Disclaimer: I'm stuck inside my apartment because it is too cold to go out into the world and any excuse I can come up with to leave requires money. Really, there is nothing to be gained by suing me. I'm just pretending.

AN: Found this lurking on my computer, half written. I dusted it off and wrote the rest. It's just a little scene that fits in somewhere after Hiatus but before Shalom, because I do wish we would get more exploration of Abby and Ziva's friendship. Abby was so hostile to Ziva at times during S3 and especially in Hiatus. Here's my take on how they might've bonded a bit. As always, lots of thank yous to Ana for making obsessing over NCIS so much fun! Thanks for previewing this! I would've waited to have you read it again, but the snow day made me impatient. Hee.

Growing Pains

When she recognizes the number on the caller ID, Abby slams down the bag of evidence in her hand (it's only a sock; it won't break) and yanks the phone off the hook.

"Ziva!" She shouts into the receiver. "It's like I told Tony six times—it's going to take me a few more hours to process all this evidence. It is physically impossible for me to work faster than I am working. I know you want all your cute, fluffy, little ducks in a row before you interrogate Sims but, for the millionth time, you CANNOT RUSH THE SCIENCE!"

After her rant, she takes a deep, cleansing breath. Exhales her toxic mood into the sterile air. Her fingers fumble for her ever-present Caf-Pow and she takes a long drink of the lifeblood.

Ziva is silent on the other end of the line. Abby chews her lip, sort of regretting her outburst of frustration. Especially since she didn't let Ziva get a word in edgewise first. And everyone has been pretty stressed out about this case; it's not just her drowning in Very Important Evidence.

Gibbs has been gone for three weeks and five days.

"Ziva?" Abby prods, hoping she didn't just unleash for no reason. A twinge of guilt twists in her stomach. "Look, I didn't mean to go all Science Diva on you, but--

"That is not why I am calling, Abby," the former spy interrupts, her voice much softer than normal.

Abby's stomach takes the express elevator to the floor. She knows that tone. She's heard that tone before. Much too recently. She pinches her eyes closed and starts muttering prayers.

"Who is it?" Her words are shredded by the emotion lodged in her throat. Please let it not be serious. Please let them be okay. Please.

"Tony," Ziva says, and Abby can hear the assassin's own prayer in the way she says his name. Abby blinks back a sudden flood of tears in her eyes. She grips the cold steel of her lab table.

"Oh God, oh God…" Not again. This is not happening again. She already lost Kate. Then she nearly lost Gibbs and, sure, they got him back but then he went and lost himself and now she really, really can't lose Tony, too. Not Tony. Not the man who is more her brother than the ones who claim that title by blood.

She feels the room rush in on her. She leans on her lab table, hoping that will keep her upright.

"Abby!" The familiar strength has returned to Ziva's voice and it chases the darkness away. "Tony will be fine."

Abby blinks. The world stabilizes on its normal axis. Well, Ziva could've said that in the first place. "Will be fine? What happened? What's wrong with him now?"

She hears Ziva take in a sharp breath. She imagines the woman closing her eyes against the memory. "We were arresting Sims. He panicked. He grabbed a knife from the kitchen and hid. He caught Tony as we came around the corner. Thankfully, we were wearing our vests, or else…" There's a long pause before Ziva continues, "Sims didn't go after him with enough force to penetrate the body armor. The knife glanced off the vest."

Abby swallows the lump in her throat. She remembers the bickering that occurred before the team took off. She remembers Ziva teasing Tony for insisting that they take every precaution against their suspected murderer.

"But he's okay?" Abby wonders why Ziva stopped her story. "Tony?"

"Sims got him in the shoulder. It was just a flesh wound. Tony is getting sewn up now."

"Stitched up," Abby corrects absently, preferring that more common euphemism. She shuffles the evidence bags on her table into a more organized pile. A quick glance at her babies confirms they are all working away on her evidence. She can leave the nest for a little bit.

"Yes, that," Ziva sighs into the phone. "I thought you would want to know what was keeping us so long. Also, you do not need to worry about rushing through the evidence."

Abby pauses. "Sims?"

"McGee eliminated him. He is escorting the body back with Ducky."

Abby inhales sharply. "Tim killed him?"

It's almost too much. She searches for a place to sit and ends up plopping on the cool tile floor. She hasn't gotten used to this world yet. She still jumps when she finds Tony's arm extending a Caf-Pow in her direction. When she looks up from her microscope to meet eyes that are as colorful and changing as the sea instead of a constant sky blue, she can't help but feel a pang of disappointment. It's not right for Ziva to be the one making the bad news phone call; she's not doing it right. She's not saying the right things at the right time. And Timothy McGee is not the one who's supposed to kill the bastards who threaten her team!

"I didn't have the shot," Ziva hurries to say. Her tone is filled with apology. "I would have done it, Abby. You know I would have, but I did not have the shot."

"Are you at Bethesda? I'm coming down there."

Ziva is silent a moment. "Yes. We will be here."

Abby hangs up the phone. She takes a minute to compose herself. She offers up a silent thanks that all that is broken can be mended for now.

She scrawls a quick note for McGee, which she will leave on his monitor. It promises hugs and baked goods. She knows Tim must be upset now, but he is with Ducky and has protocol to follow. There will be time to comfort him later, when he's ready.

Tony is in a hospital right now and Ziva sounded so broken, which has to be wrong because Ziva is never broken. Ziva isn't like them. She doesn't understand what it means to really be a team, to be a family and need one another.

Abby jabs the button on the elevator.

Ziva doesn't know that though Timmy will act all confident and assured on the outside (well, as confident and assured as he can ever act), his sad, droopy puppy eyes mean that he needs a good hug. She doesn't know that Tony is probably half-goofy on painkillers now and will need someone to tuck him under his favorite quilt and make sure a comedy like Caddyshack or Young Frankenstein is playing on the TV so he will laugh himself to sleep and forget about the stress of the day. She doesn't know that even though Ducky will come up with the perfect Ducky things to say to make it all better, he won't really smile again until he's prompted to tell the story of how he got lost in a French castle for the hundredth time.

She has the fleeting urge to call Gibbs. She wonders if this will be enough to bring him back.

See what happens when you leave us to our own devices, is what she wants to tell him. See?

It's not fair, she thinks, it's not fair that the scab hasn't even really set on the gaping wound Gibbs inflicted on the team and now they are bleeding again.

Abby uses her hands as blinders as she works her way through the hospital emergency room. She doesn't want to see any more examples of blood and sickness than necessary. Already, the familiar smell and look of the place is making her stomach churn. It's not fair. It's too soon.

Waving her ID at the triage nurse only earns her a strange look before she gets buzzed into the depths of the ER.

She spots Ziva standing guard outside an exam room. The Mossad assassin looks fierce. Her body is drawn taught as hard eyes scan the hallway for any threats. Frankly, Abby wouldn't expect anything less from Ziva. She is a hardcore killing machine before anything else. Abby's mouth sets in a thin line as she approaches the woman. Shouldn't she be with Tony somewhere? Holding his hand and listening to him make stupid jokes about his predicament?

She blinks and for a painful second she sees Kate standing in Ziva's place. Except Kate would never wait in the hallway. Kate would kick down the door to comfort a hurting friend. She wouldn't waste the chance to make a drugged up Tony spill his deepest, darkest secrets while squeezing his fingers tight in hers and ignoring the fact that he is trying to peek down her shirt. Kate was just cool like that.

"Abby," Ziva nods at her when she approaches. She stares down an orderly as he scurries past the room.

Abby opens her mouth to say something, to lay into the agent for abandoning Tony when he's probably alone and in pain and scared. But then she gets a closer look at Ziva and the fire dies on her tongue.

Up close, Ziva is a mess. Her face isn't just pale, it's ghostly white, something she would've thought impossible for the olive-skinned Israeli. Abby can see the stress knitted across her brow and detects a slight tremor in her hands.

It's alarming. She's never seen Ziva so much as flinch.

"Um," Abby isn't quite sure how to handle this. All the worry she had for Tony evaporates; all the righteous indignation she was going to take out on Ziva disappears. Abby doesn't kick friends (if Ziva can be counted as such) when they are already down. "Are you okay, Ziva?"

"I am fine," Ziva snaps. She pushes off the wall and starts pacing a small space on the floor like a caged tiger. Abby notices the dried blood caked on her clothing, notices the spots of rust that she didn't quite scrub off of her hands.

"How's Tony? Can I see him?" Abby switches tracks when it's clear Ziva doesn't want to talk.

Ziva makes a face. "Tony kicked me out. He said I was making the doctor nervous."

"I can't imagine why." Abby bites back a smile. If Tony was lucid enough to get annoyed with Ziva, then his state of mind can't be all that bad. If Tony were really, truly scared, he would not have booted Ziva from the room.

"The doctor should be done shortly. Tony will only need about ten stitches; the damage was not that significant." Ziva doesn't look at Abby, but continues to pace the hallway.

"I'll wait with you, then," Abby shrugs and takes a space against the wall. "Wouldn't want to make Tony kick me out, too."

Not that she would let Tony kick her out of the room; no, she could easily finagle her way in there and would stick until the bitter end. It's just that she's never seen Ziva express an actual, legitimate, deep emotion before and she wants to observe it. She is a scientist, after all.

Besides Tony has all the comfort that a doting nurse and a heavy dose of drugs can supply. Something tells Abby that Ziva could use a little comfort right now.

Ziva stops and looks at her. Her eyes are wary, like she's waiting for the catch. Abby holds the spy's gaze unwavering until, finally, she pastes on a smile and pats the wall. "C'mon, Ziva, park it right here."

Moving slowly, uncertainly, Ziva complies.

The stand there next to each other, leaning against the same wall, bodies inches apart, and say nothing. They wait.

It's not even twenty minutes later when a doctor strolls out of Tony's room. He throws a smile and a nod in their direction before moving on to his next patient.

There's brief scuffle as Abby and Ziva fight to be the first in the room. Abby lets Ziva win, but only because she isn't sure exactly how many weapons Ziva carries and knows from experience how hard she can slap.

Abby's plan was to launch herself directly into Tony's uninjured arm. A plan which, apparently, Ziva does not share because she stops about three feet short of the exam table causing Abby to smack right into her back.

"Whoa! What's the hold up?" Abby spares Ziva a mildly dirty look before swerving around her and hitting her intended target. Tony acts appropriately traumatized by her attack, though returns her affection with a strong one-armed hug and brilliant smile.

"I must've died and gone to heaven with all these pretty angels 'round," Tony drawls without losing his grin. Abby smirks, taking in Tony's glassy-eyed expression. Oh yeah, they gave him the good stuff.

"Doped-up-Tony! My favorite!" She exclaims, pulling slightly away to get the full effect. Tony sits shirtless on the exam table, a fresh bandage on his left shoulder. His hair is a spiky mess and he can't quite seem to keep his gaze focused or the corners of his lips from turning up into a grin.

Ziva remains a few feet from the table, an amused twinkle in her eye.

"Who me? Nah…" he slumps to the side a bit. Abby hurries to right him before he tips over. She gets a handful of chest hair for her trouble.

"Ooh, Tony! You are one hairy man!" Then, giving him a good feel, Abby adds, "and it's much softer than I thought. Nice."

Tony pushes her hand away and begins to rub his own chest. "Does my raw masculinity turn you on, Abs?" He leers at her, licking his bottom lip for good measure.

"You make me tingle all over, Tony," Abby deadpans. Then, sharing a look with Ziva, they both burst out laughing.

Tony frowns. "Hey. No picking on the guy who got stabbed."

"Sorry," Abby half-heartedly apologizes. "We really need to get you some of those drugs for when you are not recovering from a serious injury."

Smiling again, Tony wags a finger at her, "That would be illegal, my vampire princess. For I am a federal agent!"

Abby giggles and gives him another hug, being sure to cop a good feel. "Yes, you are! And a very good one!"

"Yes, I am," Tony nods solemnly. "Because I wore my vest like a good little agent and, therefore, did not get stabbed in the heart." The second part of his comment is directed at Ziva and, though Tony's tone is light and teasing, the Mossad officer's face shutters closed, goes blank.

Standing tall, Ziva's steely eyes flick to Tony's wound before fixing on nothing at all. Abby finds herself tensing up. Tony doesn't seem to realize the reaction he elicited; he's too busy riffing Deep Purple on his air guitar.

"I will go find Tony's discharge papers," Ziva says shortly, before turning on her heel and storming out of the room. Abby cringes as she watches her go.


He momentarily stops beat-boxing only to growl out, "Smoooooke on the water…"

"Tony!" Abby slams her hands over his. It stops his finger drumming cold.

"Uh…. yes, Abby?" He looks supremely confused.

Bending her head so she's eye level with Tony, she makes sure she has his full attention before speaking. "Look, I know you're in a very happy place right now and I hate to rain on your very colorful parade, but I think you just hurt Ziva's feelings.

Tony's face drops. "I…. what?"

For a second, Abby thinks he might cry. Trying to keep from having a maudlin Tony on her hands, she speaks quickly. "I mean, you probably didn't, because I know Ziva is a cold-blooded killer and, as such, doesn't really get insulted by us mere humans and our quaint emotions."

The instant the words tumble out of her mouth, Abby knows that her attempt to cheer up Tony was a bit of an overcorrection. She winces.

If possible, Tony looks even bluer. Like she just broke his favorite toy and kicked his puppy. "Ziva isn't cold-blooded." He starts shaking his head and doesn't stop. "No, not at all." A look of bliss sweeps over his face. Light sparks in his eyes. "In fact, she is very warm. Very, very warm. And soft. Maybe you don't think so, but I promise you that her skin gets so wonderfully warm and it's so beautiful and soft and I just want to touch it, all the time…"

Abby's eyes widen at Tony's outburst. Well, that was…interesting. Not entirely unexpected, but interesting nevertheless.

Tony looks up at her, eyes big and bright, as a dreamy smile floats across his lips. "Ziva is so pretty, isn't she?"

"Oh, brother," Abby rolls her eyes. Her lab for a video camera. Still, a grin tugs at her lips as she watches Tony moon over Ziva's perfection. Okay, so, last time Tony was given hospital grade painkillers, he spent thirty minutes rhapsodizing over the existence of vending machines. But that wasn't quite so…heartfelt.

Tony is lost in a daydream when a nurse pokes her head into the room.

"Agent DiNozzo? All set to be discharged?"

Tony salutes the cabinet on the opposite end of the room.

The nurse, a matronly woman with stenciled on eyebrows, gives Tony a knowing smile. "Alrighty, then, let's just find you a shirt to wear home, shall we?"

Registering her words, Tony looks down in a panic. "Who stole my shirt?"

Abby giggles. "Okay, Tony, I'll just let you get fixed up with a brand-spanking new scrub top while I hit the head. Then, I'll drive you home so we can eat pizza and watch Dazed and Confused."

"Aw, Abs, you are the best," Tony winks at her. Then, the nurse comes at him with a button-down flannel shirt that is at least two sizes too big. A look of horror crosses his face.

Abby ducks out of the room just before she hears Tony's cry of protest.

"But I haven't worn flannel since 1995!"

Quickly finding the restroom, Abby ducks inside.

She doesn't make it halfway to a stall before she registers the sound of sniffling. Following the noise, which is being unsuccessfully suppressed, she comes to a hidden corner of the room. The identity of the crier startles her.


Ziva goes rigid.

"What's wrong?" Abby's instinct to make everyone happy takes over and she hurries closer to the woman.

Ziva wipes furiously at her eyes. "Nothing, Abby. I am fine."

Abby frowns. Though she is able to hide it surprisingly well, Abby can still detect a wetness in Ziva's eyes and a softness to her face that isn't typically there. Abby's heart beats faster. Is the super spy actually vulnerable? Abby glances down quickly to confirm she hasn't traded her red and black kilt for a pair of pink velour sweatpants, entering an alternate universe of some kind.

"You don't look fine," she replies dubiously.

"It has been a long day," Ziva finally admits. She pushes past Abby and moves to the sink to wash her hands. "A long few weeks, actually," Ziva mutters as she towels them dry.

Abby can't argue with that.

Watching the Mossad officer flit about the sink, Abby is amazed to observe the amount of emotion radiating from her. Just like when she first saw her in the hospital, the same as the tone of voice she heard on the phone, the normally intense, focused Ziva is, quite simply, a wreck.

"Are you upset about what Tony said? About the vest? He didn't mean it, you know. He's all loopy from the drugs." Abby moves closer to Ziva as she speaks; Ziva looks down and inhales deeply.

"But he was right. If he hadn't insisted…" Ziva swallows. She looks up at Abby, eyes shining. "I was teasing him. I didn't want him to get hurt. I just…he was being such a thorn in the ass about it." Clenching her fist, Ziva lets a glimmer of anger out through the unshed tears.

Abby bites back the urge to correct the woman, wanting to hear what Ziva has to say. She can tell Ziva is choking back more tears and Abby can feel her own throat get tight in response. Damn it, she will not cry!

With a final deep breath, Ziva lets a single, bitter sob escape, "I would never want him to get hurt. If something had happened…"

Abby can't take it any longer. She launches herself at the assassin and pulls her into a hug. Ziva gasps, but allows the touch. After a moment, she relaxes into the embrace and Abby swears she hears a sniffle or two. Abby's heart melts at the gesture.

So the super spook has emotions after all. Huh.

Rubbing Ziva's back, she finds that it takes only a minute for Ziva to pull herself together. She extracts herself from Abby's arms and steps away, erasing any trace of moisture from her face.

But Abby doesn't let her get away so easily. Putting her life on the line, she grips Ziva's arms. Abby looks Ziva in the eyes. "Listen to me, Ziva. Remember the case a few months ago with the cross-dressing petty officer?"

Ziva nods.

"Do you remember how Tony bitched and whined about calling for backup when you guys went to arrest the attacker?"

"Yes," Ziva says hesitantly. She sees where Abby is going with this.

Abby nods her head in encouragement. "Good. What did Gibbs do?"

With a sigh, Ziva admits, "Called them anyway. And smacked Tony on the head."

"Correct. And it was a good thing Gibbs didn't cave into Tony's complaining because that dirtbag had backup." Abby gives Ziva's arms a squeeze, but doesn't let them go. "Do you know why Gibbs didn't give in?"

"Because he is a superior agent?"

"No," Abby shakes her head, smiling, then quickly corrects herself, "well, true, but also because that is what we do. That is how the team works. Gibbs was the boss and never let us forget it, but he would be an insufferable boss if Tony didn't nudge his funny bone every once in awhile. Just like Tim would get too complacent if I didn't kick his ass at hacking now and then, or Ducky would tell the same story a thousand times if Palmer didn't give him the high sign to stop. Don't you see? We all have our roles to play. We push each other to be better, even if it isn't always pretty. It's what makes us a team."

Ziva looks as self-conscious as Abby's ever seen her. "And me?"

Abby smiles. "Without you to knock him on his cute butt, Tony would be completely unbearable." Dropping her hands, Abby winks at Ziva, "and I would be seriously outnumbered. Who else can I complain about cramps and menstrual flow to in order to seriously freak out McGee?"

Allowing a small smile, Ziva sighs. "Thank you, Abby. I needed that."

"Anytime," Abby replies and means it. Maybe Ziva isn't a total lost cause after all. She wonders if the spy has any tattoos. The officer looks uncomfortable as Abby stares her up and down with interest. "Tony is the boss now and he needs someone to keep him on his toes. Can't have his ego taking over the world."

Ziva chuckles, some of color returning to her face. "Yes. You are right."

"I'm always right," Abby agrees with a wink, earning another laugh from Ziva. She feels a little warm and fuzzy inside. Did she just bond with a trained assassin?

A little put off by Abby's wide, weepy grin, Ziva gives her a strange look and motions to the door. "I believe I will go check on Tony now. Make sure he did not run off in search of onion rings."

Abby nods in understanding. "I'll catch up with you guys in a minute. Nature calls!"

As Ziva leaves the restroom, Abby does a little cross-legged dance before hurrying to a stall. She really needs to cut back on her Caf-Pow intake.

A few minutes later, Abby returns to Tony's exam room. She pauses a moment before entering and watches. Tony is dressed in that ridiculous flannel shirt, trying to show it off to Ziva as she stands next to him and laughs. Abby's heart flutters a little at the sight. She would have to be dead and buried not to notice the haze of sexual tension that seems to follow Tony and Ziva wherever they go, but this is something different. Something better. Something like…friendship.

Reaching up, Tony winds one of Ziva's curls around his finger. His eyes are twinkling and Abby can't help but wonder if Tony has found a new inspiration for his cracked out poetry. She admonishes him with a look that doesn't seem entirely threatening and he gives her his best puppy dog face in response. For a brief moment, a moment so small that Abby thinks she may just be seeing things, something passes between them. It's a shared look of clarity and understanding as Ziva lets her mask fall and Tony's eyes darken. Abby's mouth falls open in surprise. But then Ziva is fussing with Tony's belongings and Tony is back to singing a song only he knows and the moment has passed.

Okay. So maybe there is something more than friendship there.

Hiding a grin, Abby sneaks into the room.

"Abby is here!" Tony announces with a grand gesture.

"Nice shirt, Tony," Abby chides, helping Ziva to ease the team leader off the table. Ziva shoots her a grateful look.

"You like it? I'm thinking I might need to bring back the baggy flannel. Maybe dig out that pair of Doc Martens lurking in the back of my closet somewhere. How you do think I'd look with long hair?"

"No!" "Gross!"

Abby and Ziva share a laugh at their harmonized responses.

Together they hobble Tony out of the hospital and it only briefly crosses Abby's mind that Tony is not so disabled that he needs to use his friends as crutches. And, really, are the pain meds that strong? But they are all having unexpected fun in this otherwise crappy situation and so Abby will let it all slide this time.

"So, Abs, do you want to get that pizza with double the meat or extra meat?" Tony asks as they shove him into the car. "And, more importantly, cheesy garlic bread or cheese bread with garlic dip?"

Pausing at the door, Abby chances a look at Ziva, who looks, dare Abby even think it, a bit crestfallen.

"Actually, Tony," Abby begins, trying her best to sound nonchalant. She stuffs her hands behind her back and crosses her fingers. "I forgot that Major Mass Spec is still chewing on some really big evidence right now for…a really big case. I shouldn't have even left him alone this long. Can I take a raincheck?"

"Oh," Tony pouts. "Okay."

"I will take you home, Tony," Ziva announces, leaning over him to put on his seatbelt. Abby knows he's perfectly capable of performing that task on his own. Tony looks up at Abby over her shoulder and, with a smirk, mouths "score!"

After giving Tony a warning look, Abby nods. "Thanks, Ziva. Just make sure that you—

"Do not let Tony near the phone and order the pizza with extra cheese," Ziva proclaims triumphantly as she walks around to the driver's side of the car. "Yes?"

"Yes," Abby grins. "Exactly."

"Oh, c'mon, Abs, you know Palmer would've totally fallen for my German accent if I hadn't forgot to block the caller ID!" Tony's cry of protest is somewhat muffled behind the closed door of the car. Ziva says something to him that Abby can't hear and Tony goes quiet, zips his lips shut, and gives Abby a small wave goodbye out the window.

Abby returns the gesture eagerly.

Moving aside, she gives Ziva plenty of room to reverse out of the parking space in one impressively fluid motion before she speeds out of the garage.

Abby begins the walk to her own vehicle. For the first time since Gibbs left, she finds herself hopeful about her team's future. Maybe they aren't quite the super group they were when they had Gibbs at the helm, but the ones that remain aren't too shabby. They'll figure this out. They have to. They are a family, after all. Well, in Tony and Ziva's case, a slightly incestuous family.

Satisfied that Tony will recover from this latest ordeal in Ziva's capable, if potentially deadly, hands, Abby can now turn her focus to McGee. He could probably use some chocolate chip cookies from Dinkel's Bakery, for one. And definitely a game or two of pool before the night is over. If he's really lucky, she'll do her signature karaoke number for him.

Abby stops abruptly and looks around. Now if she could only remember where she parked her hearse…


Okay, time to let me know what you thought! How was this little trip back into S3/S4? Maybe I should've stuck with current events? Can you explain to me how the person in the studio apartment above mine seems to be having a party of 12 at 4pm on a Friday?

Thanks for reading, my friends!