A/N: So this has subtle Zibbs inclinations, but nothing obvious. It's mostly an Abby/Ziva friendship piece, which I haven't done in a while. And I know people want to read more Apoc stuff, but I figure if I can't post on that one quite yet, I could try updating another slow-coming piece.
Let me know what you think! I hope you like it!
P.S. This one is for luckyducky09. You know why ;)
It was a Monday, when they first noticed something was wrong.
Ziva was working in Abby's lab, helping process some evidence. Abby claimed it was part of the Probie process, to run the fingerprints from the crime scene through the scanner and then through the databases. And the hundreds of prints that Ziva had herself lifted that afternoon definitely leaned towards the hazing end of the spectrum, though if Abby were honest, she mostly just wanted to spend more time with her favorite female agent.
So while Abby was doing her magic on the drug evidence they'd brought to her a couple hours before, she kept up a steady stream of chatter. Ziva worked diligently, listening on gamely, and even going so far as to contribute a word or two when needed.
"Okay, Ziva, your turn!" Abby's bright voice sounded loudly over the thumping bass of her music, her boots squeaking on the tile floor of her lab as she spun to face her friend. Green eyes focused on her with mock-serious intensity. "Jack O'Neill or MacGyver?"
Ziva paused in her work, her brow furrowing as she considered the options. A moment later, she turned to Abby, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Are those characters not played by the same actor?" A smirking grin was all the answer she needed.
"Abby…" came the expected groan.
"It's a legitimate question, and you have to answer!" the Goth declared. "Who would you rather?"
Dark eyes rolled in exasperation, but Abby knew she had triumphed. "Well..." Ziva said, thinking out loud. "MacGyver does have formidable skill in devising unusual weapons, and his mastery of explosives is quite… impressive. But then again, I find the military lifestyle of Jack O'Neill familiar and respectable. And he has a certain quality about him that I think…"
She hesitated, considering her options. Finally, she looked back at Abby.
"I would rather Jack O'Neill."
Abby grinned, as if smug. "I suppose that has nothing to do with the similarities he shares with a certain former military man we both know and love, does it?"
"Never mind," Abby said quickly. She turned back to her own work, which was a rather unsightly pile of clothes their victim had left lying on the floor of his apartment. Abby doubted anything in the lot would provide anything useful, but she knew Gibbs and his gut. There would be no use protesting his orders.
But before she could even pull the first items of clothing from their bags, her stomach let loose with a mighty rumble.
"Dear god, Abby," Ziva said incredulously. "Was that you?"
"Yep," she replied with a chuckle. "I think I'm hungry."
"Uh huh!" With a flounce, she spun from her lab table. "I'm off to get some food. You want anything?"
Ziva shook her head. "No, thank you. I am not hungry."
"You know, I haven't seen you eat in a while. Are you sure I can't get you anything?"
"Abby, please, I am fine. I simply haven't been quite as hungry lately. I think I have been fighting a bit of a cold…"
"Chicken noodle soup it is!" Abby said happily. She ignored Ziva's pointed glare. "Back in a few!"
The line at the soup counter was longer than Abby expected, which she expected was due to the recent chill of the coming winter, but she was glad to see that by the time she had the elusive chicken noodle soup in hand, less than ten minutes had passed. Getting her sandwich had taken even less time, and she was back at her lab less than three minutes after that.
But the second she walked in the familiar metal door, Abby knew something was wrong. In the space of moments, her mind snapped into hyperdrive. Facts sped through her brain, beginning with the obvious, choking odor of burnt almonds, and ending with the sight of Ziva collapsed on the floor, unmoving.
Instinct kicked in then, and Abby dropped the food in an instant to rush to Ziva's side. She latched onto the smaller woman's wrist and started dragging her. Vaguely, she remembered how Timmy had given her the same desperate treatment, years ago.
But then Ziva was out of the lab and in the hallway, still unmoving. Quick inspection revealed an erratic pulse and barely-there breath sounds.
On pure desperation alone, she dashed back into the poisonous cloud of toxin, and snatched the emergency kit from the wall. The second she was back in the hall, she slammed her palm against the emergency alarm. The siren started blaring, and the red lights flashed as the metal door slammed shut automatically, but Abby barely noticed.
She was too busy breaking open a packet of amyl nitrite, and holding it under Ziva's nose, hoping that her friend was still breathing enough to inhale the dose that could save her life.
"Ziva!" Pale hands shook the agent urgently, but the only response was a lolling head and closed eyes. "Ziva, please, answer me!"
Fingers fumbling, Abby pulled out her cell phone, and dialed the first person she thought of. Gibbs answered right away.
"Abby, I'm on my way. Get to the decon showers and start the scrub down procedures. I'll be there in twenty seconds—"
"Gibbs, it's not me! It's Ziva, and she's barely breathing, Gibbs, you have to call the paramedics, and tell them to bring a full cyanide antidote kit—"
"Cyanide? Abs, what the hell happened?"
"I don't know yet, Gibbs! Just do it!" Without fully realizing it, Abby shut the phone with a snap and turned her attention back to Ziva. The lack of responsiveness in the agent worried Abby's gut—she knew what cyanide could do. Cyanide inhibited cellular respiration; inhaled, it could kill a critical number of brain cells in a matter of minutes.
Abby reached for the sodium nitrite, even though she knew it was little more than a Hail Mary.
"C'mon, Ziva, you gotta hang on…" she whispered. "Please, please hang on."
Abby swore the paramedics got there in record time, but really she couldn't tell how much time had passed. All she knew was that by the time Ziva was being loaded into the ambulance, she had yet to regain consciousness, and was already on assisted breathing.
Gibbs' questions didn't start until they were in the waiting room of the emergency. He turned on Abby, with fire burning in his eyes.
"What the hell happened?"
"I don't know, Gibbs. I was only gone for ten minutes, tops. Everything was left in their evidence bags, except for the prints you were having Ziva run. I don't know what could have produced the cyanide, Gibbs, I swear. If I'd even suspected, I definitely wouldn't have left her there alone—but it doesn't make any sense…"
"Which part?" McGee asked.
Tony spoke next. "I'm pretty sure none of this makes any sense, McGenius…"
"DiNozzo…" Gibbs' threatening voice got them all back on track.
Abby looked to Gibbs. "It doesn't make sense Gibbs, because I found her in the lab."
"That is where you left her, right?"
"No, Gibbs, you don't get it. Ziva knows what cyanide smells like—she told me, after my ex tried to poison me in my lab that one time. I could smell the almonds from the hallway, Gibbs. There's no way she couldn't have smelled it. And she knows the protocol when there's a gas leak. She should've been out of that lab long before she started feeling the effects."
Gibbs looked at her for a long moment. "You're sure?"
The doctor came to them almost an hour later.
"We have Agent David stabilized for now," he told them, his voice tinged with sympathy. "But I'm afraid she's fallen into a coma."
"A coma?" Abby's voice was quiet. She'd hoped she hadn't been too late. She'd been wrong.
The doctor looked at the Goth. "Am I correct in assuming that you are the one that administered emergency countermeasures on scene?"
"Then it's thanks to you that Agent David is alive at all. She had lethal amounts of cyanide in her system by the time she made it to the hospital, and if she hadn't received the antidotes you administered, in all likelihood she'd be dead by now."
Not surprisingly, the news didn't make Abby feel any better, but Gibbs' warm hand on her shoulder helped. A little.
"When is she going to wake up?" he asked bluntly. Abby decided that she liked his way of asking. Better to not acknowledge the possibility of—
"We aren't sure that she will," the doctor responded. "The cyanide did some damage, and we can't know how much was done—or how permanent it is—until she wakes up, which, if the damage is severe enough, may not happen."
Tony scoffed. "Great. Your regular Catch-22."
"Only this one is Ziva's life." McGee's tone was soft. Abby might have gone to him, if Gibbs hadn't already been acting as her support. She wasn't sure she would have been able to make it over to McGee by this point. Even now, her knees were shaking.
"We've got her on oxygen, though she hasn't needed a ventilator, which we're choosing to take as a good sign. For now, we want to limit visitors to one at a time, but if her condition holds, we'll reevaluate that in a few hours."
Gibbs nodded. "Fine."
Abby looked at him. "You go first, Gibbs."
To her surprise, he shook his head, then pressed a kiss to her forehead. "You go." Abby moved to protest, but Gibbs gave her a look. "She needs you, Abs. And you need to see her. Go."
After a moment, Abby nodded, then looked to the others. They too nodded their approval.
"Take as long as you need, Abby," McGee told her. "We're not going anywhere."
"'Kay," she whispered.
And then, with one last look at the others, she was following the doctor into the depths of the hospital, with steps as heavy as her heart.
Ziva's eyes opened 73 hours, 43 minutes, and 20 seconds after Abby had found her in the lab. By that point, the entire team had been allowed in to visit her at one time, since her condition had remained stable the entire time.
The moment her eyes blinked open, six people immediately moved closer to the bed, watching eagerly for any sign of response that would dissuade the threat of brain damage. For several long, tense moments, brown eyes blinked fuzzily, then focused on her visitors.
"What happened?" Her voice was thick and heavy, her words slurred. Even so, six grins shone broadly at the sound of it.
"Heeey, Zee-vah," Tony edged closer to the bed, taking her hand in his. "How you feeling?"
"Lousy," came the blunt response. "What happened?"
"Cyanide gas," Gibbs supplied, taking Ziva's free hand. Ziva blinked at him, struggling to focus on him.
She licked her dry lips before speaking once more. "Abby?"
"I'm here, Ziva, I'm okay," Abby answered for herself. The agent nodded in satisfaction, but a moment later, her eyes shut again, even as the doctor scurried into the room.
"Just missed her, doc," Gibbs said, not moving from his spot at the side of the bed.
Ducky stepped forward to take up the conversation. "Agent David was conscious and lucid, and her vitals have remained strong."
"And she was coherent?" the doctor inquired. He immediately began to take his patient's blood pressure when Ducky gave him the affirmative. "Good, that's good. Better than we could have expected. Obviously, there's still a lot we don't know about her condition, but if she was talking and could recognize you, then that bodes well for her recovery."
The doctor looped his stethoscope around his neck, and turned to speak to the group. "We'll wait until she wakes up again, and then take her to run some brain scans. There's obviously a serious risk of damage, but she's made it this far. If I wasn't a professional, I'd put money on her making a full recovery."
Over the next few days, Ziva's condition indeed improved. Consciousness returned in longer bouts, and her brain scans came back clean. Eventually, she was well enough that Gibbs felt comfortable ordering most of the team back to work, Abby included.
It was later revealed that the gas had come from a time-release capsule in one of the clothing evidence bags. When it had detonated, it had released enough heat to melt the plastic bag, thereby allowing the gas to permeate the lab. But to Abby, it still didn't feel right. There was the matter of why it was in the clothes of the vic in the first place, but more than that—why hadn't Ziva recognized the odor of the gas and gotten out before the cyanide could do any damage?
She watched as one of the seemingly endless stream of doctors re-entered the room, logging her vitals. Abby wondered briefly why he was doing it instead of a nurse, but she shoved it aside as she spoke up.
"What kind of scans have you done so far?" she asked softly. The doctor's eyes raised to hers, surprised by the question.
"None yet," he responded finally. "We would have gone ahead with a CT and MRI scan of her brain had she remained unconscious much longer, but her waking up preempted all that." The doctor turned to face her. "Do you think there's something we should be looking for?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I think so. I mean… she should have been able to smell the cyanide. I can't figure out why she didn't."
"And you think the answer might be in the scans."
Abby was surprised by the fact the doctor wasn't brushing her concerns off. In fact, he seemed to be taking her seriously. And the gleam in his eye told her he was intrigued by her interest and her apparent comprehension of brain activity.
If it had been anyone other than her best friend lying on the bed between them, she might have been intrigued right back.
"Yeah, I think so," she responded finally. "And if it isn't, then at least we'll have ruled them out."
The answer was in the scans after all.
There, in the frontal lobe of her brain, were three tiny little tumors.
The doctors said that she was lucky—they'd caught it early. Not only that, but without her near-death from cyanide poisoning, they might not have diagnosed it in time. It might've have progressed to the point that they couldn't have helped her.
As it was, the doctors believed the tumors were pre-malignant; if they moved quickly, they could be removed before they became malignant.
Gibbs stayed with Ziva as much as possible, Abby was glad to see. As the head of the forensics department, she had less wiggle room as far as time off went. Team Gibbs, on the other hand, was put on stand-by, as a special favor from Vance. They had all the time in the world to spend with their teammate, which came as a good thing.
Ziva was overwhelmed; Abby saw it every time she came to visit.
Barely two days after waking up she was told she needed to make a decision, and, Ziva being Ziva, she'd balked at the idea of going under the knife. It didn't help that she only half believed the doctors when they tried to tell her about the tumors.
She'd felt fine in the days before her run-in with the cyanide. The flu she'd thought she'd been fighting had merely been the anosmia—her loss of smell. Her loss of appetite, the sensation of feeling congested, all of it.
It wasn't until Ducky showed her the scans, pointed out the small shadows in the cloudy picture that was her brain, and explained to her exactly what would happen if she left them untreated that it finally seemed to sink in.
Abby was pretty sure she'd never seen Ziva get so quiet.
Not just quiet. Small. Daunted.
This was a threat she couldn't fight with guns or knives—not even one she could fight on her own. She would have to trust her health, her life, to a bunch of doctors she didn't know. And the surgery wasn't without its risks. There could be memory loss, her personality could be altered, or any number of other horrifying possibilities.
Abby knew her friend was on the verge of refusing the surgery just on principle. But, Gibbs was there. All the time. Reminding her that she wasn't alone in this. They wouldn't abandon her no matter what—even if she lost her memories, or if she got angry and irritable, or even if the surgery didn't work. They would go through it with her.
Through all of it.
In the end, that reassurance let her make the decision that could save her life. Less than a week after she was told about the tumors, she went into surgery. Abby was there, sitting for ten hours in between Tim and Tony on hard plastic chairs in the hospital waiting room. She watched as Gibbs paced, and Ducky regaled them with more stories than they'd ever know what to do with.
Abby half-listened, but for the most part she buzzed with nervous energy. Her leg didn't stop bouncing once in all of the ten hours they were in the waiting room. Tony tried to still her by putting his hand on her knee, but he gave up after three ineffective attempts. McGee simply held her hand, which was what she really needed. Simple reassurance—it had helped Ziva too.
The doctor came with periodic updates, to assure them that she hadn't died on the table. But that last time he came out, with that spark of triumph in his eyes, that was the one they remembered. Those three little words they'd waited all day to hear.
"She made it."
They were there with her when she woke up, and Ducky was the one to explain that the doctors believed they had removed all the precancerous tissue. But she only had the strength to smile before her really good drugs pulled her back under.
It was enough.
Gibbs hugged Abby then, when she finally let her tears spill down her cheeks. The boys didn't even bother trying to hide their own relief. Even Ducky was looking a little shaky in the knees, underneath his beaming pride for his unofficial patient. Ziva had beaten the odds. She was a survivor.
But a few days later, they hit their first sour note. Palmer came by with a plateful of fresh, still-warm chocolate-chip cookies. Abby could smell them the minute he stepped in the door. But Tony, bloodhound that he was, detected them when the autopsy tech was still halfway down the hall.
They were gushing over the tinfoil-covered plate for five minutes, even fought over it once it made it inside the room. It wasn't until Ziva asked "what cookies?" that they realized that they hadn't taken the tinfoil off them.
And that she couldn't smell the aromatic cookies from where she lay on the bed.
Their sudden silence prompted her to beckon the plate closer. She unwrapped the plate, then took a deep whiff, her nose nearly touching the sweet desserts.
"Nothing," she said simply. Abby heard the subtle detachment in her tone. She was trying to be matter-of-fact about it, but she was bothered. Maybe, even, a little scared. But Gibbs was right there, holding her hand while his other hand passed a cookie.
She didn't eat it, but her grateful smile was what they were really looking for.
The doctors sent her home a week later, though ordered her to return for more scans in a few weeks, to make sure the tumors didn't come back. Abby was the first to volunteer herself for chauffer duty, an offer that she was pleased to see earned her a glare.
It was the first time they'd seen the normal Ziva emerge from her shell in two weeks.
But once home, the woman was back to work as soon as she was allowed. She was on desk duty until the director could figure out whether or not she could be allowed in the field again.
Abby realized then what Ziva had been so apprehensive about.
She was an agent, before that a Mossad officer. Her whole life had been about trusting her instincts, which meant relying on her senses to keep her aware and on her toes. Now she was missing one of those five senses, and that left her at a significant disadvantage, if not at outright risk. Even in her own home, she was in danger because she no longer had her sense of smell.
What happened in the lab could happen in her apartment, only it could be smoke from a fire, or a gas leak she couldn't detect until it killed her.
It wasn't something Abby liked to think about, but when Ziva came down to visit her for the afternoon—every afternoon—it was hard to ignore. As much as she liked being able to look after Ziva, she was glad the day Ziva came down with a broad grin on her face.
"I have been cleared for field duty," the team's newest agent declared proudly. "I'll have to have someone with me at all times, to act as my nose, but—"
"No buts, Ziva!" Abby countered. "That's awesome!" She wrapped her friend in a hug. "I'm so happy for you!"
Her friend gave her a beaming smile. "Thank you, Abby."
For a long moment, she took in the sight of her best friend. She was still regaining the weight she'd lost in the hospital, but she'd gotten her color back, and it made all the difference. She'd already passed the fitness tests, which had been passed with flying colors—the only thing that had really changed about her was the anosmia, and all things considered, it wasn't that huge a difference.
It was only then that Abby realized that the trepidation she'd felt, the fact that Ziva had been so withdrawn after the surgery… it wasn't because of her condition. Ziva had been just as worried about the consequences as the rest of them had been, but not in terms of coping.
She'd been worried about her job. Well, not just the job. It wasn't just a job for her. It wasn't for anyone of them, but especially not for her.
If Ziva didn't have NCIS, she didn't have anything. She'd have Tony and Timmy and Gibbs, and Abby herself. But the only other world Ziva knew was Mossad, a world she'd turned her back on. And no doubt Ziva had figured her citizenship status had been reliant on her status as an agent.
No doubt, a part of her had been worried about facing deportation, on top of everything else.
A moment later, Abby had wrapped her arms around Ziva, pulling her into a tight hug. Ziva seemed only slightly surprised, but returned the hug with just as much fervor.
"I'm glad you're okay," Abby whispered.
Ziva's hands pressed tighter against her back, pulling her closer.
But then she pulled back, and brown eyes looked intently at her. "Thank you, Abby," she said, her voice gentle, but firm.
"For what?" Abby asked. She ran a hand over her eyes, brushing away the tears building up. "For getting all gushy and emotional on you?"
"For saving my life." Ziva's tone was dead serious, despite Abby's attempt at humor. "You saved me, twice. I never said thank you."
Abby took a deep, steadying breath, blinking back the persistent tears. Then, she took Ziva's hands in her own, relishing the simple touch—because now she remembered how easily that contact could be taken away. Just one careless mistake, and one of them could just… not be there the next day.
She'd forgotten how sudden Kate's death had been. She'd gotten a refresher, and this time, they'd all gotten lucky. It was a harrowing reminder to get, but a necessity.
In the end, Abby could only shrug.
"That's what family does," she returned. "I'll never stop caring about you, Ziva. None of us will. No matter what."
Abby watched as Ziva's gaze warmed, and her smile shone brightly under the fluorescent light of the lab. And her response, two simple words, meant more than any speech ever could.