Hi. Thank you. I'm sorry. Yes-I'm still reeling, too. (*cough, 'Shabbat Shalom')
Warning: mild language and possible *T*. Please take care of yourself.
Thanks: Amilyn, Chemmie, Girleffect.
. . . .
Maybe they're just pieces of me you've never seen.
-Tori Amos, "Tear In Your Hand."
Dod Romi was a special man who owned a special farm where he made wine for the whole wide world. But he wasn't just a wine-making-man he was also a kind man and a happy man and a gentle man. And Doda Ayelet was like Ziva's mommy, all holding her and being calm and soft like shhhhhh. Ziva was being just a little kid because she was so sad. The saddest person ever, maybe. Her sadness made Sara itch on her big scar even though it went all the way down in her cast. She couldn't get her hand down there to scratch.
The food from New York was good. She ate meat and cucumber and soft warm circle-bread. Dod Romi thought she should try some white dip and she did because it looked like creamy cheese, but it wasn't cheese it was something grainy and spicy and sour. She spat it out.
Daddy said, Geez Sar, how about a warning, but he wasn't mad at all.
Dod Romi only laughed and said Ayelet always made the t'chineh too spicy for the children because that was how Ziva liked it.
And Tony said something about how Ziva liked anything spicy and Ayelet just laughed and patted Ziva's good cheek like she was small.
Sara was small. Everyone said that. Sophie was her new friend at school. She was Sara's first friend ever and she was her best friend and they played animals and water table and roly-poly together. Sophie had blonde hair that she wore in a ponytail every day. She was also four, which was younger than Sara, but she was way, way taller even though her arms and legs were short and curvy. And Sophie had a big cast once, too, but she didn't need it any more so they cut it off with the loud saw and now she ran around like any old kid. Sara didn't want to run. She didn't even want to sit all the way up in her special seat to eat dinner.
"Can I get down now please, Daddy?" she asked politely. Manners made the man. Or girl.
He made a frown-face. "You barely ate anything, Sar. Two more bites of meat and two more of salad. You can do it."
She could do it but she didn't want to. "No, thank you."
She huffed and picked up her fork. "Fine."
Dod Romi chuckled a soft, rumbly noise. "You're a bit of a vildeh chayeh, aren't you? A wild thing?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes I have big fits 'cause I don't know my words."
"A tantrum? From you? Who knew someone so small could be so noisy?"
"I am," she said proudly because it was true and because she liked when someone picked her up and gave a cuddle. "I can be very noisy and bad but I stay with Daddy anyway and he doesn't get mad at me. We just have quiet time."
"Of course you will stay with your daddy. He loves you very much. You are very precious, Sara. Do you know what that means?"
Hm. "Cute?" she guessed.
He laughed a bigger laugh. "You are very cute, but precious means that you are worth more than anything in the world. More than diamonds, more than wine, more than countries or vaults full of gold money. You are the most precious thing your father has. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she said lowly. Ziva's sadness got her again in the big scar and her eyes got wet. She needed a hug. "I understand."
Ziva was so sad that her whole self was swaying on the sofa cushion. She was so sad that her head went down and her shoulders shook, but Sara breathed out heavy when Dod Romi got up from his spot on the floor and went to her and took her lumpy, blue-black face in his great big hands and went shhhhh.
He sat next to her. She leaned on him, crying. "Zivaleh," he said in a talking-to-babies voice. "You are my precious thing. You know that." And then he sang a song in his language about fathers and daughters and an old woman who lived in the woods. Everyone got quiet while he sang except for Ziva, who was still sniffling and sad. When he finished, Abby and Tim put their plates in the dishwasher and gave kisses and went home because they felt bad. Sara felt bad, too, but she didn't want to leave.
Yaffa twirled her tail around Daddy's leg and he got up to put some fresh food in the dish. Yaffa was fickle but Yitzi wasn't. Sara wanted the cats to sleep with her but they slept with Ziva. Was it getting close to bedtime? She was tired, especially from sitting in her special seat. It was hard to hold her head up for so long.
"Daddy? Can I go to bed soon?"
He smiled and picked her up fast. Shoom. It was nice to be tall. "Yep," he said. "Let's do a quick bath tonight."
"Private, Daddy," she warned. She didn't want him to take off her diaper in front of all these people. She'd get embarrassed.
He carried her into the bathroom and wet a cloth. It was soft and rough on her skin—not too hot and not too cold—and then he changed her quickly and she brushed her teeth with no help because she was getting big. Or that's what everyone said, anyway, which was weird because Julie at school said she wasn't growing.
Daddy carried her back into the living room, where Dod Romi was handing Doda Ayelet her coat. The inside was silky purple. Sara wanted to smooth her hand on it. "I have important meetings," he sighed. "Even a hedonist like me needs to earn a living. My dear Ayelet, is everything cleaned up? Let's not leave a mess for Tony and Zivaleh."
She looked around and made her scarf nice inside the top buttons. "Everything is clean. Give me a kiss, Zivi. It's time for your old dod and doda to go back to New York."
Sara's dinner went up and down in her belly. This was bad. If they left then Ziva would throw a big tantrum and then what? She shivered at all that badness, at Ziva falling down in the hallway and a blue bowl on the floor. Daddy pulled her close but she pushed away—she needed to see.
"Come now, Zivaleh," Romi said. "We'll see you soon in Katzrin."
Ziva got up, all fumbly and bumbly, and started to cry. Tony shushed and rubbed her back, but she cried more and more and more. She made horrible noises. Her breath was loud and scratchy-sounding and her hands went flat over her chest and then it was like all hell broke loose, as Daddy would say, which was a little bit like a swear but it was true because Ziva was screaming and Tony wanted to take her to the hospital and Dod Romi was nervous and all white in his face but Ayelet just held Ziva like a baby even though she wasn't a baby, she was a big girl. Almost old enough to be a mommy. Sara's heart hurt. They weren't supposed to go. She was super lucky when Tony took Ziva from Doda Ayelet and made the screaming stop. Someone needed to get Ziva a blanket. She was cold.
"Zi needs one of you to stay," he said to them quietly. He had his grownup face on.
They looked at each other for a minute and talked in their heads. Sara sighed and put her face by Daddy's neck. She felt calm now. They would do the right thing.
"I will stay with my Zivaleh," Doda Ayelet said. She was very serious. "Romi cannot miss his meetings." She poked Ziva's chin and made her look up the way Daddy did to Sara sometimes. "I am staying, my girl." Ziva pressed her good cheek hard on Tony's chest and nodded.
Doda Ayelet would have to sleep on the couch. Or maybe she would sleep with Ziva in the soft bed and Tony would sleep on the couch. And then he would whine my back, my back until Daddy gave him a Hard Look.
But there were no Hard Looks. Ziva kept her face down while Dod Romi left. He gave her a kiss on her cheek and his skin was smooth, not bristly, and then Daddy put his face close to Sara's and he was bristly but his voice was soft and he said:
"Bedtime, sweet pea?"
The bedroom was dark. Nice. "You want a book?"
She didn't want to pay attention. "No."
She sighed. Everything was heavy. "Can I have my paci?"
He gave it to her and then Daddy went shhhhh shhhhh and played with her hair and there were soft sounds outside—Tony talking to Ayelet, the baby blanket being swept from the couch—and then she slept, face turned toward the window and the glowing streetlight below.
. . . .
Everything was shadow once the crying started and from the shadow came the canes and the belts and the rifle butts. From the shadow came Saleem and how he knocked her down and bashed her face on the floor until she couldn't see. Then her clothes were off and she was freezing and someone's hot skin was pressed against hers. Ziva gagged. Her mouth burned and would not open. There was a firm hand on the back of her neck that forced her head down, down. Nothing came up. Her throat bubbled with acid. She was hot and cold.
There were hands on her again, pushing. She dragged her stupid, clumsy feet. No, she would not go with them. There were no more secrets to tell. Would they smash her fingers anyway? Break her legs? Hang her from the ceiling and play tetherball with her spongy skull? Heat started again in her middle and came up her throat. She did vomit, then, and was angry. Who knew when they'd feed her again?
But she didn't want them to come with rice and scummy water. She wasn't sure she'd survive another round of thirty men. They took turns holding her down. They cheered each other on. Ziva was so terribly, terribly ashamed but it was so terribly, terribly justified. Eli was dead because of her and Israel was going to war again and again and again.
Watery, yellow ropes of spit landed on the floor. The wood floor. Her hallway. Her home. A mess.
A hand on her back kept her hunched over until there was nothing left in her broken mouth. Another hand put a rough cloth to her face and neck, and then her feet weren't on the floor anymore. She was moving quickly through the dark, too quickly. There was a loud, keening sound—was that her?—and then she was down again, down among soft, warm things.
Her bed. Her eiderdown and pillow. Something brushed her bottom lip and there was sweetness on her tongue. Juice? Candy? Was she a child being put to bed in the cot in Dod and Doda's room, like when she fell from the horse and her leg crunched and was laden with hot stones? She'd plugged her mouth with her thumb all night, wanting and not wanting to wake Ayelet and be comforted.
Her thumb. The right one was bad. Thumbsucker. Sara. The baby. She loved and hated that child and her grey-green knowing gaze. Gibbs was a bad father for allowing Ziva's ugliness into her shiny little life, but not for the way he held her close and stroked her wild curls and called her baby girl. Daughters. Fathers. What did she know about that?
Eli was dead and Romi was gone. Ziva wanted to be gone. A hand on her brow was cool and she pressed against it. Steady, steady. The room pitched and heaved. She thought of a ship. Damocles. Fire and cold water and something brushing her leg as she swam toward the lights on the horizon. She swam for her father who put out his cigarette on her arm and called her a mamzer. Did she know he was right? She gulped saltwater and her stomach rolled and rolled. She threw up again. There was a blue bowl on the floor by the bed. She didn't recognize it.
A third voice joined the two that were yammering, hammering, in the dark. A quiet one, low and lilting. Then there was a prick inside her good wrist and a wash of warmth up her arm, up her neck, into her head. Someone—Doda Ayelet?—pulled the blankets up and smoothed her hair. Sha, she said. Sha, my baby.
Ziva had never been a baby. She had come into the world with weapons. As a weapon. And now she wasn't, but there was no yelling, only a soft, warm hand on her head and the strains of some lullaby she'd sung once and been done with.
The horsemen are coming, my child.
Ducky pushed the sedative and Ziva dropped off into restless sleep. Her sobs faded, though she trembled and moaned as Ayelet tucked her soft lamb beneath her arm and smoothed the baby blanket over her shoulders. She wiped Ziva's hands and face with one damp cloth and laid another on her brow.
Tony wobbled and doubled over, propping his hands on his knees. "What the hell was that, Duck?"
"An anxiety attack," he replied gently. "And possibly flashbacks...we can't know for sure. I think the Valium and painkillers will help temporarily. Are you all right, Anthony?
He swallowed and grunted, head hanging. "Yeah. I left a message for her shrink and one for her doctor. She needs meds, I think." He swallowed again, nauseated. "Forty-five minutes, Duck. She carried on for forty-five minutes."
"She is unwell," he said carefully. "Sedating her is our only choice for now. I will stay until she's no longer dehydrated but I'll leave the line in. She may need more fluids in the morning, and you must get her back onto her antidepressant medication straight away. It is imperative, Anthony."
Tony nodded and nodded, still with his hands on his knees. "I will," he replied sadly, but straightened and smoothed the front of his shirt. "I'll make some tea. Ayelet, would you like some?"
She sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed a small circle on Ziva's hip. "Is it too much to ask for coffee? I doubt there will be any sleeping tonight."
"Understood," he acknowledged softly, and went out into the hallway. He could smell sickness though the puke had been cleaned up from the hallway floor. He started the coffeepot, warmed water for tea in an electric kettle, and filled a dishtowel with ice cubes. Ziva's face looked like a rotten peach.
He turned back toward the bedroom but Ayelet ambushed him, blue eyes blazing. She was a beautiful woman, a lioness, with a gaze sharp enough that even Gibbs might cut his stare and look away.
"Flashbacks?" she demanded. "Flashbacks from what, Tony?"
He held out the poultice feeling weak and useless. "What do you mean?"
She was seething, baring her teeth. Lioness, indeed. "You know damn well what I mean."
He poured her the first cup of coffee. "Um," he fumbled. "Ziva was taken captive a few years back. She was held at a Somali terrorist camp for three months. They...wanted information."
She blinked and nodded. "A woman. A Jew. In a Jihadi camp."
He nodded. A long moment passed in silence.
Ayelet broke it with a sigh of resignation. "Another child sacrificed. Abraham, Isaac...we have come no further. No wonder she is screaming and screaming, Tony; there was no ram to take her place." She looked at the soggy compress in her hand and blinked back tears. "Excuse me, please. Ziva is having pain. I will take this to her."
He offered her a cup of coffee and she took it, bowing her head in gratitude. He followed her with the promised tea.
"Her fever is high," Ducky said, tucking an ear thermometer back into his bag. He accepted the mug Tony held out to him. "But not high enough to warrant concern."
Ayelet hummed and peeled back the tape that secured the aluminum eye shield to Ziva's face. Underneath was terrible; it looked like someone had slipped an egg beneath her eyelid and under the mottled flesh over her cheekbone. Tony suppressed a wince. Ayelet dabbed healing ointment on the cuts—her skin burst from the force of Eli's blows—and put the icepack over the worst of the swelling. Ziva was so heavily sedated she didn't even flinch.
"My brave girl," she cooed, stroking her hair, her hands. "Courageous little Zivaleh, always rushing headlong into your father's war. There is no more of that, my baby. You rest. We will take good care of you."
. . . .
Tony flopped down in the armchair, close to tears, exhausted from worry and pacing. Soft footfalls came out of the bedroom and Ayelet sat on the sofa. She put her hands primly on her knees. There were dark half-moons under her eyes.
"She is still asleep," she informed him, whispering. "Peacefully asleep." She regarded him carefully, eyes roving up and down. Did he look as shitty as he felt?
"How did she get out?" she asked abruptly.
Oh. That. "We went in after her," he said lowly.
"You rescued her."
No. Rescue was what would've happened if they'd gotten to her before Saleem Ulman. What they did was recovery. "They truth-serumed me and got all wound up because my big dumb mouth wouldn't stop flapping, and then they dragged Ziva in with a bag over her head." He looked out the window. Dawn would be coming soon. "When they took it off she had this look on her face." He trailed off, thinking about her dirty, bruised skin and vacant gaze. "She might have been breathing and talking and walking around but inside she was dead. Her eyes...but it only lasted a second. Then she was pissed at me for being there."
A single tear rolled down Ayelet's cheek. She closed her eyes and spoke without opening them. "It haunts you, Tony? That look?"
"Yeah," he breathed. "It does."
"How could it not? Were you together, then?"
"No. Not until a year later, but I hung around after she came back, helped her get settled." He gave a shy smile. "Tried to give her some space to deal."
"Deal," she spat, looking around. "I know my Zivaleh. She didn't deal. She was trying to forget. Trying and trying."
"She coped the best she could, I think." Tony's hands ached. "And she did really well—got her own place, worked, went to therapy. It was good. We even went on a few dates like normal people."
Ayelet cocked her head. "And what happened, Tony? Why is she like this now?"
He rose and made coffee. The clock in the microwave read oh-four-twenty. "Sara happened," he said tartly. "One minute Gibbs is just Gibbs, drinking his bourbon and building his goddamn boats, and the next he's raising this little tiny kid who'd been kicked around in the foster care system for a year and a half after her mom died. She was a wreck when Gibbs got her—scared, starved, abused—but she turned out to be this adorable, happy kid. I call her Bug. Buglet."
She arranged coffee mugs in a triangle on the countertop. "She's so small."
"She gets so much love from all of you."
He smiled. "Yeah."
"All the things my Ziv'keh survived and then...she must feel so cheated."
He crossed his arms. "We've talked about it a little. She doesn't think she deserves the same love Sara gets." Ayelet's eyes widened and he wanted to take back every damned word. "But she never blamed you guys or anything."
"But she never spoke of us, either," she clipped, eyes wandering. "She hid us away. I hope it was because she didn't want to bring those good memories into her difficult life. My poor buba."
He exhaled and smiled. "How many nicknames do you have for her?"
A small smile creased her feline face. "A thousand. We love the diminutive of anyone's name—Zivaleh, Ziv'keh, Zivi. My given name is Hinda. I was Hindaleh until we moved to Israel when I was nine. Then I took the Hebrew equivalent of my Yiddish name—Ayelet. Ziva couldn't say it when she was little so she called me 'Ayla'."
He was strangely and inexplicably stunned. "Where are you from?"
Tony had no idea where that was. Eastern Europe? Former Soviet-bloc? "Oh. Are your parents um, survivors?"
He meant the Holocaust. She smiled graciously. "Yes, but they were young. I was born at Kaiserwald, which was not a death camp, but a work camp. Their youth and strength saved them and me. After liberation, we stayed at the camp until there was enough money to travel to Israel. The boat came into the port at Haifa so slowly I considered jumping overboard and swimming to shore. My father grabbed my beautiful Shabbat dress—we dressed up to travel, back then—before I could climb the railing. He took me swimming in the sea as soon as he could. The water was so warm; I wanted to stay in forever. Have you gone swimming in the Mediterranean, Tony?"
"No," he said slowly. "But Zi said she would take me. She said Eilat is the place to go."
Her eyes lit up. "It is. The reefs and the beach are so beautiful. Just wait until you see. Perhaps when you come we will take a short trip there. Romi might like to get away from the winery for a while. He works very hard. I am lucky to have married the David I did."
He grimaced. "Ziva wasn't so lucky."
Ayelet flinched and looked away. "No, she wasn't. There were so many times, Tony, that I had our passports out. It would've been so easy to book a flight and disappear."
He scoffed. "He would've found you and killed you in an instant."
"I know. That's why I never did it. Riga has become a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. I could've taken her there, but she would've stuck out like a sore thumb among all those blonde Northern Europeans."
"She hates the cold," he said with a wry smile.
"Always has. Eli sent her to Siberia all the time, or so it seemed. I don't know how long she was there, but she came to us after and got in the hot tub and didn't move for two days. Our cook served her meals on a towel. She ate and ate. Anything we gave her disappeared—meat, salad, bread, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, tea—and all without getting out of the tub. When she did come out she went straight to bed and slept for a week under that baby blanket. I bought that for her infant layette. Ordered it from Sweden. No—Denmark?" She threw her hands up. "I can't remember."
He smiled and poured them each another cup. "How long is the Valium supposed to last?" Oh-five-ten. Seven hours since Ziva crashed.
"I don't know," she mused, thinking. "But I'll go to her. It will help if I'm there when she wakes."
He followed her into the bedroom, where Ziva was still bundled under her blankets and baby duvet. He brushed his fingers over her cheek; it was warm with fever and he sighed, doubtful. How could she ever be ok?
Ayelet smiled at his tenderness and lowered herself to the mattress. "I will rest here for a moment," she whispered, eyes sliding closed. "I will rest a moment with my Zivaleh."
Tony shook out an afghan and spread it over her. "I'll be in the other room. Shout if you need me."
Her hand found Ziva's. She lifted her head, confused, and peeled off the splint to run her fingers over the surgical scars on her fingers and wrist. "She is so broken," she murmured tearfully. "Is there any part of her life that doesn't have Eli's mark on it?"
Tony bit back tears, hung his head. "No," he said mostly to the floorboards. There was a colorful braided rug over them. It was pretty, he decided. "No, but there will be. And we'll celebrate that, ok?"
She gave him a watery smile. "Ok. We will celebrate with plenty of wine and food. But it has been a long night and I must rest. You are a good man, Tony. Thank you for protecting my Zivaleh."
A tiny spark warmed his worried heart. "Always," he promised. "Always."
. . . .
Eli sent Ziva to Siberia twice. Hard missions, winter, Norilsk: city of snow and steam, nickel mines, pollution. A city of Gulag. A city that hated Jews. Thigh-deep snow on the steppe and waiting and waiting to make her move. Frostbite welded the tips of her fingers to her rifle stock. The flesh tore away in hunks when she took the shot.
She was cold—so cold—and someone was hovering nearby. Featherlight touches on her hands and arms, the soft sound of tearing, and then her face was fire. She cried out softly and someone gasped.
Doda? No, she was not in Israel. There was no home there anymore. Doda Ayelet would chase her off the property with a stick. How would she run? Her head was—
"Zivaleh, are you in pain? Would you like some more medicine?"
A soft hand landed on her brow and that was familiar. Familiar and wonderful. She pleaded silently for it to stay there all day.
"Open your eyes. Open them up and look around. The sun is out a little today and it is beautiful. I opened the curtains just a tiny bit. Have a look-see, my baby."
She was no one's child but opened her eye anyway. There was only a wash of color and a heaving sensation. She closed it again. Her stomach curled sharply and she gasped. No. No more sick. She couldn't—
Her doda's dry hands turned Ziva quickly onto her side, brought her knees up, and shoved a bowl under a chin. Her breath resonated in it. Up came a tablespoon of fluid. There was noise somewhere, and then a cold cloth touched her head. Dimly, she was aware of that from before.
The bed moved. She squeaked, dizzy, and then the blankets were tight under her chin and she was in someone's arms. Her hair was pushed back. Cool air swept across her eye. Breath. Doda.
"Sha," she soothed. "The doctor gave you more fluids and something to calm your stomach. I don't like the needle, Zivaleh, but the medicine is helping. Rest and you won't be so dizzy."
Ok. Ok—she would rest. She could smell warm spices and her aunt's distinct, fruity scent. Light. Happy. Maybe the world wasn't so awful, even with its pitching and swirling. Ziva exhaled slowly and sunk a bit against her Doda's shoulder. Her head flopped forward. Ayelet put it back. The cold cloth landed on her brow again.
"Sha, my baby," Doda said. "Let's have some quiet time together, ken?"
Ken, she wanted to say. Ken, ken, ken.
She drifted again and woke to shuffling. An experimental glance ended in a gurgling stomach. "Can you sit up?" someone asked. Were they close or far?
Doda's arms tightened around her. Oh. Nice. "No, she can't. She is very sick."
Sick. Yes. Ziva was very sick. Her facewas sick or sickening.
"I need you to sit up," the voice said to her. Who was that? Why did she have to sit up? Was she in trouble? Was someone taking her away? Panic gripped her throat where her father's fist landed. She gagged. Doda cupped Ziva's chin and the bowl was back. No puke, but she felt pathetic. Pathetic people did not go to prison; they went to bed. She began to cry.
There was an exchange—conversations were muffled and it was worse when she couldn't see anyone's mouths—and Ayelet shook her blonde curls on Ziva's pillowcase. The color was called aubergine and she picked it out by herself. She liked purple. "I told you; she cannot sit up. The smaller syringe is slower to dispense. If we're careful she will not choke."
"Can't we put them in her IV?" Tony asked. So that was the needle Doda Ayla was talking about. A pinch in her wrist was a reminder. Maybe not, because then a tube was inching back into her cheek and sweetness lit upon her tongue. It was delicious, even with the bitter aftertaste. The tube went out and came back with more. Less sweet, but still welcome. The craving for sugar intensified when the tube was removed. Ziva tried to pry her good eye open again. There was less whirling, but everything was so blurry that it wasn't worth looking. She closed it again. Ayelet hugged her tight. The crying began all over again. Would it ever stop?
"Sha, baby," she said again. "You're safe now. Doda loves you. Hush." She brushed her fingers down Ziva's less-damaged cheek and with the soft stroke came a creeping calm. It was vague and warm and soothing. Her wrist throbbed—the splint was gone. Doda replaced it gently, tickling the palm of Ziva's hand with the edge of the Velcro straps. Pain lingered somewhere but she found herself not caring, not thinking, but not quite sleeping either. She was heavy, heavy.
Doda gave her a gentle nudge. Gentle. Ziva liked that. "Zivi?" she asked in her good ear. "I took the cover off your eye last night and Ducky thinks we should put it back on. Is that all right?"
No. Yes. Was it going to hurt? A tiny sound was torn from her throat and she trembled, afraid. She was tired of pain. She was tired of people hurting her.
"We have everything prepared," Doda went on. "I just need to turn your face a little bit so he can put the tape back. We won't hurt you, ok?"
No. No no no. No one was to touch her but Doda Ayla. She trembled harder. Her ribs complained, then her head complained as her chin was tipped up and someone else's finger prodded her ruined eye. No. Wrong. She jerked away. Pain and dizziness came back in a rush and she cried out. Her breathing was loud. Everything was loud. There was shouting and then someone had her bad wrist tight and that hurt and she made a high, shrill noise.
Doda scolded her, maybe, and then the blankets were lifted away. Ziva yelped and shivered. They—there were more than one—sat her up, cupped her chin, held the bowl out. Weren't they trying to hurt her? Why was someone's hand so soft on the crown of her head? She swayed. Another hand steadied her under the arm.
"Ziv'keh," Doda said. "I want you to take a nice breath and calm down. You are safe. Dr. Loeb and Ducky are going to step out while Tony and I clean you up and get you into some fresh fig'ma'ot. Understand?"
Ziva pried her good eye open. Doda Ayla's face was close enough that could kind of see it. She was pretty. How could her beautiful aunt bear to look at her shattered, swollen face? Wasn't she disgusted? She reached up to touch the bad side and a hand intercepted hers.
"No, Zi," Tony said softly. He was posting her up it seemed, with one of his long arms around her shoulders. That was nice. Safe. "Don't touch."
She shook her hand loose and probed her eye anyway and it was flames again. Her eye. Her ear. Her jaw. Pain radiated into her teeth, her neck. She grunted.
Doda's scent disappeared and returned. Ziva's arms, neck, and hands were rubbed with a soft, wet, warm cloth, and then dried with something rougher. Her clothes were pulled off and replaced quickly and without embarrassment. That was…better. She was helped back against the pillows. The blankets returned and with them something soft. Not soft—squishy.
"Tully, Zivaleh," Doda purred.
Oh. Her lamb. She reached out one finger to touch it and pulled back.
"He is yours, motek. Hold him close. Maybe it will help you feel not so scared."
Ziva mustered her courage, put out her hand, seized Tully by one leg, and pulled him against her aching chest. She waited, and when he wasn't snatched away immediately, exhaled. Was that comfort? That sneaking calm crept up again. Doda was humming and stroking Ziva's hair and the fear ebbed further, receding like a slow summer tide. Her arms went limp, her legs, her neck. She breathed in noisily and exhaled again, slow, steady. The blankets were adjusted. Something cool and smooth touched her lower lip, then her upper. It did not hurt.
"B'seder," Doda said. "So chapped. We'll do better with the balm."
Ziva hummed, hoping she knew it meant toda and bobbed away in slumber's frail coracle.
. . . .
"She's asleep," Ducky said quietly, and traded IV bags. "Perhaps we should all sit down and have a conversation," he said quietly.
Dr. Loeb agreed. Tony rose from where he'd crouched at the bedside and looked at Ayelet, who was curled around Ziva on the mattress. "I think she'll be ok," he said lowly.
She studied her face the way a mother watches a sleeping infant. "Yes," she finally agreed. "But let's leave the door open."
He let her lead him to the small dining table, where the doctors had already spread a few release forms and prescription slips. He sat heavily, limbs loose. "Is she going to be ok?"
The glance they shared was not reassuring. "Eventually," Dr. Loeb ventured. "But this is, as they say, 'rock bottom'. We can't expect an overnight recovery."
He nodded numbly and propped his elbows on the table. "What's wrong with her?"
Her brown eyes went wide. "I couldn't begin to give a diagnosis based on that twenty-minute observation, but, given what I saw and what I know of her history, I can hazard guesses about major depression, severe generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a panic disorder. Has she been combative?"
"No," Ayelet said quickly. "She has only tried to … to protect herself."
She looked at Tony and Ducky. "Ziva had a panic attack last night. She cried so hard she made herself sick. She was shaking and…and moaning and she had her hands up like we were going to strike her. We would never but she was…not with us. She was back in a place where she'd been hurt terribly."
"Flashback?" Dr. Loeb asked Ducky.
He nodded grimly. "So it seemed. I gave her ten milligrams of Valium and a few of Compazine to counteract any drug-induced nausea. It worked, but not quickly enough."
"I prescribed a fairly high dose of alprazolam for this initial phase. Once she's a little more cognizant and a little less panicky we can taper it off. I also raised her dosage of escitalopram." She folded her hands. "I am sorry it came to this. Ziva was making such positive progress in our sessions."
Tony wiped his face with his hand. Exhaustion was ruining his manners. "What do we do for her besides force-feed her medication? Anything?"
Dr. Loeb pursed her mouth. "I want to tell you to drag her out of bed, make her eat, make her move around, make her do anything that will draw her back to the world. But I can't. She's in pain. Physical pain. She needs rest and fluids and perhaps something to eat once she's up to it. Can she chew?"
"No," Ducky said softly. "Ziva was fitted with a modified Herbst appliance to hold her broken jaw in place while it heals. It's bonded and the hinge is locked in a closed position. She's on a liquids-only diet."
She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Poor thing. Please let me know right away if you notice more weight loss. Her medications might need to be adjusted."
Tony nodded. Ziva had already dropped several pounds. Any more from her small frame would be...not good. He rose from the table, frustrated, and pushed in his chair with a smirk. Zi would be proud; she was constantly after him to clean up after himself.
"Perhaps," Dr. Loeb said slowly. "It would be better if we admitted Ziva to a psychiatric hospital. It might take some of the burden of her care from your shoulders."
Ayelet drew herself up in anger. Tony braced himself. "No," she snapped. "My daughter is not a burden; she is a bright, accomplished, compassionate woman who was assaulted and kidnapped multiple times. Beaten. Raped. Humiliated. I will not let strangers put their hands on her and sit idly by like I'm out for coffee and a manicure. Please leave the prescriptions—Tony will fill them straight away." She stalked back into the bedroom, back straight, and cast a withering glance at the table occupants before closing the door. Her blonde curls were a lioness' raised hackles.
He smiled humorlessly. "So that's a no, Dr. Loeb. Thanks for coming. Let me write you a check."
. . . .
Gibbs bumped the bedroom door open and waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Sara snuffled softly around the pacifier—she left her doctor's appointment feeling a little teary—and waved her book at him. He rubbed her tiny head with his big, rough hand. Both dark-haired girls brought him much to worry about.
Ayelet was in bed, cradling Ziva like a child and stroking her hair. Ziva was hiccupping softly, breath hitching, obviously calming down from yet another panic attack.
"Hey," he greeted softly. "Sara wants to read her favorite story to Ziver."
She chuckled. "I think my Ziv'keh would like that. Hm, baby?"
Ziva swallowed and sighed. Gibbs took it to mean yes and lowered Sara to the mattress.
"Closer, Daddy," she ordered, and amended it quickly with, "Please."
He shifted her, feeling like a crane operator. He was done with this body cast business.
"Good," she said once her leg overlapped Ziva's. She held out the book. "Zeeba, I am going to reading farmer book. Ok?"
Ziva's eye roved. She blinked and appeared to focus on the picture book held before her.
"Ok," Sara confirmed gravely. She opened to the first page. "In October of that year he backed his ox into the cart and his family filled it up with everything they made or grew all year long…"
Ayelet raised an eyebrow. "She reads? "
Gibbs smirked. "She memorizes."
"He packed five pairs of mittens his daughter knit from yarn spun at the spinning wheel from sheep sheared in April." She lowered the book. "You have your sheep, Zeeba?" She frowned when Ziva didn't respond. "You have him?"
Ayelet inched the baby duvet down just enough; a worn, grey, smiling face peeped out. "She does, motek."
Sara blew out a dramatic breath. "Oh, good. If she didn't have him she would getting sick. Get sick." She peered again at Ziva's wan, bruised face. Ziva peered back.
Gibbs swore he saw a bit of shyness in her dark gaze. "Easy, sweet pea. Ziver might be uncomfortable with you so close."
She didn't pull back. He considered moving her away. "She needs tea," she announced seriously. "Tea in a purple packet with milk and honey. But not hot—just warm."
He looked at Ayelet, who shrugged without letting go of Ziva. "Maybe she's right. Would you mind? I shouldn't get up and Tony is finally resting."
He nodded. DiNozzo was asleep on the couch, unshaven and rumpled, but peaceful. The tea was easy to find, the kettle boiled quickly, and Gibbs lifted it off the base before it could scream.
Sara was singing to Ziva when he returned, singing about the sunshine outside and a trip to the park if she ate all her cake. He smirked. "Ziver can't eat cake, sweet pea."
She scowled. "Yes she can."
He passed the syringe full of milky, sweet Earl Gray to Ayelet, who tucked the tube back into Ziva's cheek and kissed her brow before easing the release valve open. "Swallow, Zivaleh," she prompted.
Ziva hummed in appreciation—the first sound she'd made in over a day that wasn't whimpering or a heartbreaking wail—and drank quickly. Greedily. He tried to remember her last meal and couldn't.
Ayelet lavished her with praise in both Hebrew and English. "My good girl," she cooed. "My sweet baby. Your tea is nice? Taïm, ken?"
Ziva gave a tiny nod and a harrumph of irritation when the syringe was empty. Her hand found her bruised throat. She nudged the book and blinked.
"Again?" Sara asked. "Read more?"
Another tiny nod. Gibbs perched on the edge of an armchair chair and let his hands dangle. His arms were sore from lugging his kid around. She, however, couldn't get enough cuddling and snuggling. Maybe that was because she couldn't feel anything through the thick fiberglass.
"Ok." Sara smiled, lifted it, and began a soothing, musical chant. "When the cart was gone, he sold the ox, harness, and yoke, and walked home, his pockets heavy with coins for this year's salt and taxes."