Summary: Ziva has just broken up with Ray, and Abby tries to cheer her up. But instead, she discovers what's really bothering her - and it isn't Ray at all. This is a Ziva/Abby friendship piece, very sweet and a little serious.

Author's Note: Like Abby, I grew up in Louisiana, and like Ziva, I'm Jewish. So this story is very near to my heart. Reviews are loved even more so than usual.

Spoilers: Although this story isn't tagged to any specific episode, it's set near the end of Season 8 (specifically, between episodes 8x21 "Dead Reflection" and 8x22 "Baltimore") and it references a few events of that season's finale arc.


:. Next Year, Ducky's .:

It was a job that needed Abby and Ziva specifically. That's what Agent McManus told Gibbs when he asked if they would be able to do it for him. McManus's team had footage of a conversation between suspected terrorist cell members. But they were speaking Arabic, and on top of that, the recording was muted. McManus had worked a Gibbs's team a few times in the past, and the only way that he could think of to find out what was being said on the video was for Abby to lip-read the conversation and repeat it to Ziva, who could then translate anything suspicious.

Which is how they both find themselves sitting in front of the plasma in Abby's lap, watching the footage. It makes Abby feel slightly ridiculous to repeat all the strange, nonsensical sounds to Ziva, without any idea of what she's saying, and twenty minutes in, she hits the pause button on her remote and mumbles, "We need a break."

"I agree," Ziva says. She leans back in her chair and stretches her legs.

"Boy, when McManus asked us to do this, I didn't think it would be so boring," Abby says with a yawn. Then she rubs her eyes, which are tired from staring so closely at the screen. She didn't realize how much harder lip-reading would be in a language that she didn't speak. "How's my pronounciation?"

Her pronounciation is terrible, barely accurate enough for Ziva to understand the jist of what's being said. But Ziva answers, "Very good, Abby. Especially considering you don't speak Arabic."

Abby sighs and turns the video back on. Ziva feels sorry for her - she can't even look away from the screen, after all - so when she notices Abby's makeup kit a bit further down the counter, she slides it over. She cleans out the brushes, gets the gunk of the eyeliner pencil sharpener, and throws away an old bottle of black nail polish that's dried out and hardened like glue - all while listening closely to Abby's mangled Arabic. But about five more minutes in, she groans at what she hears.

"What?" Abby asks. She quickly hits the pause button again. "Did they say something incriminating? Should I repeat it?"

"No," Ziva says. She puts her elbow up on the counter and drops her chin into her hands. "They're just talking about what they watched on TV last night. The first one is telling the second one what happened on Modern Family." She rolls her eyes, wondering how much more of this she and Abby have to sit through.

"Oh my god, are you serious?" Abby asks in disgust. "That's what they're talking about? Okay, that's it." She hits the stop button, and the plasma screen goes to blue. "We'll just stop here, tell McManus we watched the whole thing, didn't find anything suspicious, and maybe he should reconsider whatever reasons he has for thinking these guys are terrorists. Because I doubt any men who watch Modern Family are terrorists." She throws her remote down on the counter. Then she notices Ziva still cleaning her makeup kit. "Are you..." she starts to ask, but her voice quickly trails off.

Ziva is a bit taken-aback when Abby suddenly leans over and throws her arms around her in a hug. "Oh, my gosh, thank you!" she gushes, then leans back and smiles at her friend. "See, that's the exact sort of thing that a man would never do. No man would ever organize your makeup for you, no matter how much you loved him."

Ziva gives a low chuckle at that. No, she certainly can't imagine Ray ever cleaning out her makeup brushes like she just did for Abby.

But, no. She doesn't want to think about Ray.

Abby stands up and stretches. Her long limbs are as restless and bored from this as her mind. "Hey, I've got a great idea," she says to Ziva. "Let's go grab a bite to eat somewhere, just the two of us. We definitely deserve it after sitting through that - " She waves at the plasma with one hand. " - and I've been dying to try that new diner that just opened down the block."

Ziva hesitates. It's been a long, hard day, and all that she really wants to do now is go home. It feels like she's had nothing but long, hard days for the past month. But Abby sees her considering the idea and quickly links her arm through Ziva's.

"Oh, come on, Ziva," she pleads. "It'll be fun. It feels like it's been forever since you and I did anything together."

That's because it has been, Ziva realizes with a pang of regret. It wasn't that she meant to neglect Abby, of course; it's just that she's usually up in the bullpen with the guys, and she'd spent a lot of her free time with Ray, before they broke up. She suddenly feels guilty, especially when she remembers how hard she had to work for Abby's friendship when she first came to NCIS.

So she smiles, squeezes her friend's arm, and nods, "Okay, Abby, lead the way."

The shadow of guilt inside her disappears when Abby grins brightly enough to light up the room.

The diner turns out to a typical, greasy-spoon place, but their prices are low and their menu has a surprisingly wide selection, so neither of them complain. Besides, it feels good just to be here together. Abby is relieved when Ziva never seems to realize that Abby is doing all this to try to cheer her up. She's been so depressed since she broke up with Ray earlier this month. Word reached her lab that it had been nasty, but Abby still doesn't know the details, and she isn't about to ask. One day last week, when she noticed Tony with a stormy expression on his face and asked him what was wrong, he answered, "Oh, nothing. I just asked Ziva an innocent question about whether she'd heard from Ray. Apparently he's still a touchy subject."

Abby orders red beans and rice, and Ziva orders baked falafel with hummus. It's comfort-food for each of them - what they grew up eating. As soon as the food arrives, Abby pulls a small jar of some sort of seasoning out of her purse and shakes a generous dose over her red beans.

"What is that?" Ziva asks, as Abby begins stirring it into the beans with her fork.

"Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning," Abby answers proudly. She holds the jar up so that Ziva can see the label. "It's so good. In Louisiana, we put this on everything. Especially beans and rice. Every time I taste it, it makes me think of home." She pauses and holds the jar close to her nose, breathing in the warm, spicy aroma. Then she smiles and passes it to Ziva across the table. "Here, try some. I bet it'll be great on your hummus."

Ziva sprinkles a little over her hummus, takes a bite, and smiles. The seasoning is spicy, but in a way that brings out the flavor of the food, rather than overpowering it. "You're right, Abby," she says with a smile. "That is good."

They eat in silence for a moment, then Abby leans over and picks up an old newspaper that was left lying on a nearby table. Her brow furrows slightly as she reads an article on the front page.

"Hey, Ziva, look at this," Abby says slowly, tapping the page with one finger as she reads it. "It says here that last week was Passover." She looks from the paper to Ziva, waiting for confirmation.

Ziva happens to have a bite of hummus in her mouth when she says it, and she takes her time chewing it. She wants to avoid answering for as long as she can. She knew, of course, that Passover was last week. She just hadn't celebrated it this year - again - and that made her feel more guilty than she had expected it to.

Finally, Ziva swallows and says simply, "Yes."

Awkward silence reigns for a moment, as Abby waits for her friend to go on, but soon she realizes that Ziva isn't going to say anything else. So she smiles, a bit too brightly, and asks, "Well, did you do anything for it?"

Ziva shakes her head stiffly and gives another low, monosyllabic answer. "No."

It wasn't because she didn't want to celebrate Passover. After she became an American citizen, she had tried to practice her faith more, to keep in touch with her heritage and her homeland. But religion, she had learned, wasn't like a piece of clothing. You couldn't just pick it up and put it back on after you hadn't worn it for years. It made her remember what she once said to Malachi, about a snake trying to fit into its old skin. Ziva couldn't find a way to fit Judaism into her life again. She felt like something very precious was slipping away from her, and she didn't know how to get it back.

Abby drives it home by saying, her voice a bit uncertain now, "Oh. I thought Passover was, like, a major Jewish holiday."

Ziva doesn't say anything. This year, between breaking up with Ray, working with EJ's team, and trying to track down the port-to-port killer... Passover had been just another day on the calendar. A night like any other night. Back in March, she read an ad for a local catering hall that was selling tickets to a seder, and she had been thinking about buying two for herself and Ray. But then their relationship went crashing down in front of her, less than two weeks before Passover.

When her friend doesn't answer, Abby gets the distinct feeling that Passover, like Ray, is also a touchy subject for Ziva - and the vague suspicion that it's the real reason why Ziva has seemed depressed lately. And yet, she barrels recklessly on. To stop talking when she should has never been one of her strong points.

"You know, Ziva, one of my friends in college was Jewish. I went to her parent's Passover seder for four years in a row. Her mom's matzoh ball soup was amazing."

I'll bet it wasn't as good as my grandmother's, Ziva almost answers. She can still see her Bubbie David bending over her huge pot, carefully stirring the soup, then raising the spoon to her lips for a taste. Steam clouded her glasses. She can still see the long table crowded with faces, hear the hushed conversations beneath the reading of the Haggadah. For a few years, before Tali and their cousin Avner were born, it fell to Ziva to ask the four questions. Why is this night different from all other nights?

Ziva sighs. Passover was a hard holiday to celebrate without family. Almost impossible. She racks her brain, trying to think of the last time she ate matzoh ball soup. But she can't even remember when that was.

Abby hesitates, biting her lip, as she sees the distant, far-away look creep into Ziva's eyes. Then she goes on hastily, "Look, I'm not trying to upset you or anything, but I just wanted you to know - well, if you don't want to do anything for Passover next year, that's cool. But if you do, and you're looking for someone to join you, you can always ask me. And the rest of the team too, of course."

"But none of you are J - " Ziva starts to say, but that's as far as she gets before her friend interrupts her.

"It doesn't matter," Abby tells her firmly. "We're family. And we'd be happy to celebrate Passover with you. If you wanted." She smiles, her eyes lighting up, as a new idea occurs to her. "Ooh, we could even have a seder at Ducky's, like how we had Thanksgiving dinner there that one year."

Ziva smiles. Thanksgiving dinner at Ducky's is one of her favorite memories, as warm and bright as the lights reflecting off their champagne glasses when they all raised them for a toast. But she still can't quite picture her team having a seder together. And besides...

"I could not lead a seder, Abby," she protests, and it's true. Even when she lived in Israel and observed Passover, she never even wanted to try leading a seder.

Abby stirs her beans and rice with her fork, considering. "Well, I'm sure you could, Ziva. But Ducky would probably be the best choice."

As soon as Abby says it, Ziva is surprised by how obvious it seems. He might not be Jewish, but Ducky would be the perfect leader for a Passover seder. The whole team knows that he can certainly talk for long enough. Ziva smiles. Ducky would be so flattered if she asked him, and she can almost hear how lovely the prayers would sound in his warm Scottish accent.

Abby takes her silence as more reluctance and adds, "Or we wouldn't even have to have a seder. We could celebrate it however you wanted."

"No, Abby, it's a great idea," Ziva says quickly. "I would love to have a seder at Ducky's."

Abby smiles, but she suddenly feels guilty for what she said to Dr. Cranston back in February, when she asked if Abby ever did anything with her female coworkers. Ziva's seeing someone. Yes, she'd gotten to spend less time with Ziva while she was dating Ray, but how could she have written her friend off so easily?

"Really? So we can do that for Passover next year?" she asks eagerly. She holds her closed fist out to Ziva, with only her smallest finger extended. "Pinky promise?" Ziva frowns, confused, and Abby explains, "That's when you link pinkies, and you make a promise, and if you don't keep your promise, you have to cut off your pinky."

As Ziva reaches her hand across the table and links her pinky finger through Abby's, the words of the Haggadah suddenly come back to her and resonate in a way that they never have before. This year, captive. Next year, free. This year, she did nothing for Passover. But next year, they can have a seder at Ducky's house, maybe with a box of matzoh bread imported from Israel, and maybe when she tastes it, she'll think of home. Just like when Abby sprinkles Cajun seasoning over beans and rice.

"I promise, Abby," she says, smiling. "Next year, Ducky's."

Abby almost knocks over their drinks when she leans across the table and hugs her.

FIN