Thank you everyone. Thank you, Amilyn. XO. Be safe.
. . . .
This is like a spoken word.
She is more than her thousand names.
-Iron&Wine, "My Lady's House."
The vanity lights were quite flattering, Ziva thought nervously. She'd taken her makeup bag out of the drawer but had yet to work up the courage to open it and paw through the contents. She wanted to wear mascara and maybe some lip gloss. Would that be ok? she wondered. Would it be too much?
She jumped when Abby barged in, wearing a deep blue sweater and an appropriately gothic-looking Santa hat. "What's taking so long?" She gasped dramatically and clasped her hands beneath her chin. "Oh, you look beautiful in that green. Is that the one I got you?"
Ziva bobbed her head, still clutching the edge of the vanity countertop. "Yes. I like it very much."
Abby fussed with the fabric of the sweater dress. "Maybe we should belt it around your waist," she mused, bunching it in both hands. "No, you're too tiny. Have you put any weight on since you've been home? You're still so skinny. Make sure you eat a few extra latkes tonight."
Ziva flushed. Comments about her weight—or lack thereof—made her self-conscious. She hadn't gained a pound despite the heavy winter meals she'd helped Gibbs prepare in the last weeks—beef stew, stuffed peppers, a roasted chicken and mashed potatoes. He'd helped her make a traditional brisket for the party, turning and searing the meat in a cast iron roaster that she couldn't lift herself. It was still braising in red wine and smelled delicious.
Abby gave up. "No matter. Are you warm enough? Your hair looks beautiful. Should I pull it back for you? No—leave it down. What about makeup?"
She pushed the bag toward her. "Here."
Abby dug through it. "You don't have much in here, which makes sense—you are a low-maintenance kind of girl. Oh, but you do have quite a nice selection of lip tints. How about something a little darker? Jewel tones are great on you." She held up a tube of cranberry lipstick and rubbed a bit on her pinky finger, then on Ziva's pinky finger. She cocked her head, considering, then chose a bronzer and mascara to match. "Do you want eye shadow, too?" she asked, still shuffling cosmetics around in the bag.
"Maybe that is too much," Ziva evaded.
She shook her head, holding a few shades up to Ziva's face. "No such thing. Ok, we'll just stick with basic earth tones for your eyes. Subtle. Should I do this or would you like to?"
She bit her lip and shook her head. "It is too much, Abby."
A look of vague disbelief crossed her face. "No such thing," she repeated. "It's your party, Ziva. It's like, a moral imperative that you look good. Am I doing your makeup or are you?"
Ziva folded her hands in her lap. "I do not have so much control yet."
"Fine motor not your thing, huh? Ok, I'll do it. Close your eyes." She hesitated and Abby huffed. "Come on. I won't overdo it and it'll just take a few minutes, which is good because Leon and Jackie are just a few minutes away."
"Go ahead," she resigned.
Abby was extraordinarily gentle as she brushed on eye shadow and mascara. Ziva had to admit that it was nice to let her do this. Her mother had been long gone by the time she'd started to experiment with makeup and her sister was far too young to join in, so she'd figured it out by herself and stuck to what she knew. She'd also gleaned a few tricks from the women who'd done her up for undercover operations—women who worked in offices, who tailored their suit skirts to show just enough leg, who wore black mascara and Cleopatra eyeliner and tugged Ziva's tight ponytails loose with sighs of jealousy. Where did you get all this hair? they'd ask, not really wanting to know. Ziva was too dark, too foreign, too exotic to have the answers they wanted. They did her makeup judiciously and sent her packing in dresses that were so short and so tight they belonged only in movies about high-priced hookers.
She'd secretly enjoyed it, though. She'd liked the way men looked at her; the way Tony stared, the way Gibbs had thrown his jacket around her shoulders the minute the op was over. She felt sexy, powerful, important, even if she was only playing a brief, lineless role.
Abby pulled back and she jumped again. "Ok," she said. "Look in the mirror before I move on to your lips. Do you think you need another coat of mascara?"
Ziva nearly startled a third time when she glanced in the mirror. She'd become quite skilled at ignoring her reflection; the hours she spend in the bathroom bathing and doing her programs gave her plenty of practice. An occasional glance couldn't be helped, so she'd gotten used to her pallor, her thin cheeks, her dry skin and red-rimmed eyes.
But Abby had done some sort of magic—highlighting her long eyelashes and high cheekbones—and now she looked...pretty, if she had to admit it. Fresh. Attractive. Maybe even sexy. The look on Tony's face would be the barometer.
The doorbell rang and Ziva jumped for a forth time. She grunted in irritation. Abby put a hand on her arm. "You're on high-alert all the time, aren't you?"
She nodded sheepishly. "Everything is just so…loud."
"Should we put your vest on before we go out there?" She applied the berry lipstick as she talked and motioned for Ziva to press her lips together.
"Maybe it would be better," she acquiesced slowly. She didn't like to wear it when there was company around, even they couldn't see it under her heavy sweaters.
Abby velcroed her in quickly and adjusted the sweater on top. She stood back, proud. "You look beautiful," she proclaimed. "The Vances are here. Let's go say hello."
Ziva steadied her jangling nerves and greeted her guests with kisses, entertained small talk, and accepted hostess gifts. First the Vances, then Ducky, Palmer, and Breena, and then the Shiltons, a few minutes late in typical Israeli fashion. Ofek shook the boys out of their coats while Adi gave Ziva a kiss on each cheek.
"This is lovely," she said, admiring the festive table, the menorah in the window, and the small Christmas tree in the corner. "You did this?"
"I had help," Ziva admitted. "But yes, I did it."
"Yashar koach," she congratulated softly. "My boys have not lit the menorah yet. Should we do it together?"
She retrieved a box of matches and lit the appropriate number of candles. The boys recited the blessing slowly and seriously, yarmulkes crooked on their curly heads.
"Amein," she added when they finished.
Tal, the Shilton's younger son, was approaching his third birthday. He was a big, sturdy kid with a head full of black curls and enormous green eyes. He gave Ziva a toothy grin and piped up with an amein of his own. "We can eat now?" he begged. "We can have levivot?"
She grinned at him, recognizing the Hebrew word for potato pancakes. She and Tony had prepared them together. "Yes," she replied seriously. "You must be very hungry."
"Ken," he agreed, and crawled up into her lap.
Adi gasped. "Tal, get down!" she commanded. "You need to ask Ziva before you climb up."
He stood on the tops of her thighs. She put both hands at his waist. "Careful, Tal," she said gently. "I do not want you to fall."
He sat again and turned around to face his mother. "It's fine, Ema. Ziva is my friend."
She put her arms around his dense, warm, baby-body. "You are my friend also, Tal. Shall we eat now?"
"Ken!" he cried happily.
She seated Tal and his older brother Idan at the table, gave them each a latke to start, and beckoned the other guests to come and sit. She stilled Tony's hand as he prepared to serve the meat.
"I wanted to thank you all for coming tonight," she said with quiet confidence. Smiles appeared around the table. And a few wet eyes, she noticed. "You have been very generous since I got hurt. I am grateful." She took a breath, anxiety quelling, and carried on. "Happy Holidays. Please, eat."
Everyone clinked glasses and shared cheers and l'chaims. Gibbs, who'd taken his customary seat next to Ziva, put an arm around her shoulders. "Proud of ya, Ziver," he whispered.
She beamed around a small bite of brisket. He knew she'd practiced that little speech over and over in her head, mouthing words while she sliced onions and assembled the food processor, going over it again and again as she mixed the grated potatoes with egg and parsley. "Thank you," she acknowledged. "I wanted this to be good, Abba." He winked and ate a whole latke in one bite.
Only Tal was unhappy with the meal, though it had nothing to do with the food. He began to whimper ten minutes into dinner, and then slid out of his seat before Adi could intervene. She scolded him softly in Hebrew when he disappeared beneath the table and emerged next to Ziva.
He fixed her with a puppyish look. "Ziva?" he wheedled. "I want to sit with you." He held his arms up.
"Tal," Ofek said firmly. "You have your own seat. Sit in it and finish your meal."
Ziva put down her fork. "It is fine. I cannot lift you, motek, but you are welcome to climb up." She pushed away from the table and patted her legs. "Come."
Tal clambered up and began to drive a small wooden locomotive along the edge of the table. She tried to eat over his head, but jealousy gripped her suddenly and without warning; Adi had a family—three reasons to rise and dress every day. Three reasons she loved and was loved.
Tony nudged her when he reached for a second helping of roasted potatoes. He winked when she looked up.
"Cute, huh?" he asked, meaning Tal.
Idan sighed from across the table. Ziva knew the beleaguered big brother was in kindergarten. His messy, destructive baby brother was a source of constant aggravation.
"He's cute," Idan agreed with a roll of his eyes. "But he still wears a diaper at night."
Adi put more vegetables on his plate. "You were two once also, my son."
"And now I am almost six," he declared, swirling a hunk of latke through sour cream. "I am empowered."
Ducky chuckled. Jackie and Vance cast laughing eyes at their own two children. Abby snorted into her water glass. Tony ran a hand down Ziva's arm, and she in turn brushed her hands over Tal's ringlets. Yes, she thought, looking at the dishes she'd planned and prepared, the faces around the table, the centerpiece she'd chosen at the florists' shop. Empowered, indeed.
. . . .
The Shiltons hung around until after the dishes were washed and Tal was asleep on Ziva's lap. Idan read quietly on the sofa, tucked under her favorite blanket. Goosebumps rose on her skin when Adi lifted her son and poured him into his parka.
"You've thrown a beautiful party, Ziva," she said lowly. Tal nuzzled close and pushed his face against his mother's neck. "I don't know how you did this so soon after coming home."
"I had help," she divulged. "Abby, Tony, Abba—everyone did something."
"I don't mean the work—there's plenty of it, for sure. I remember how awkward and obvious I felt after coming home from rehab. I felt like everyone was staring at me. It was easier to be around strangers than it was to be around friends because strangers didn't know how it was before. I was always worried that friends would pity me. I didn't want that. I wanted to move on with my life. But you have done an incredible job and you've made my family feel so welcome in your home. Thank you."
Ziva nodded, throat closing around the words you're welcome. Adi kissed both of her cheeks and ushered her tired family to their pre-warmed car. Ziva closed the door behind them and rested her head against it.
Tony sneaked up behind her, lifted her heavy hair, and kissed the back of her neck. She jumped and yelped, but softened at the sight of his sweet, proud face.
"Shh!" Abby hissed. "Stop startling her, Tony!"
Gibbs rinsed the last serving platter and put it on a towel to dry. "Relax, Abs."
"I am relaxed," she snapped. "I am perfectly relaxed. Ziva is always on pins and needles and Tony should stop taking advantage of that."
She put a hand on Abby's forearm. "It sounds like you are tired. You should stay here tonight. I can um…the couch…Tony's couch…"
Tony put both hands on Ziva's shoulders from behind. "The sectional in the TV room is a sofa bed—a comfortable one. I'll make it up for you real fast."
"Yes," Ziva echoed. "Stay. I will make breakfast in the morning."
Abby pranced for a moment, brows knitted in indecision. "You're sure? I can go."
"I will make breakfast in the morning," she repeated, and meant it.
But Ziva couldn't make breakfast. Tony woke her to do her programs and then she begged tearfully and ashamedly to get back into bed. "I am so tired," she whined. "And my head…" She rubbed it, brow furrowed in distress.
Tony pulled the blankets up to her chin and sat back to tick off his fingers. "Yesterday was crazy—no nap, lots of manual labor, a dozen dinner guests, and then not into bed until eleven-thirty. Of course you're tired today. Stay here. I'll grab you something to eat and your meds."
Abby barged in wearing a pair of pajama bottoms she had stashed in her giant purse. Skeletons in top hats danced across the flannel. "Here," she said, shoving two plates of toast and fruit at him. "Move over, Zivvie."
Ziva inched herself onto Tony's side and accepted the food and medicine he handed her. "You made this?"
"Gibbs," Abby said around a mouthful of peanut butter toast.
"Everyone did. I mean—everyone who's family. Tim's going to set up Gibbs' TV today and someone needs to help Tony schlepp your car to the dealership."
Ziva swallowed some pineapple juice and pinched the bridge of her nose. Her head was aching and she was dizzier than normal. "I am to tired for that today."
She waved a dismissive hand. "They'll do it. You and I will stay in and have a girl's morning." She cocked her head at Ziva's sleep-tousled hair. "What do you do all day when you're not rehabbing?"
She shrugged. "I…watch television. I read. I play games on my tablet." She faded out, thinking. "Not much, I guess. I am tired often."
"Is there anything you like to do? Like a hobby or something?"
Ziva shrugged again. "I do not know. I do not think about much."
"Maybe you should," Abby challenged.
So she did. ""Um," she began, having polished off her last section of orange. "I like to paint. I like...I like art," she confessed.
"Have you pursued it outside of art therapy?"
Abby huffed playfully and scooped up their plates. "Be right back," she declared, only to return with her laptop—another treasure from her enormous purse. "Do you want to set up a place to sketch and paint at home? It might be nice to have something to do after your nap now that your sessions with Rina are over. What do you think about putting an easel in the office? You can set it up near Tony's desk. That room gets plenty of natural light."
"It is an expensive hobby," Ziva said slowly. "Paint, canvas, sizing—they all cost. I have no income."
She scowled at the screen. "So? You're supposed to sit around and do nothing until you can get a job? That's boring."
Ziva pulled back. Was she being criticized? "I have plenty do. To do. I help Abba in the house. I cook. I do the laundry."
Abby didn't look up. "Action Girl matches the socks, huh?"
She glared down at her weak, knobby hands and felt a sliver of irritation jab at her insides. "I am more than sharp end of the spear, Abby," she said softly. "Now I am not even that."
She glanced up. "I know that. Everyone knows that. You are only you, Zivvie-sharp, spear, whatever. We didn't love you just because you thought you were a weapon. Do you want a free-standing easel or a tabletop easel? I know! How about we go to an art supply store and you can choose your own stuff?"
Ziva yawned widely. "Today? I think I am too tired."
"Tomorrow, then. I'll come over after breakfast and we'll be back before lunch."
She rolled over with some difficulty. Abby was sitting up against the headboard so she threw one arm over her legs. "Tomorrow," she agreed.
"It'll be fun."
She smiled against the pillow. "Yes."
"Are you going to sleep?"
Ziva frowned without opening her eyes. "No."
"Sure looks like it to me. Want me to go—let you have the whole bed to yourself?"
"No. I am just…rest my eyes."
Abby slid down among the blankets and put her face close to Ziva's. "Oh, you're just so cuddly. I love it. I love that you love to cuddle as much as me."
She did, if she had to be honest. She liked the warm weight of another body against hers. It was centering. Grounding. A reminder that she was still a part of the world. "I never liked before," she mumbled.
"Yes you did," Abby teased. "You just never got to admit it."
. . . .
Abby flung open the hot rod's passenger door and slid her hands beneath Ziva's hips.
She stiffened and batted her hands away. "I can do this myself," she argued.
Abby shook her head furiously. "No way, Zivvie. Gibbs and I agree that the running boards are too deep and the distance from seat to seat is too far. You could fall and hurt yourself."
She rolled her eyes and put both arms around Abby's neck. "Fine. Next time."
"Yeah, 'cause you'll need more supplies when you run out." She lifted Ziva easily out of the passenger seat and into her chair. "Got your list?"
She lifted her feet to the footplate. "Yes."
Abby slung the door open for her. "Then let's get to it!"
The store was large, with towering shelves stacked with every imaginable art supply. There were stacks of canvases and surfaces, drawing boards, palettes, brushes in cups coded by size, shape, and texture. And the colors-0il pastels, pencil pastels, soft pastels tubes of every hue Ziva had ever seen and many more that she hadn't. The sheer volume of goods made it difficult to concentrate. She dug her list from her pocket.
"I will only buy drawing things today," she said. She'd prepared the list carefully and had Tony check it. Charcoal pencils, graphite pencils, sketch paper, kneaded and vinyl erasers, fixative.
Abby snagged a shopping basket. "That's fine. We can come back any time you'd like."
She nodded tightly, searched the overhead signs for charcoal pencils and erasers, and inhaled sharply when she made it to the display without knocking over any others; the aisles were so narrow.
A skinny young man in a plaid shirt came over to them. "Need help with anything?"
"Yes," Ziva said tartly. A bit of anger burbled in her stomach. "I need accessible products. How is this store permitted to have such narrow passages? I could knock something over or get hurt."
He nodded nervously. "I understand. We're actually working with a lawyer and an architect to guarantee accessibility for disabled persons. It will be fixed by the time you return to replace those or your next haul is on us," he promised.
She raised her chin at him. "Fine. I need charcoal pencils and pencil grips. Where are they?"
He kicked a few boxes out of their path and led her over to a display. "We're also restocking a lot of low inventory," he explained, smoothing his ironic moustache. "These packages aren't usually here."
Ziva chose two sets of soft grip tubes to go on the charcoal pencils she'd already picked out. "Well they are now and so am I." She softened at his expression of utter chagrin. "I like this place. I will continue to shop as long as I can get things. You know I mean?"
He nodded again. "I understand. How about I throw in a few pads of paper for free?"
"That would be…nice," she sighed, fishing for her debit card. "But not nec...needed."
It took both of them to load her packages into the back of the car. The store manager had not only thrown in a few pads of sketch paper, but also a set of soft pastels and a list of art happenings in the DC metro area. They chatted happily as Abby lifted Ziva into the car, but something happened—a trip, perhaps, a misstep, Abby rolling her ankle off her stacked platforms—and she found herself tossed against the side of the car. Ziva landed on her hip between the door jamb and the curb. Her cheek bounced off the edge of the hard seat. She cried out wordlessly, jarred by the impact.
Abby nearly burst into tears. "Oh my God, Zivvie! I am so sorry! Are you hurt?"
Passersby stopped to check on her, stunned silent and embarrassed. "I am ok," Ziva finally ground out as she was lifted into the passenger seat. "I did not…expect…"
Abby got in the other side and slammed the door. "Tony didn't want you to transfer yourself because you might fall and get hurt and there I am dropping you in the gutter! I am so, so sorry. What can I do to make up for it?"
Ziva put a hand on her shaking arm. "Home, please. I am fine but I am dirty. I need clean clothes."
"Ok," she agreed, starting the car and backing out of the space. "I am so, so sorry. We'll check you over when we get home and then maybe I'll help you take a warm shower? Aren't you cold? You landed right in the snow."
"I am fine," she said again, but firmly. "Home, please."
Gibbs and Tony were seated at the kitchen island when they returned, having lunch among a sea of leftovers. Tony held something in her direction, grinning. "Check it out, Zi," he said proudly. "Latke sandwich. I'm carbo-loading."
She smiled, rolled her eyes, and went directly to the laundry room, where she dropped her dirty coat to the floor and hoped it was machine washable. Abby was standing before Gibbs when she returned, tearfully begging for mercy.
"I didn't mean to do it," she bemoaned. "I really, really didn't. But the ground was icier than I thought and I slipped and then she was in the gutter and she banged her head!"
Tony cupped Ziva's face in his hands. "Ya all right?" he asked softly.
She smiled. "Fine. It is…not easy when that happens but…"
He brushed his thumb over the small bruise near her eye. "Let's get some ice on that. You got a cut down kit, Boss? Rocky here got a shiner."
Gibbs looked over from where he'd been consoling Abby. "Duck isn't on call."
"There is no need." Ziva said sharply, and fumbled the towel around the ice pack. She hesitated before scooping it off the floor, still a bit afraid of falling again.
She sat up and he put a finger to her chin to inspect the damage. Her mouth tightened. "Scary?" he asked gently.
She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "Yes. I do not…like that, Abba. I do not have control."
She snorted and gave him a watery smile. "Yes."
"I'm sorry," Abby said for the millionth time. "I didn't mean it."
"I know," Ziva replied. "I know you did not. I am not angry, but it is hard to fall like that. I feel very…weak. Scared."
Tony ruffled her hair and picked up the packages from the entry floor. "Let's go set this up," he called from the hallway. "I've had enough of mushy stuff."
. . . .
Tony flopped to the mattress with a groan and gathered Ziva close. It was a nightly ritual—her going to bed a bit earlier than he, then his arrival and either lovemaking or a quiet conversation in each other's arms. He buried his face in her hair and she swallowed reflexively. She was mad. He could damn near smell it.
"What?" he asked, quietly defensive.
"Today," she began softly. "When Abby and I got home—I was trying to tell how I felt and you walk away."
He put a hand to his head. "I'm sorry. I was really angry at Abby for dropping you and I had to walk out or I would have made a scene."
"Was not her fault."
"Yeah, it was," he maintained. "First I asked her to take my car because it's lower and she said no—you'd be fine. Then I asked to go along because I'm stronger and can lift you more easily and she said no—you'd be fine. And then I asked her to go to the place in Potomac rather than the one in Silver Spring because it has a parking lot rather than street parking and again she said no—you'd be fine. And then she dropped you and now you have a sundry assortment of bruises and you're taking pain meds again. I don't like it. I'm upset but I need to cool off before I can talk to her."
"It was only half a dose," Ziva admitted.
Tony hadn't heard her. "And," he carried on. "She knows you're a nervous wreck all the time. She knows your nervous system is like a down power line after a hurricane. It's live, but it's not us who gets zapped, it's you. You think she would have been more careful, especially after the way she yelled at me on Friday night for tickling you."
She closed her eyes. "I do not like that I have come between you."
He lay back down. "It's not you, Zi. Sometimes that's just how people get when they're close. We'll work it out. I still love her." He heaved a sigh. "And she did apologize about a gazillion times. I can't come down on her. Maybe I shouldn't say anything."
"No," she drawled, tracing the line of his shoulder with her finger. "You should say how feel. She is family, Tony. You need tell her or your anger will turn into…something else."
"I will, I will," he groused. "I still…I worry a lot about something happening to you. I feel like I just got you back from the hospital. The thought of losing you…"
Ziva put a hand on his cheek. "I am not going, Tony. I am here. With you."
He held her tightly. "I know. And I know you feel better and stronger than you have in weeks, but to me you're still fragile, Zi. There's so much to worry about-seizures, injuries, AD. I don't like how powerless I feel when those things happen."
She nodded against his chest. "Did you feel powerless when I got hurt?"
"Yes," he grunted tearfully. "To watch what you went through…it makes me sick. I failed. I didn't have your back and look what happened." His chest hitched and then he was crying, stifling his sobs with his hand. "I didn't have your back," he grunted. "I assumed you could take care of yourself. I have no one to blame for this but me."
Ziva stroked his hair. "Not your fault. Tell me exactly what happened."
He sniffed and took a breath. "We were chasing a Marine Private who'd killed another recruit in a bar fight. We had him surrounded at Bolling AFB—he ran down there to take cover in an old buddy's house—and I had an eyeball on him. You said you didn't, but then I guess you did because you took off running. You chased him into us. We cuffed and stuffed him, but you never showed. We called you over the radio, but you didn't answer, so we went back into the park. I found you in the scrub, barely breathing. I thought you were dead, Zi. Seriously. I thought you were dead."
She stroked his hair again. "I am not," she said.
"But I thought you were," he retorted. "I thought you were dead and I was terrified. I was terrified to lose you. I told you before that I can't live without you."
"I am so sorry," she warbled. They lapsed into silence, tense and sorrowful, until Ziva broke it with a sniffle. "Who caught the man hurt me?" she asked falteringly.
"I did," he sighed. "But I didn't know it at the time. Not until Abby ID'd your hair on the pipe he was carrying."
"He hit me."
"How many times?"
"At least two—once in the head and once across the back of your neck. Abby worked out the scenario; he probably took you out once and then wailed you again on your way down."
Ziva burrowed against his chest. "He was try kill me."
"Yeah. The guy who ordered the hit had been following you for a while."
"Gibbs say that." She looked up at his face. "Take me there."
Tony was confused. "To Bolling? Why?"
"I want to see where happen. I want to see where…where my life changed."
He kissed the crown of her head. "You're sure?"
"Tomorrow," she confirmed. "I want to go tomorrow."
"Tomorrow is Monday," he argued. "I have work and you have PT."
"Tomorrow," Ziva repeated. "You will take me. I want to see it all, Tony. I want to know where you found."
Tony wasn't sure he could stomach it. "You probably can't get there, Zi. It's down this embankment…bushes, tall grass..."
She angled his face down at hers. "You will take me, Tony. No excuses."
"No excuses," he echoed.
Ziva's head grew heavier on his chest. Sleep was claiming her, though her right hand was still locked tight on his arm. "But first…talk Abby."
"I will," he promised lightly.
"You will," she echoed, and fell asleep with one hand resting lightly on his stubbly cheek.
. . . .
True to his word, Tony stepped into Abby's lab at a quarter after eight the next morning. The music was on, but not blaring and Major Mass Spec was still warming up. He'd remembered to stop for a Caf-Pow on the way in.
"Hey, Tony," she greeted cheerfully. "How's Ziva? She ok? No lasting damage?"
He handed over the soft drink. "She's fine. Just a few bruises. Can we talk about that, actually?"
She took a sip and turned off the music. "Yeah. What's up?"
He rocked on the balls of his feet. "I got pretty upset after you dropped her yesterday."
She crossed her arms. "I told you it was an accident."
"I know," he said mildly. "But it was an accident after I told you what she needed to be safe." He held out his hands. "You didn't do it, Abbs, and Ziva got hurt. And she was scared."
"I said I was sorry," she repeated. "I already plan to make it up to her." She pointed a finger, head cocked. "But that's not what's bothering you, is it?"
He scanned the lab. "I was upset that you didn't listen to me. I don't…I don't take these precautions because it's fun, Abbs. I do it because…because it's our life. I do these things because she can't. Do you get that?"
She fixed him with a blank look. "Do I get that? Tony, I'm the child of two adults with disabilities. I get exactly what you're doing and I'm trying to do it, too. But the fact of the matter is that bumps and spills are unavoidable. How we deal with them is what matters."
He sat heavily on a rolling lab stool and let his hands dangle from his wrists. "I know that," he snapped childishly. "But every time she gets hurt…"
Abby crouched before him. "You're right back there, aren't you? Right back where she got hurt. Where she almost got stolen from you because of some hundred-year-old petty stupidity."
She folded him into a hug and he nodded against her shoulder. "Yeah," he whimpered. "I can't lose her."
"Because you finally have the love and acceptance you've been waiting for, huh?"
He nodded again.
"Does she know that?"
He pulled back and sniffed. "I don't know. I think so."
Abby gave him a tissue. "Tell her. Grieve with her. Deal with this, Tony, or it'll deal with you."
He blew his noise with a loud honk.
"You know," she started, eyes wandering. "It might be good for both of you to go back to Bolling together. It might help you both realize that you need to process your emotions before you can move on."
He bobbed his head, still toying with the wet tissue. "She asked me to take her there."
"So go," she shrugged. "Gibbs needs to go with you, too."
"Yeah," he agreed softly.
Abby threw an arm around his shoulders and rested her head on his. "The three of your aren't just a family; you're a little force-field. You need to deal with it together."
He gave a ironic laugh. "All hang together, huh?"
She pouted, green eyes wet, and grabbed him in a bear hug. "Because I couldn't handle it if you all hung separately."