Chapter 1

My hand traces the wood, searching out imperfections – a task I have performed hundreds of times in my life, but this time, the wood brings me no peace. I am thousands of miles away, willing Ziva to come to her senses. I called in some favors to get a fix on her location, some word of her mission, anything … but like a mist she had slipped away.

The team feels the hole that she left. The empty desk only helps make her absence more noticeable, a constant reminder of many things that I wish I could forget. As days stretch to weeks, I make every attempt to fill the hole with patience. I know she thought she was making the right choice and wherever she is now, I hope the choice has not gotten her killed.

I walk away from the wood, wipe my forehead with the back of my hand and lean back against the workbench. I miss her. But a lover who doesn't trust you is no lover at all. A lower part of my anatomy is completely willing to forgive and forget and leaps in my pants to voice its objection to that kind of thinking. But she made her choice. Many years ago I stopped letting the little head do the thinking and I'm not about to let it dictate its demands now.

Instead I focus on making every attempt to fill the absence with a different warm body – one in her desk and a couple different women in my bed. But still she is on my mind.

WEEKS LATER

"Damn it!" I vehemently whisper the swear and then cut loose with a loud stream of curses. I wrecked the second consecutive piece of lumber for a cabinet I am building for a veteran's homeless shelter. After burning off a little steam, I reach into a desk for a bottle of Jack. I dump a small cup that had held wood screws, and pour myself a generous shot. Leaning against my workbench, I take a long sip, slowly swirling the alcohol around in my mouth.

I had seen the look on Dinozzo's face … THE look. After the look, would come defiance and after defiance, things would get dangerous. I had finally accepted that she is gone – not coming back, but DiNozzo is like a dog sniffing a trail that he won't be shaken from, my faithful bloodhound on the scent. He's a damn good investigator. I've forced the team to work extra cases, to find her replacement, but he has the look.

"Damn it!"

Since wood isn't working, I change into running gear and begin a familiar route at a steady pace, trying to empty my mind. I push myself, the muscles in my thighs, abs, and arms flexing in the cool air.

When I finish my run, rounding the corner to my house, I am exhausted and sweaty but mentally clear. And then I see Abby sitting on my steps, her glossy red lips working the straw to get the last few drops of a Caf-Pow. She shifts her focus, peering up from her drink, lips still firmly wrapped around the straw. Her eyes twinkle as she releases the straw from her mouth, lowers the drink, and grins at me. I extend a hand to help her up and to steady her on her ridiculously high platform boots. She talks the entire way into the basement. "I wondered if you were ever coming back you were gone so long. I had time to go and get a Caf-Pow and then waited for another long time. You should really do some more landscaping. ….."

Once inside, she wraps her arms around me in a big hug. "It's Tony," she whispers in my ear.

I pat her back gently. "I know Abbs," I say.