Chapter Nine

Abby slid into the driver's seat, starting the car for heat. Tony had ditched his date and was in the back seat with Ziva, who hadn't spoken since they'd left the dance floor.

"So?" Tony settled back, body turned slightly in the seat so that he could watch Ziva. Abby twisted around in her own seat, resting her chin on the back. Ziva folded her hands in her lap, the picture of calm detachment.

"Abby, You had theorized that Director Shepard had instructed me to keep some information from Gibbs and the rest of you. This was true."

"Well duh." Abby rolled her eyes. Ziva's reaction had been as good as a confirmation. Tony's gaze flicked to her, reproachful.

"Let her talk, Abs."

"Sorry."

"The man who was killed in the case which was taken away from us was part of an under-cover government operation. CIA. The project was not one that they wanted publicized, and thus his part in it was kept hidden."

"And you knew about this, why?" Tony questioned.

"I overheard something that I should not have. Jenny filled me in after that." Abby did not make any of the twenty different remarks regarding the lack of professionalism that were dancing around in her head. Not even the Rule Twelve one.

She studied Ziva intently, but her gaze was frank and open, no hint of dissembling. "So what was that phone call about?"

"Nothing important. Just new information on his death."

"Sounds absolutely trivial," Tony agreed, deadpan. Ziva flinched minutely.

"And the reason that Jenny wanted to know where you're staying tonight?"

Ziva shrugged, tilting her head and raising an eyebrow at her. "I would think you would be familiar with the attitude of jealous ex-lovers."

"Jesus Christ."

Tony coughed, hands forming thumbs up. "I knew it!"

It was Abby's turn to shoot a reprimanding glare in his direction. "Seriously? Talk about obsessive. You should really deal with her."

Tony arched an eyebrow. "Because you can talk."

"Fuck you," she replied cheerfully. The conversation was frolicking off in directions that it really did not need to go if Abby intended on maintaining socially acceptable levels of irritation. And there were also definitely things that needed to be said when Tony was not in the car being all fucking perceptive and snarky. "We leaving?"

"Yeah."

"Sweet." She flopped back in her seat, shifting into gear. Behind her, Tony cleared his throat.

"So. You and Madam Director, huh?"

Ziva sighed. "Yes, Tony. And if you value your continued existence you will not ask anymore about it."

"You know, I really don't need to ask anything else. I have a *very* active imagination."

"You see what you unleashed?" Abby asked in a forced casual tone.

"You should be grateful. I've removed you from his fantasies for the moment."

Tony snorted. "What part of good imagination didn't you catch?"

"It's ok, it's mutual." Abby smirked to herself. "C'mon, Ziva, you can't tell me you've never daydreamed about Tony and Gibbs?"

"You have an obsession and it's not healthy," Tony informed her tartly.

"It's only an obsession because you two would be so much happier if you admitted it."

"Ziva'd have better luck. They could bond over the Director."

"He's too old for her," Abby responded immediately, letting a hint of jealousy slip into her voice.

"Wasn't too old for your endless fantasies," Tony shot back.

"I'm older than Ziva."

"By two years."

"Still older. Besides, she's taken."

"I am?" Ziva's voice was part amusement, part surprise.

For once in his life, Tony remained silent. Abby swallowed, her throat suddenly very dry. Ahead of her, the light changed and she focused her mind on the press of the accelerator under her foot and the rough plastic of the steering wheel under her palms. "Only," she said, speaking slowly, as if the words would shatter if they fell too fast from her lips, "If you want to be."

From behind her, there was silence. Her stomach began to churn uncomfortably, and her hold on the steering wheel became a death grip.

Tony coughed. Abby stared at the road. "This is... Sudden," Ziva said finally. Abby blew out a breath between her teeth.

"Yes. No, it's not. For Christ sake, what have we been doing for the last week? Ok, no, ok, don't answer that." She knew she was babbling and she didn't care. "A date. We'll go on a date-- go for dinner, see a movie. Tony, what movies are out?"

"Calm down, Abs," he said, amusement colouring his words.

"I'm calm, damn you."

"Abby, I just meant that you took me by surprise. There is usually a waiting period before anything is decided, yes? A length of time when the couple... Tests the waters?"

"Yes. Fantastic. We shall test the waters. Waters shall be tested. Well."

Tony sighed. "Your mouth is moving again. You should work on that."

"Can we have this conversation when Tony is not in the car?" Ziva asked. Abby blinked.

"Sure, I guess."

Ziva remained silent. Tony did not. "I'm hurt, Ziva. You don't think I can be quiet when I really have to be?"

"The only reason for your silence would be that you were distracted by a sexual fantasy," Ziva informed him dryly.

"That hurts. That really, really hurts me. Deep down in my heart and soul."

"There are other ways to keep him quiet, Zi. Ask Gibbs."

"Congratulations, Abby. You've just become the soul instigator of my future alcoholism."

"I try really hard."

The ride to Tony's apartment was completed in a silence that Abby was pretty sure should have been awkward. It may have been, she reflected, glancing back at Ziva where she sat, hands folded, back rigid, staring out the window. Tony leaned back in the door after he got out, looking seriously at Ziva. "I know you said there was nothing to worry about with this case, but be careful anyway, alright?"

She smiled in return. "I will, Tony."

Abby frowned and wondered if she was the only one who took Tony's warning to relate to more than just the case. She glared at his retreating form as he passed under a street light. Ziva, meanwhile, moved up to the passenger seat.

"So," Abby said as she pulled back into traffic. "Do you want me to drop you off at your place?"

"I'm still fine with staying at your place, Abby. Nothing has changed."

Abby bit down hard on her lip. "If by nothing you mean everything, sure."

"The only difference is that our feelings are out in the open instead of badly hidden."

Abby snorted. If that was Ziva's definition of no change, she'd be a little afraid to witness what constituted real change. "So you want to do the whole dating thing?"

"It doesn't have to be as formal as that. I do think that spending some time getting to know each other would be important, though we can still consider it a relationship. Merely not an extremely serious one as of yet."

A rush of relief overtook Abby's consciousness. "That sounds perfect. And it makes sense. Can I tell the Director? Please? Please please please?" Her hands left the wheel briefly to rub together in glee.

"No. Besides, I think she's already guessed."

"Oh. Ok, I'll just gloat in silence—wait, what? How did she know?"

"She's not as stupid as you think she is."

Abby tilted her head. "Really?"

Ziva rolled her eyes. Abby turned on the radio.

Ziva was silent for a while, and Abby was startled when she spoke again. "At the club... Tony said something that has been bothering me."

"Damn Tony," Abby replied mildly, leaning back in her seat.

"This relationship. You do truly want it, yes? It will not be the same sort of non-commitment that you had with McGee?"

"Tony told you about the McGee thing?"

"No. McGee did. Tony only commented that you are very affectionate with anyone you consider to be even an acquaintance."

Abby shrugged. "Yeah? Why, you the jealous type?"

Ziva didn't say anything for a moment. "Actually, I was curious about your feelings for me."

Abby winced. "Oh Ziva. Hey, it's the other things that are important. And I'm affectionate with people I'm close with, too. Gibbs, my brother, Tony..."

"That's reassuring, thank you." The other woman's words dripped with sarcasm.

"Ok, bad examples. ...Really bad examples, actually. That's not the point. Don't listen to Tony. It can only result in disaster. Anyway, don't be worried about that. I can assure you that my feelings are not simply the kind I'd have for an acquaintance. And, well, after Kate, I kind of woke up to the fact that people aren't guaranteed to be there forever. So no, I'm not going to reenact my McGee fiasco."

"Were you and Kate..." Ziva's words trailed off.

Abby laughed because she refused to cry. "No, no. Kate was a good little Catholic girl, straight as an arrow."

Ziva nodded. "It would have surprised me."

"Yeah. It could have never happened. Kate always considered herself a little bit too good for us. She never said anything outright; hell, she may have not consciously known that she felt that way. It made… any kind of relationship difficult."

"I am sorry."

Abby shrugged. "That was Kate, I guess."

By the time they got back to Abby's apartment she had stopped mentally hyperventilating and her hands were no longer shaking. She smiled at Ziva in the elevator. The younger woman linked her fingers with Abby's and squeezed. Abby grinned like an idiot.

"I never quite believed the stories of the coffin," Ziva called from Abby's guestroom as the Goth powered up her laptop.

"My God, there are stories?" Abby laughed. "I knew I was awesome, but I didn't know it was that hardcore."

"McGee."

Abby shook her head. "Oh. Get my hopes up, why don't you?"

"Did you have it custom made?" Ziva asked, wandering back into the living room.

"Uh huh." Abby opened her email, and was greeted with correspondence from Jennifer Shepard. "If this is a warning to stay away from her woman I think I'm going to stab her eyeballs out. And laugh while I do it."

Ziva set down the book she'd been looking at. "Excuse me?"

Abby giggled and opened the message. "A reminder that all NCIS employees are to conduct themselves with a level of professionalism appropriate to the agency which they re—oh my God, Ziva, she's trying to use Rule Twelve against me. Oh the opportunities she's presenting me with!"

Ziva turned away. "Don't' get yourself fired."

Abby nodded distractedly. Ziva vanished into the bedroom. After a brutally scathing reply had been composed and sent off, Abby cheerfully followed her.

Ziva was already under the blanket, sprawled out against the black sheets, hair fanning out around her head like a halo. Abby perched on the side of the bed and bounced a little. "That was fun."

"Are you done?"

"Yes. For now." Her hand darted out, twisting a lock of Ziva's hair around her finger. Ziva rolled her head towards her hand and Abby's long pale fingers curved around her cheek, cradling the other woman's face. "You're beautiful," Abby told her in a stunning display of situation-appropriate clichés.

Ziva's lips curved into a smile and Abby leaned down, claiming the other woman's mouth in a long, fierce kiss. Ziva's fingers tangled in Abby's hair. Abby tilted Ziva's face to an easier angle, bracing herself on the mattress with the other hand.

"We're really good at this whole taking it slow thing," Abby muttered teasingly, moving away from Ziva's lips to plant feather light kisses over her cheeks and forehead. Ziva tugged at Abby's hair, trying to direct her back to her mouth. Abby drew back, catching Ziva's hands in her own and placing kisses in each palm.

"When I suggested we take things slowly I was referring to the emotional aspect," Ziva retorted.

Abby stroked the soft skin at the inside of her wrists. "I know. But generally one waits before falling into bed with someone."

Ziva smirked. "Noone said anything about falling into bed. Let's consider this a test of our self-restraint."

Abby grinned mischievously. "Don't let Tony hear you talking like that."

"Inappropriate timing, Abby," Ziva laughed. Abby pulled the other woman's arms above her head, pressing her wrists into the pillow. She slid her hands down the length of Ziva's arms, reveling in the silky texture of her skin. Ziva moved to pull Abby down onto the bed, but the Goth shook her head and moved Ziva's arm back to its original position.

"Self-restraint, remember?"

The next morning, Abby awoke alone.