|A Village Life
Author: Mechabeira PM
"You don't quit family." He kissed her cheek. "Goodnight." A sequel to "Foundling." AU (T/Z)Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Romance - Leroy Jethro Gibbs - Chapters: 22 - Words: 120,483 - Reviews: 437 - Favs: 65 - Follows: 141 - Updated: 04-22-13 - Published: 05-24-12 - id: 8148425
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hey everybody! I have missed you all very much. Sometimes, when I'm drinking my coffee or wandering around the neighborhood I think, "How are all those people doing out there on the internet?" And the universe says, "Well write 'em a story and they'll probably tell you."
So I did and gosh darn it, I hope you like it. Lots of hugs to you, me
. . . .
My Daddy's house
is the safest of houses.
-"Two Kids," Anaïs Mitchell.
Gibbs grinned down at Sara and she grinned back, snug in her bundler and colorful knit cap. He'd swapped strollers with McGee's help, stashing the jogger in the back of his car and switching to a four-wheeler with a reversible seat. The physical therapist thought Sara needed to sit up more, gain more perspective, more strength, more interaction with her environment. She'd also written a prescription for a pediatric wheelchair. It was creased neatly in his wallet among dollar bills and insurance cards.
"Ready, sweet pea?"
She smiled up at him and let her head fall against the backrest. He liked being able to face her. "Yeah. Blustery day, Daddy."
It was windy. Dry leaves blew down the block. The sun shone, but clouds on the horizon meant a grey sky by lunchtime. Gibbs thought he smelled snow. "It is. You sure you want to walk today?"
"Yes," she said decisively. "But coffee first."
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled good-naturedly—she knew his routine too well—and made a left into her favorite coffee shop. A middle-aged woman held the door for them. She bent over the stroller and cooed at Sara, smiling. "What a beautiful baby," she sighed. "How old is she?"
"Five. A very small five."
Her smile soured. "Five? In a stroller? Why on earth—"
"None of your business," he said mildly.
She harrumphed and swept away. Sara gave him a stinkeye. "You don't like her." Was he being scolded? Possibly. She didn't suffer fools gladly.
"I don't like people who won't mind their own business, sweet pea."
She ignored him and examined the offerings in the pastry case. A cinnamon roll with a tiny dent in the icing had been her undoing yesterday. He hoped not to replay the simpering near-tantrum.
Sara pushed the blanket down. "A poppin-cake."
"Nope. Pick something else."
She huffed, arms crossed. "A sprinkle cookie. A big one."
Gibbs ordered her cookie and a bottle of milk before parking them both at a table. "Kiddo," he said after a long draught of coffee. "We need to campfire."
There was already a ring of colorful sprinkles around her mouth. "What's that?"
"It's when we have an important talk."
"Oh. Like when we saw Kelly and Mommy."
He gaped for a second. Mommy. Not Shannon. "Uh, yeah, sweet pea. Like that. But I want to talk about what Julie said yesterday."
Her eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"You're not doing great, baby girl, and no one can figure out why."
Sara tensed. "Because Mr. Godwin hurt me and my bones are all bad!" she growled. "I hate him!"
A man frowned at her from behind his laptop. Two college-aged women stopped their conversation. Gibbs shot them hard glares and turned back to his daughter. "I am sorry he hurt you, but your hips are better. It's time to get moving."
"I don't walk!" she declared angrily.
He took her tiny, birdy arm and laid it across her palm. Her elbow was dimpled like a baby's. "Will you try?"
Sara fell silent for a long time. "I don't want to fall down," she admitted softly.
"Would I let that happen, baby girl?"
She blinked up at him, eyes wet and grey. "No."
He gave her a tiny smile. "No?"
She took a shuddery breath and held her cookie out to him. "No. I wanna go. I wanna get a new house."
"With smooth floors," he said, unlocking the brakes. He dropped his coffee in the stroller's cup holder. Twenty bucks well spent.
"And a tree by my window," she finished.
They walked four short blocks to where Ziva's gentrifying neighborhood bumped up against an older one. Mature trees lined the street. Families wanted the schools and the zip code. Rachel the realtor waved at them from in front of the sixth house on the right.
"Good morning," she chirped. Chirped. She was a nervous, birdlike woman, with long dark hair and narrow features. "How do you feel about center-hall colonials?"
"Does it have smooth floors?" Sara piped up.
She smiled, charmed, and popped open the key box. "This one doesn't, but there's another across the street that's been renovated."
"Don't bother," Gibbs said. "Show me the renno."
She snapped it shut and led him back up the street, where a whitewashed brick house loomed over a shady lawn. It had been raked clean of leaves. The sidewalk was wide and even. The first floor was a great room renovation with a kitchen at the back done in granite and sea-green glass.
"Daddy," Sara gasped. "Look at the smooth floors!"
He did—cherry hardwood. The room itself was light-filled and airy. He would have to buy more furniture to match his new couch.
He nodded at Rachel. "Garage?"
"Three-car, out back. Big, level yard with plenty of room for a swing set."
He scooped Sara out of the stroller. She curled against him. "Bedrooms?"
They clomped up the wide, shiny staircase. He'd have to put something down for traction. They peered into the first room—big, with high windows and crown molding—and Sara crowed happily. "It's Zeeba's room! This is where she can sleep with Yaffa."
"You think she'll like it, kiddo?"
"Yeah. She has to have sleepovers when Tony goes away for work."
He nodded, thinking whether the bed should go under the window or against the wall. "Where's your room?"
"Um," Rachel interrupted delicately. "You don't want to see the master suite?"
She stared openly at how Sara listed on him, her curly head propped against his chest, her arms floppy, his wrapped protectively around her. Go ahead, he dared silently. Say something.
She fidgeted. "There is a smaller room that adjoins the master. Would that be ideal for Sara?"
She pushed open a door to his left and exposed a medium-sized bedroom with east-facing windows and a skylight. "I think the previous owners used it as a nursery," she said uneasily. "I know she's not a baby, but it might be nice to stay...close by."
"Yeah, it would. What do you think, Sar?"
"This is my room," she said seriously. "Tony needs to paint it for me and Zeeba can put my mezuzah."
He shrugged and switched shoulders. "Jewish thing. Can I make an offer?"
"Absolutely," Rachel gushed. "But there's a fourth bedroom and a huge walk-in closet, a media room in the basement, storage, and the garage..."
"Just an offer," he said firmly.
"Understood. Let's go down to the kitchen. I have all the paperwork with me."
He made a competitive offer, signed at all the Xs, and buckled Sara back into the stroller. She drooped. He reclined her seat, drew down the sunshade, and shook Rachel's hand.
"Bye, Sara," she called happily. She'd make a nice buck on his purchase. "Make sure you tell your friend to get out his paintbrush."
The sun was a little brighter. Gibbs set off back toward Ziva's, but bought a coffee and decided a detour. He walked around and around what would be their neighborhood, familiarizing himself, creating a jogging route. He found the school Sara might attend, the library, and the closest park with a playground. It was an easy walk to the central business district, where Sara could get ice cream or buy some new picture books. It was good, he decided. It was right. For everyone.
Sara slept through all of it. She slept right up until he pulled up in front of Ziva's apartment door. Noise on the other side meant Ziva was awake and upset.
"Daddy?" she whimpered, still half-asleep.
He sighed. "It's ok, sweet pea. I think Ziva lost her self-control."
She nodded knowingly. The noise grew louder when he inched the door open—insistent weeping, a few garbled words, Ayelet's quiet assurances. He parked the stroller against the wall and plucked Sara from the bundler folds. A few stray crumbs of cookie clung to her clothing. He brushed them off over the sink, where Ayelet bumped him aside and dampened a cloth with cold water.
"She's torn a page from Sara's book," she said sadly. "We're into tantrums today. Her having them, me dealing with them."
Ziva was sitting at the counter, head in her hands, shoulders bucking with sobs. She was long past the point of consolation. They'd just have to ride it out until she crashed. Gibbs' heart panged for her as he plunked Sara down in a special feeding chair and handed her a few animals to keep busy.
Ayelet peeled back the eye patch and cleaned Ziva's streaky, puffy face while he cut cucumber into quarters and reheated leftover chicken. "Zivaleh," she fussed. "You are too upset. It is time to calm down now."
Another sob. She trembled so hard her chair shook.
"Sha, my baby. Can you listen to me?"
Hell no, Gibbs thought, mashing a microwaved sweet potato.
Ayelet put the cloth aside and made Ziva stand up. "I know you're upset," she said, brushing her hair back. "I know you're upset, but you have had a stressful morning and did not get the rest you need. I want you to go in your bed and lie down, Zivaleh."
Gibbs put Sara's plate down and looked up in time to see Ziva fix Ayelet with a defiant look. Her good eye narrowed. He wanted to smirk. Get 'em, Ziver.
Ayelet did not back down. "Go," she said again. "Yallah, Ziv'keh. I love you very much, but you are out of control. Go to your bed. I will be in as soon as I plan dinner." Ziva turned, but hesitated. "La'lechet lishon. I will come in a moment."
She listed away, still sniveling, while Gibbs washed the knife and cutting board and Ayelet fell into her abandoned chair. He put a plate in front of Sara. "Did you just send a former Mossad assassin to her room?"
"Yes, Gibbs, I did," she replied tightly. "Because she needed it. Tony and I took Zivaleh to therapy this morning. Needless to say, it did not go well."
Sara watched with wide, seawater eyes and scooped mashed sweet potato onto her tiny spoon. "Zeeba had a bad fit," she worried.
"How long?" Gibbs asked.
She made coffee. "An hour. Zivaleh is nothing if not persistent. I hope she falls asleep before I go in there. I want her to calm herself rather than relying on the medication to do it for her."
"What's she so upset about?"
Ayelet blew out a breath and smiled wryly. "That I wouldn't let her carry a knife. To bed. In her own home."
He grimaced. "Where's DiNozzo now?"
"Out. I told him to go when I noticed the signs of an imminent cheima shafucha. He could not take another one of her meltdowns."
Gibbs grunted and looked down. Sara made a volcano of her food. "Hey," he said softly. "Don't make a mess. Are you finished?"
"Wan'milk," she said quietly, chastened.
Ayelet had a sipper prepared for him. He sat on the couch and cradled his daughter in his arms while she prepared two mugs and put one on the coffee table for him. "Did you find a house?"
"Yeah, couple blocks over. Ziver can walk to us."
"Good. She'll want you close."
He nodded. "What happened in therapy?"
She threw up her hands. "She cannot talk about Eli or what he did to her. The therapist asked and Zivi just looked around like she had no idea where she was." Her eyes wandered. Gibbs tightened his grip on dangling, sleeping Sara. "She cannot even tell us what makes her feel safe. I'm positive it has nothing to do with that knife."
"She doesn't know," he said quietly.
She eyed Sara. "You have been through this."
"Does it get easier? "
"Do the tantrums stop?"
She blinked, eyes wet. "Will she eventually learn that we love her? That we will protect her?"
Sara's thumb went into her mouth. She looked at him with wide, adoring eyes and he kissed her head. "Yeah, but you'll need to keep reminding her. She'll need you around for a while."
Ayelet nodded. "Ziva will need a number of procedures yet. Her mouth, her eye... she will need someone to help her. I think my stay will be longer than expected."
Neither of them expected Tony to crash through the front door. Sara startled and squeaked. She watched as Tony lugged in two bags and a box from the toy store near his condo. "Blizzard alert," he announced. "It's The Big One, Boss. The freeways are closing, schools, government offices. Vance called, said not to come in. I've got a sled-dog team on standby for emergencies." He put down his packages and tugged on a cap with earflaps. "Is there enough food? Should I mush to the market?"
Ayelet smiled. "There is plenty of food, Tony. Come sit down while I check on Zivaleh."
His grin faded. He flopped down and put his hands out. "Bug?" Gibbs held her out. She went to him easily and sighed. He made a face. "Man, Boss, she's like a wet noodle. And our wedding is postponed indefinitely. Zi's not...ready."
Tony hugged Sara closer. "She can't see very well. It's something about the muscles around her eye. They want to do surgery next week. I hired a musher in case the snow gets bad so she can still get to her appointment."
Gibbs swallowed coffee. "She'll be ok, DiNozzo. I put an offer on a house today. Be a few weeks before we close."
"Nice," he said happily. "Got extra rooms?"
"Realtor said something about a media room in the basement."
He smiled through his obvious sorrow. "You hear that, Bug? You and Zi and I are gonna watch movies while she gets better."
She threw her arms out. "Poppin movies."
"Madagascar, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Happy Feet.You get first pick, Buglet."
Gibbs stroked her curls. "What about Ziver's hearing?"
"We'll know more next week. She's got appointments up the wazoo." He ran a hand over his hair and brushed it back into place. He motioned futilely, helplessly. "You should've seen her outside today, Boss. She wouldn't move a muscle without someone to hang on to."
"Scared the hell out of you."
"She's not Ziva."
"Yeah she is."
"She hid behind me."
He glared. "She can't see. She was asking you to lead, DiNozzo. Would she do that if she didn't trust you?"
Something dawned in his green eyes and he shrugged. Sara pulled her thumb from her mouth and strained to sit up. Tony helped. "I did some shopping today, Bug."
"Did you buy me something?"
"Yeah. Want to see?"
Gibbs shifted uncomfortably. "Didn't have to do that, DiNozzo."
"My Bug has been so good with everything that's been going on that I just couldn't help myself." He pulled a square package out of one bag, stripped off the plastic wrap, and assembled foam puzzle pieces into a kind of mat. He spread it on the floor in front of the sofa. "It's an activity mat," he said grandly. "A nice, soft place to play." He snatching another bag and dumped it over. Out tumbled a waterfall of black-and-white fluff. Penguins. Stuffed ones. A family.
Sara gasped. Her tiny hands flew up over her mouth. "Poppins!"
He went to his knees behind them. "Yeah. Come get 'em."
Gibbs smirked at him and put her belly-down on the mat. "Go ahead, sweet pea."
Sara curled her head down and gave him a pleading look. "Daddy?"
He smiled. "Go, Sar. You want your penguins? Get movin'." She lifted her head and stared longingly. Apprehensively. He got down, too, and gave her a nudge. "I'm here. Tony's here. We won't let you get hurt."
She nodded and pushed with her elbows. Her knees bent fractionally. She was stiff and tentative, but commando-crawled six inches, then eight, then twelve. She paused and sighed, forehead resting on her right arm.
Gibbs tickled her foot through her striped sock. "Halfway. Keep it up."
She bent her knee and pushed again. Tony sang Eye of the Tiger and danced the toys around. Four more inches.
Sara stopped and yanked on her collar. Her dress was caught around her knees. "It's pulling," she complained.
He adjusted it. "We might switch to shirts and pants from now on. Keep going."
She inched forward again and reached out. Tony nudged the tallest penguin at her and she lunged for it, fingers closing around an orange felt flipper. "I got it!" she cawed. "I got my poppins! It's a whole family!"
Gibbs nearly burst with pride. He scooped her up and peppered her face with kisses"Good work, sweet pea." He looked at Tony. "Thanks, DiNozzo," he said genuinely.
"Sure thing. I got more." He dragged another bag over and pulled out a set of wooden building blocks, a set of toy dishes, foam letters for the bathtub, and a set of rubber ducks cast in Navy garb. Sara squirmed to get down. He put her back among her new toys.
Tony stopped with a box of crayons in his hands. "Not much else I can do right now, Boss."
"She'll be o—"
"Ziva still blames herself. She still can't grasp the reality that Eli David kidnapped and tried to kill her, and I can't say try to convince her anymore because she just doesn't hear it. I guess I should be grateful that she lets me close to her now and doesn't jump or scream when I touch her, but dammit, Boss, I can't do anything."
A gust of wind shook the windows. Blowing leaves scratched on the glass. Sara moaned in surprise and turned over to find her father. "Daddy?"
"Just the wind, sweet pea. We're supposed to get a snowstorm."
She shook her head, wild-eyed, frantic. "Pick me up, please."
He scooped her off the mat and pushed her hair back. Maybe he needed to learn how to braid. "You're fine."
"I don't like a snowstorm."
"Penguins live in the snow," Tony offered. "They live through lots of storms. Big ones."
She turned and stared at her new toys. "I don't like it," she maintained.
"You got bad memories of snowstorms, kiddo?" Gibbs asked quietly.
"Wanna tell me about 'em?"
She traced her mouth with her thumb. "No."
He put his cheek on her head. "You should be napping."
Her back was stiff where he rubbed it over her dress. "Why don't we have some quiet time and read a few stories? Might help you relax."
"No." He turned her around. She flopped. "Pick one of your new toys to take with you. The rest will be here when you come back."
Sara began to cry. "No nap! No snowstorm!"
He stood up with her in his arms. "I can't help with either of those, but I can help with stories. Tell Tony thanks for the stuff and you'll play later."
"Thank you, Tony," she parroted through her tears. "See you later."
He carried her into the guest bedroom. She clung to his neck when he sat on the edge of the bed. "Tell me about it, sweet pea."
"Did something bad happen during a snowstorm?"
She sniffled. "Mommy."
Gibbs snuggled her close. "Mommy died after a storm, huh?"
"I built a snowman with Adam Joseph."
He kissed her temple. "I bet it was a great snowman."
She tucked her hands between her body and his. "Mommy didn't wake up."
"She was sick, huh?"
"Yeah. We lived in a yellow house and the men came and they took her away and then I went away."
Sara put her head down and cried for a long time. Gibbs rocked her, stroked her hair, rubbed her back, but had no condolences to offer. She fell silent eventually and blinked around the room.
"Why do mommies have to be dead?" she asked.
"Dunno," he mused. "But it isn't fair, is it?"
"What's a good way to remember your mom, sweet pea? Was there something special you did together that we can share?"
He nodded. "That's why you didn't want to draw before, huh?"
She shrugged and nodded. "Yeah. And Mrs. Wolcott."
He eyed the pacifier on the nightstand, wishing he'd put it away. He was trying to wean her off it. "Tony bought you some new crayons. How about we do a little drawing when you wake up?"
"Not tired," she retorted, but yawned widely.
"Ziva is napping," he mentioned casually. He didn't have to show his whole hand when he played the Ziva-card.
She had to think, and did so with her index finger poised on her tiny chin. "I need my paci and all poppins."
He tucked the nookie between her lips. "Can I put you down so I can get your penguins?"
She nodded. He laid her in the borrowed travel crib—neither the bed nor the beanbag were suitable anymore—and fetched the remaining penguins off the play mat. Sara arranged them against the sides and tugged her green blanket around her. "Ok," she said. "Laila tov, Daddy."
He bent and kissed her brow. "Sleep good."
Tony had been crying, too. He stood at the kitchen sink with swollen red eyes and heavy hands. He didn't turn to look when Gibbs warmed his coffee.
"Comin' down hard, DiNozzo?"
"Ziver still asleep?"
He leaned against the countertop. "I got a kid with Brittle Bone Disease. I didn't know that when I took her."
Tony nodded again and didn't look at him.
"So," Gibbs drawled. "I thought our life would be different. I didn't think we'd have surgeries or doctors' appointments."
"Well, you do," he snapped. "Get over it."
"Her diagnosis didn't question whether or not I was supposed to be Sara's dad, but I have to man up and protect her because she's really, really fragile."
"Fragile," Tony echoed, still staring at the snow.
"She struggles every single day," he continued. "And that's hard for both of us, but I know when she looks at me that I'm the one."
"Man up," Tony said vacantly. "Gotcha."
Gibbs put his mug down. "Ziver might be more fragile, DiNozzo. Having to step up and protect her doesn't mean it's wrong."
Ayelet poked her head around from the hallway. She looked refreshed; nothing of the morning's panic remained on her fine, leonine features. "Welcome home, Tony," she said warmly. "Ziv'keh is awake. She'll be out in a minute. Gibbs, do you mind taking her smoothie out of the fridge? It needs to warm a bit before she can drink it."
Ziva was there when Gibbs turned back around, sidling up to Tony and threading her arm through his. He went white, then red, and put a gentle arm around her shoulders. "Hey, sweet cheeks," he sighed. "How you feeling?"
She shrugged and cuddled close to him. Tony exhaled. Gibbs watched most of the tension leech from his posture.
"She just woke up, DiNozzo. Don't make her stand there—go sit on the couch." He thrust the smoothie at Ziva, straw included. "Drink this, Ziver."
She took it with a small smile. Tony led her over to the couch and they sat with matching sighs. ZNN was flipped on, and for once Ayelet didn't migrate toward the kitchen. She lazed in an armchair with a mug of tea.
"How much snow are the weathermen calling for, Tony?" she asked sweetly.
"A bunch. I bought a sled for the Bug. Thought I'd toss her in there with a couple of pillows and tow her up and down the block. What d'ya say, Boss?"
Ziva put her hand on Tony's arm. "That sounds fun. I would li—" She broke off abruptly and put a hand to her jaw, wincing.
Tony sat up straight. "Percocet?"
She shook her head. Gibbs got her an ice pack and sat back down. "When's the doc gonna open your mouth, Ziver?"
She shrugged. Tony relaxed and she relaxed against him, bringing her head to rest just below his collarbone. His eyes closed briefly. The same relief washed across his features again. "Soon," he said for her. He let his head fall against the cushions. "Again, appointments like crazy next week. Hopefully there will be no more slurping after that." He craned his neck and looked down at her. "Any ideas for your first meal?"
She looked around for the tablet. Ayelet found it beneath a toss pillow and handed it to her, eyes still on the television screen. The Midwest was getting pounded with snow; a weathergirl in station-issue parka smiled from beneath her hood. The camera focused on a freeway pileup behind her. She muttered softly in Hebrew and Ziva hummed in agreement.
She hopes no one is dead, she translated. And I want challah French toast with chocolate-hazelnut spread and strawberries.
Ayelet glanced at it and nodded. "Starfruit, too, Zivaleh?"
She smiled, finally looking away from the TV. "Whatever you want, my baby. Drink your smoothie, please."
Ziva sipped contentedly, still holding the icepack to her face, until Sara cried shrilly from the spare room. She jumped and stifled a shriek. Tony hugged her and whispered soothingly while Gibbs went to his daughter, who was tangled in the blanket and weeping.
"Baby girl," he cooed. "Did you have a bad dream?" He didn't pick her up.
"Yeah," she whimpered.
Gibbs had the urge to hunt the man down and kill him in a thousand unspeakable ways. "I know, sweet pea. You're with me now and we're forever. Will I keep you safe?"
"Is that my job as your daddy?"
"Yeah." She pushed the blankets back and held her arms up. "Out."
He scooped her up, palming her head, and carried her out to the living room. Tony grinned from the sofa, where Ziva was damn near in his lap with her smoothie straw poised at her mouth. Her face was dry and she gave a tiny smile. Good, he thought. Let her feel safe with him. With any of them.
Ayelet held her hands up. "May I hold her? I have not had the chance yet."
He looked at Sara. She nodded and he shifted her over.
"Oy vey," she breathed. "She so chosheil. She is in physical therapy, yes?"
"She's going back next week."
She held Sara close and smoothed her curls. "Good. Little girls need to run and play. And she needs oil on her hair, Gibbs, if you don't want this frizz. I think we should make a family trip after the storm and buy a few things for her and a few for Zivi."
Sara nodded. "I like shopping, but I don't run. I scooch."
Ayelet smiled. "You do? Show me, little shaifeleh."
She put her on the mat and Sara once again commando-crawled from one end to the other. It was only a distance of a few feet, but the audience cheered and clapped like she'd run an Olympic race. Sara grinned and wriggled, flopping front-to-back. "Did it!" she declared.
"I'm sure you will have much more room to scoot when you move into your new house, Saraleh."
Ziva looked up, alarmed. Move?
"I don't know that the offer was accepted," Gibbs said seriously. "It's four weeks to close if it is, and we'll only be a few blocks away. You can walk to us."
Her eyes filled and she shook her head. No. I do not want you to leave
"We might not be going anywhere yet, Ziver. I need to know that the sellers accepted."
Sara flopped around to look at her. "Zeeba," she said slowly. "You have a room by mine. Daddy will buy a bed for Yaffa. She wiped her hands, indicating the deal was done. "Doda can come too because there's a room for her and Dod Romi on the other side."
"Where do I sleep?" Tony whined.
"Basement," she deadpanned.
Everyone laughed. She rolled back over and let her arms fall out. "I want to build blocks."
Gibbs pushed the box toward her. "Build our house for Ziver."
She didn't move. "Ok. I need a rest first."
He stifled a sigh; she was always tired. He was ready for a day that wasn't so hard for her. "Want your sitter?" Sara's feeding chair doubled as a floor seat. It propped her up so she didn't have to play lying down.
"Yeah," she said easily. She was not bothered by the fact that she spent her life in a five-point harness. He buckled her in and she waved at Ziva. "Come play with me," she ordered.
"Manners make the man, sweet pea," he reminded. He didn't care much, though. She spent enough time at other's mercy. Let them be at hers for once.
"Come play with me please," she corrected, having barely heard him. She was already tearing the packaging on the blocks.
Ziva slid out of Tony's arms and sat gingerly on the mat, legs tucked beneath her. "Build what?" she asked, wincing again. Tony gave her the ice pack. She held it to her face.
"Our house," Sara said obviously. She swept a few blocks at her. "You take the purple because that's your room. The whole house has a big wall but you can't see it. You can only get in if you have a special key. Daddy will give you one. Ok, Zeeba?" Ziva nodded and stacked purple blocks.
Ayelet tapped Gibbs' shoulder. "Come. I want to make minutesteaks for dinner. I understand you're an authority."
"I love minute steaks," Tony chimed from the couch.
"I know. You can set the table when the time comes, dear." She handed Gibbs a fistful of pearl onions. "Peel these for me while I peel the potatoes."
It was slow work. She wanted to keep him busy for a while. Sara prattled behind them, telling Ziva about the media room and smooth floors. He thought again about the wheelchair prescription in his wallet. She didn't really need it, did she? She was light and portable, and he was happy to carry her until she got on her feet at least some of the time.
"Your baby will be fine, Gibbs," Ayelet interrupted. "You do not need to worry so much."
"And yours?" he rejoined.
"I have my concerns, but," she nodded, as though waging a debate with herself. "But Romi and I have decided to invest in some real estate here. We're thinking about a pied-a-terre in Manhattan—perhaps a small one-bedroom or alcove studio. Not full-time, of course, but it would be good for business and good to have a place closer to Zivaleh. We know you are good to her, Gibbs, but we would like to spend more time with her."
"She's your kid," he agreed.
"Yes. And we are here a few times each year for business."
"And you just came now to visit?"
She glared at him. "You think I could with that tyrant still walking the earth?"
"You couldn't come down and take her out for dinner?"
"We did, once, and Eli called Ziva's phone three times during the meal. He was relentless with his torment and she was embarrassed. I would not put her through that again."
"Forget New York. Get a place in DC. Hell, get a place in the building. Commuter trains run both ways."
"I will ask," she acquiesced. "Perhaps she does not want us so close. She is a grown woman with her own life. She is permitted to have her own space."
"So ask when she's feeling better."
She looked over at Ziva, who was listening intently to one of Sara's stories with the ice pack still pressed to her jaw. Ayelet tisked. "Ziv'keh? Will you take something please? I know you are having pain."
"Don't force it on her," Gibbs complained.
"Turn the tables," she said easily. "If it was Sara..."
He said nothing and layered his onions in a shallow dish with steaks and potatoes. He looked out at the snow, still falling heavily, and thought about his father. Jackson. They were supposed to go for Thanksgiving, but Sara's surgery and Ziva's assault kept them in DC. He wondered about the holidays. He wondered if Tim was finding out anything about Sara's mom. He'd charged him with the responsibility. Pictures, he requested. Medical records. Gas receipts. I don't care, McGee, just get me something. She needs it.
He watched his little insect-child play with her blocks. She felt his eyes on her and looked up, face aglow. "Daddy, c'mere. Come see what I made with Zeeba. It's our house and there's room for a pony."
He sat down next to her. "What about that swimming pool?"
"I use hers," she replied, pointing at Ziva. "It's fine. Can we swim tomorrow?"
"Sure. We're stuck inside anyway. May as well get some exercise, huh?"
She nodded, walking one of her wooden horses around her block-house. "Just not walking."
"Would you walk with Julie and Adjoa?"
"No, just you."
He ruffled her hair. "So you will walk for me or you won't? I'm getting mixed signals, kid."
She looked at him—really looked at him. Her big, round eyes were light green in the lamplight and she smiled. "Just with you," she repeated. "Only, only Daddy. That's all."