photo. Todd had also possessed a delicate beauty; it was no wonder Ari had been attracted to her. The Israeli smiled at the irony. She and her brother were often attracted to the same women, but Ziva had only been able to admire Kate from afar, drawn to the American agent by what she’d learned preparing Todd’s profile. Ari was the one that had spent time with Todd, flirted with her and, ultimately killed her.
And it was all Ziva’s fault.
Ziva didn’t blame herself for Ari’s treachery; that was his sin and his alone to carry as he came to the ultimate judgment. One way or another, he was paying for it now and, although their father might disagree, Ziva felt it was fitting that she was the one who’d speeded Ari on the way. Ziva regretted the necessity of Ari’s death and the betrayal that led to it, but she didn’t impugn herself for it. Ari had been her brother; there was no shame in having loved him and believed in him as long as she had.
The fault lay in the profiles, those dossiers she’d just reviewed. As detailed as they were and as accurate as she knew them to be, there had been one fatal flaw. Once she’d stepped into the NCIS office and saw the dynamics of the people she’d previously only known on paper or from secondhand accounts, Ziva knew she’d made a mistake. It was so obvious that she wondered that Ari hadn’t taken her to task for it before.
Women were a chink in Jethro Gibbs’ emotional armor, that was much was true. This vulnerability was not only because of his first wife and daughter, but also because the man was slightly chauvinistic. Not enough to cause problems when it came to working with women, but enough that Gibbs had a problem with women being hurt or endangered, even a supremely competent agent like Caitlin Todd.
Concern over endangered females was only a chink in Gibbs’ armor, however. His finely crafted emotional shell also had a gaping hole in it: Anthony DiNozzo.
Nothing in Gibbs’ profile suggested that he would take a man as a lover. In fact, everything about him suggested that Gibbs was utterly traditional. Three ex-wives, if nothing else, proclaimed him as heterosexual. Even so, the vibe between the two men had been unmistakable. It spoke of trust and loyalty, of pain shared, and, above all else, deep caring.
The more time Ziva spent with DiNozzo, the more she understood. The man was undeniably attractive, enough to tempt even a Marine away from the opposite sex. Not only that, but DiNozzo balanced Gibbs, lightening the older man’s bluntness and brutal dedication to his work. Not that DiNozzo was any less patriotic than Gibbs; he just seemed to focus that patriotism through loyalty to Gibbs. In a way, Jethro Gibbs was DiNozzo’s America.
How had Ziva missed it? It was little comfort that their relationship seemed to be a closely guarded secret. Ziva was Moussad, she was supposed to be a cut above the rest, had even boasted as much to Gibbs himself. No wonder he hadn’t believed her.
“I’m sorry, Caitlin,” Ziva whispered.
If she hadn’t missed Gibbs’ relationship with DiNozzo, there was no doubt in Ziva’s mind that Caitlin Todd would be alive and it would be Anthony DiNozzo with a hole in his head. Ziva had nothing against DiNozzo, but looking at Kate Todd’s beautiful face, Ziva couldn’t help but wish she’d had a chance to know her. Maybe Ari would have killed Todd anyway, as a way to eliminate a potential weakness of his own. She would never know, although Ziva suspected it would haunt her for years to come.
The lights in the airplane’s cabin dimmed, drawing Ziva from the land of what-might-have-been and back to reality. She didn’t know if she would be able to sleep, but decided to give it a try. As she was gathering up her folders, Ziva paused with Gibbs’ on top. Ari’s death didn’t end it. The Moussad would be keeping an eye on this NCIS team for some time to come. She should update the dossiers with the information she’d found out about Gibbs and DiNozzo. Who knew when one of her colleagues would need that piece of information.
She opened the folder and took out her pen, but something stopped her from writing anything down. Ziva had no loyalty to Jethro Gibbs. She couldn’t stop thinking, however, of the look in his eyes when he mentioned his wife and daughter. She’d taken the man’s deepest, more personal grief and handed it, unknowingly, to his enemy. Israel owed Gibbs a debt for revealing a traitor; Ziva owed Gibbs a personal debt.
Ziva put the pen away and stowed the files containing the dossiers, all without having added any new information to them. She doubted that Israel’s safety would be compromised if she kept the knowledge to herself of Gibbs’ relationship with DiNozzo. It didn’t make up for what she’d done, didn’t reward Gibbs for the service he’d given her country, but it was the best she could do.
The flight attendant walked by, handing out blankets and pillows to the passengers who wanted them. With a cursory smile, Ziva accepted both and settled herself down in her seat. The thrum of the engines was a constant, but for once the vibration didn’t soothe her. Whenever Ziva closed her eyes, she saw a collage of faces. Gibbs when he mentioned his wife and daughter. DiNozzo in the NCIS office, trying hard to hide his pain. Caitlin Todd, smiling into the camera, her photo missing the ugly bullet hole that had ended her life.
Ari’s smiling face.
Ziva lingered over the memory of her brother’s face, but for the life of her, she could not see the lie in it. Without Gibbs, maybe she never would have.
Sleep was a long time in coming.
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