Thank you all so, so much. You are generous and wonderful and kind. Happy New Year! May it be one of only good things.
. . .
I reach and stretch too far to measure.
And I break myself to keep together all the time.
-Alana Davis, "Save the Day."
. . . .
Room 4-114 was a small waiting area that faced the back of the hospital. Jackson sat there alone, with only a television tuned to ZNN for company. He got up slowly, big shoulders slumped, when Ziva and Tony came in. "Leroy's back there with her. They're doin' x-rays and stuff." He crossed his arms. "Thought it was the end of her."
Ziva glanced at the door. "What broke?"
"Dunno, but she was out. EMTs strapped her up before they moved her."
Tony arranged his hair. He looked dazed and frightened under the hospital lights. "What do we know?"
"Nuthin"," Jackson harrumphed. "Nurse came out an hour ago and said to wait."
Ziva paced without taking off her coat. Fifteen minutes for the initial exam. Fifteen more to get her down to radiology. Ten for pictures. How long to get the x-rays read? How long for the doctors to decide on treatment? Was her orthopedist in the building, or did they have to call him in? Her pulse quickened. She turned to Tony. "I forgot my water bottle at home. Can you buy one for me?"
He nodded, looking relieved. "Yeah, sure. Anything, Jackson?"
Jackson fished in his pockets and grunted. "Left my wallet at Leroy's."
Tony bobbed his head. "I got it. Coffee?"
"If it's not an imposition."
"Never." He left with long, jerky strides. The door shut behind him with a groan.
Ziva resumed her pacing. Five more minutes ticked by. Tony would probably have to leave the hospital to find drinks at this hour. The coffee shop was closed. Vending machines were few and far between at Children's.
Gibbs appeared just as she'd resigned to waiting. "Her neck's broken."
Ziva nearly swooned. Her fingernails cut shallow half-moons in her palms. Her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. She could pry it loose only when he said: "It's a hairline fracture. They'll fit her with a collar and send her home tomorrow. Mild concussion, too."
She exhaled roughly. "Her neck?"
"Yeah. And both her wrists." He dragged a hand over his face. "Scared the hell outta me."
She sat heavily in an uncomfortable chair. "But she will be ok."
He put one hand on her back. "Yeah."
The room wavered. "She is not—"
"Nope. Close call, though. We'll get some lifts in ASAP."
"You should have purchased a one-story home."
Gibbs looked at her, blue eyes hard as ice. "They're moving her downstairs."
She nodded, numb. Silent. They left the room, turned for the elevator, and ran into Tony. He had a tray of coffees in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
"They are moving her downstairs," she repeated dully.
He fell into step. It wasn't until the doors opened a floor below that he finally spoke. "What's the deal?"
Gibbs led them down the hall in a diamond formation. "Two broken wrists, concussion, hairline fracture in her neck. Keeping her overnight."
Tony fumbled and almost dropped the coffees. Ziva put out her hand to catch. "Her neck?" he burst. Was he whining? "Why aren't we going to neuro?"
Room 3-114 was directly below the waiting room. Gibbs opened the door so fast it nearly came off the hinges. Ziva hesitated, tensing, until he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew one of Sara's new penguins. "Hairline fracture. No spinal cord injury." He took a coffee from the tray. "She'll be back up and around tomorrow. Day after at the latest."
Jackson took a coffee, too. "Thanks, Tony. Owe ya one."
"Her neck, Boss," Tony said quietly.
Ziva studied the pattern in the floor tile, trying to block out the thought of Sara dead at the bottom of the stairs. Or Sara lifeless in that patchy, weedy backyard in Southeast. "She will be fine," she clipped. Her voice sounded odd and robotic to even her ears. "She is hurt, but she will be fine."
All three men nodded. Sara was brought in, asleep, likely sedated, and transferred to the bed. It had high sides, like a crib, and one attendant lifted the rails as though she could climb out. "That is unnecessary," she snapped. He shrugged and left.
Ziva tucked Sara's hair away from her face and ran her finger over her paper-thin eyelids. They did not so much as twitch. Her birdy wrists were splinted, probably to be casted in the morning, and she wore the tiniest cervical collar Ziva had ever seen. "Shaifeleh," she clucked.
Tony put an arm around Ziva's waist. His hand came to rest just over her hip, which he squeezed gently. "We should probably head home."
"No," she said quietly. "I am not leaving."
"I can," she argued, but gently. "And I will, Tony."
He sighed and nodded. "I have to work tomorrow."
"I know. Go home. I will call when she is awake." A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "She will probably want to speak with you, anyway."
He let his head rest on hers. "Need meds?"
"I have some. As long as we are home by tomorrow evening I will be fine."
His breath tickled her ear. "I'll bring you breakfast in the morning."
She sighed. Tony always created a world for her: a simple, private space for just the two of them. "That sounds lovely. I am sure we will be up early."
"Me, too," he said softly. "It's one in the morning. I really need to go."
She grabbed his hand. "I understand. Drive carefully."
He kissed her and left. A nurse came in to check Sara's vitals. Ziva asked her for a cot, and Gibbs only gave her one curt nod. "You're staying."
Gibbs had broad, flat fingers. They held his paper coffee cup as though it were an afterthought. He sat heavily at the visitor's table and pulled out a pen to sketch on the back of an old magazine. He was planning. Knowing Gibbs, he'd start on the modifications tonight.
An aide brought in a rolling cot for Ziva and unfolded it near the window. Linens were stacked on top. A pillow. A toothbrush. A washcloth, towel, and soap.
She thanked him quietly and he disappeared again. Soft Spanish singing filtered in from the hallway.
Gibbs rose on creaking knees. "Gonna make a run home to get her stuff. You ok here for a minute?"
A minute. They were twenty from home if she was driving. "Yes," she agreed. She touched Sara's cheek.
"You want anything?"
She rubbed her belly with one hand. It felt as firm and round as always. "No, thank you."
He and Jackson walked stiffly out the door. The Spanish singing continued; songs of love lost, love unrequited, love spurned. Ziva pushed the cot closer to the bed and lay down without taking off her shoes. Sara sighed from inside her high-walled fortress.
"Are you awake?" Ziva whispered.
Her tongue clicked quietly and that was it. She wasn't hooked up to any monitors.
"Shaifeleh," she said. "You are finished with close calls. You may not get hurt for twelve months from this point. Understood?"
Sara slept on, oblivious.
"B'seder," Ziva finished. Signed and sealed. "I will hold you to it. Laila tov."
. . . .
Daylight prodded Ziva awake. She stretched, stomach growling, and went into the tiny en suite bathroom where she washed her face, squinted in the fluorescence, and arranged her hair as best she could. Her back and arms were stiff. Her own bed was going to feel positively luxurious after a night on a hospital cot.
Gibbs had dropped off Sara's chair and a bag of supplies. Ziva scowled, having not heard him, and pawed through it. Tiny cotton pants, a button-front sweater, her coat, socks, and soft leather moccasins. Sara refused to wear hard-soled shoes.
Ziva jumped when Tony appeared in the doorway, holding a deli takeout bag. "Morning, Sweet Cheeks. How'd she do?"
"Fine. We both slept. Sara is still out."
He arranged two bagels with lox and cream cheese on a piece of deli paper and checked on Sara before sitting down to eat. "Where's the boss?"
"Home," she guessed. "I think he and Jackson are installing wheelchair lifts for her. He seemed..."
"Guilty?" he interjected. "He better be. This was avoidable. I don't know why he didn't move into a single-story house."
"No one could have guessed she would have such serious limitations. He—we—were told that she would be much more mobile after her hip surgery. We were also told her diagnosis was mild OI...that she would have a much more normal life than..."
"Than this," he finished.
She swallowed. Her stomach growled again and she reluctantly sat to eat. "There must be more we can do for her."
He pushed stray poppy seeds into a neat pile. "Like what?"
She took a bite. Her sandwich was made with gravlax rather than smoked lox and it was simply amazing. Where had the deli found such red tomatoes in December? "I do not know," she confessed. "But I refuse to accept that her plight is to spend her life in pain, immobile, and miserable." She licked a stray dollop of cream cheese from her thumb. "And Gibbs is doing a mediocre job of parenting her."
Tony leaned back, eyes wide, mouth full. He swallowed without chewing. "Whoa, pretty mama. Over the line."
She grew delightfully affronted. "Really? Because it looks to me like he is refusing to accommodate her disabilities. Buying a multi-story home, enrolling her in public school. He is also quite lax in his supervision. First she got lost at the aquarium, and now she has fallen down the stairs and quite literally broken her neck. He may as let her play on a freeway. That social worker never should have placed her with him."
"Are you kidding me?" Tony sneered. "Who the hell else would she be placed with—some other child molester?"
Now he was playing dirty. She could get on his level. "Why did we not step forward, Tony? We are young and healthy and earn good incomes. We can pass background clearances and a home study." She huffed. "And she is as much ours as his."
Tony stared, having fallen silent. She stared back, angry and defiant. "Do you hear yourself?" he asked finally.
She thought about lunging across the table at him, but her body had grown delicate and unwieldy. She snarled instead.
"Do you?" he prodded. "Ziva, you fell into a serious depression when Sara came along. You've had to deal with a lot—your childhood, your father, your extended family. You still need therapy and medication and hell, you were assaulted and almost died. What makes you think we—you—would be any more appropriate than Gibbs?"
"We are not nearly as resistant to change as he. We are not so...habit-driven. We are willing to learn from our mistakes."
Tony nodded. His eyes came to rest on her belly. She put her hand over it again. Had it gotten bigger overnight? "I think Sara came to us at the right time," he contemplated. "And I think she is with the right person."
He was right, but she wasn't ready to wave a white flag. "Public school is a mistake. So is the house he bought."
He went to the bedside and adjusted the blankets. Sara sighed but didn't wake. "Maybe you should talk to him about that. Campfire." He checked his watch—the one from Dod Romi and Doda Ayelet. It was beautiful on him. "I gotta go. You gonna be ok?"
"Yes," she said, sighing.
He brought her closer. She breathed in his clean, masculine scent. "Text me when you know more. I'll be home as early as I can. Maybe I can have dinner with you guys, get her settled into her home environment again."
She smiled. "You make it sound like she is a penguin in the aquarium."
"Maybe that was where she should have been placed," he deadpanned. "She certainly enjoys a steady diet of fish. I brought a lox bagel for her, too. A mini-person-one. It's in the bag when she's ready."
"Thank you," she said. She didn't raise the case in point—that it was Tony who had brought Sara something she'd like to eat, rather than her father. "I am sure she will love it."
He winked and kissed her. She kissed back. His freshly-shaven cheek was soft on hers. "Have a good day," she whispered.
"I'm more interested in a good night," he breathed, and tickled her ear.
She laughed quietly and pushed him away. "Later. Goodbye."
He wasn't gone five minutes when Sara woke with a soft ugh and shifted in the bed. "Zeeba?"
"I am here, Shaifeleh. Are you in pain?"
She kicked her legs free. "I want to sit up."
"I am not sure—"
"Up!" she demanded.
Ziva checked, but there were no controls to raise the head of the bed. "No, Saraleh. You cannot sit up. It may not be safe."
She elbowed upright anyway and came to sit like a little frog, splinted wrists held slightly before her. "Where is Daddy?" she asked, woozy.
"He is at home, building some elevators just for you."
Sara loved anything that was just for her. She forgave his absence quickly. "Ok. I am sore, Zeeba."
"You had a bad fall. Do you remember that?"
"Daddy said call for a bus but an ambulance came instead. I saw the lights."
"Yes, you came in an ambulance because you fell down the stairs. Your wrists and neck are broken."
Sara poked at the plastic collar fastened around her neck. "I am not allowed to take this off."
"No, you are not. Would you like something to drink?"
"Juice," she rasped, still waking up. "I need a straw."
Ziva paged a nurse, who came quickly and looked delighted that Sara was awake and sitting. "I'll call Dr. Minton to do a neuro exam and get her arms done, but she looks good. She can eat once he clears her."
Sara had to turn her whole upper body to look at her. "I want apple juice with no water—just juice."
Ziva shook her head discreetly. The nurse caught it and winked. "You got it, kiddo."
"And a straw."
Ziva tickled her bare leg. "How about some manners, Shaifeleh?"
"Please," she blurted, and looked at the splints on her wrists. "I want these off. I can't play with my poppins."
"Soon," Ziva promised. "Your doctor is coming to help."
She blinked groggily and sighed. "Ok. I'm sore."
"I will make sure the nurse gives you medicine."
She scooted to the foot of the bed. "I want to get up. I don't want to be in bed."
Ziva followed her lead. "How about we get you dressed and you can sit in your chair while we wait for Dr. Minton?"
Sara looked at Ziva for the first time. Her eyes were a little cloudy, but she smiled and stopped fidgeting. "Ok. I need a dry diaper."
She retrieved the bag of clothes. "I will change it, then."
Sara flapped her little arms like a penguin chick. Her too-big hospital gown billowed around her. "Take this off first, Zeeba."
She arranged the clothing in a neat pile, diaper on top, and leveled her with a serious look. "Saraleh, I know you are uncomfortable, but it is very important that you remember your manners, even with me."
She withdrew, eyes widening. "Can...can you take this off first please, Zeeba?"
"Yes, I can." She undid the single tie behind her back. The gown fell away and Sara shivered. Goosebumps rose on her skin. There was a deep bruise to the left of her spine, halfway down her back. Ziva touched it gently and she jumped.
"Is that a break?"
"No," she said, but reconsidered. "Um, no thank you?"
Ziva chuckled and touched their noses together. "Good job."
"Lie back." Sara lay first on her side, then her back. Ziva exchanged the wet diaper for a dry one and dressed her delicately in the clothes Gibbs provided—grey cotton pants, a heavy cardigan sweater in a grey-and-blue Fair Isle pattern. It was big enough to go over the splints and the neck brace. "Nothing rubbing?"
Sara flapped her penguin-arms again. "My hair is pulling, Zeeba. Can you fix it, please?"
"Lovely manners, Saraleh. Can you turn a little so I can see?"
She scooted around. Half her hair had been caught in the cervical collar. Ziva teased it out and finger-combed it, working out the worst snarls. She fetched a hair elastic from her coat pocket and tied Sara's curls up in a loose topknot, where it wouldn't get in her eyes or stick to the Velcro fasteners around her neck.
"Turn, Shaifeleh. Let me see you." She inched back around. Ziva laughed at her little cartoon hairdo and kissed her cheek. "Beautiful."
"I'll say," Dr. Minton said, striding in. He was a large man with a deep voice. Ziva tensed defensively and smoothed the crease between her brows. "Good morning."
"Morning. How ya doing, Sar?"
His use of a nickname was irritating. "She is doing as well as we can expect," she clipped.
"I see that. Can you wiggle your toes for me, Sar?"
She waved her little bare feet back and forth. Ziva hadn't put on her socks or moccasins.
"How about your arms—can you move them around?"
"If you take these off," she bargained, holding up the splints.
"We can do that," he agreed, and took off the first one. "I have to replace them, but you should be able to do just about everything. Sound good?"
"Like go with my chair?"
"Yep." He held up two tiny little wrist braces. They were hot pink plastic fastened with a sort of zip-tie. Sara approved. "They're just for me."
"How long?" Ziva asked.
"Four weeks for everything. Two weeks and she can take everything off for bathing and light exercise. Is she swimming?"
"Yes." It was only a half-lie; she'd make sure Gibbs got her in the pool at least once a week.
"Good. She should bounce back pretty fast."
He showed her how to put on the splints. They were lightweight. Sara had not one complaint. Ziva handed her toy penguins and she played happily among the bedclothes. "Are you a specialist in Osteogenesis Imperfecta?"
Dr. Minton frowned. "No, I'm an orthopedist, but I work primarily with kids who have metabolic conditions or skeletal dysplasias."
Her stomach tightened. "Who is, then?"
He sat on a rolling stool. "No one here in DC. The closest guy I know is in Pittsburgh."
Pittsburgh. That was four hours by car. Not a terribly long distance, but not easily accessible. "And you have made a referral for her?"
He shrugged. "We agreed to take a wait-and-see approach."
She laced her fingers together to keep from lashing out. "Well we have waited," she snapped. "And I believe we have seen. Please get me his contact information."
He nodded and made a note in his PDA. "Sara—"
"Sara deserves better," she interrupted. "And if you cannot provide it then you must put me in touch with someone who can."
"I'll call the metabolic specialist. Do you mind waiting a few hours for her?"
"I do not if Sara does not."
Minton nodded. "There's a day room on the fifth floor. She might like it up there."
Ziva tickled her leg again. "Are you hungry?"
"No. No, thank you."
"Want to go play, Shaifeleh?"
She turned back to Minton. "I'm pregnant, and I cannot move Sara to her wheelchair. Can you transfer her, please?"
"Congratulations," he said kindly, and held out his arms.
Sara went to him easily and buckled the safety belt herself once he put her in her chair. She pushed experimentally and clicked her tongue in appreciation. "I can go. C'mon please, Zeeba."
She offered her hand for the doctor to shake. Her took it, squeezing gently. "I'm calling Dr. Nevins now. She'll be down as soon as she can."
Sara led the way to the elevator. They boarded alone and she studied the button panel. Ziva gave her a gentle pat. "We need to go to the fifth floor. Can you find the five?"
She bit her lip and pointed, guessing.
"No," Ziva said gently. "That is a six. That comes after five. Where is the five, Sara?"
She moved her finger down, searching Ziva's face for approval. "Here?"
"Yes. Very good. Push that button please."
She poked it alight.
They rode in silence and disembarked two floors up. Only one other family occupied the toy room, and the child—a boy of about six—rolled up to Sara in his own little wheelchair. He was cute, with a cherubic face and golden-blonde hair."Hi," he chirped.
She scooted behind Ziva's legs without saying a word and pressed her hands over her face.
Ziva crouched. "Sara? Would you like to say hi?"
"No," she said, voice muffled by her hands.
She turned to the little boy. "Sara is not used to other children getting so close. I think if you give her some space she may feel more comfortable."
He backed up. "Wanna see my LEGO house?"
"No," Sara said miserably. "Zeeba, can we go back please?"
"We're going to play here for a little while, Shaifeleh."
Sara moaned softly and started to cry. "I wanna go back."
"You are safe," Ziva promised.
She held her arms up. "Pick me up."
"I cannot. It is not good for the baby. This little boy is not going to hurt you, Saraleh, and there is no one else here."
She stomped her feet on the footplate. "I said please!"
Ziva took both her hands and waited for Sara to look at her. There were fat tear tracks on her cheeks. "You are fine," she maintained. "It is ok to play with other children. I am here and I will keep you safe."
She sniffled loudly and sighed. "I don't want to play with him."
"Then you must find a polite way to say that."
Sara peered around Ziva's shoulder. The little boy looked only slightly hurt. "I do not want to play with you, please."
He shrugged and returned to his LEGO. His mother looked up from her magazine and winked. Ziva waved apologetically. "What shall we do instead, Sara?"
She studied the bins of toys. "There are no animals here."
"You have your penguins."
"There are art supplies. Would you like to draw?"
"My fingers hurt."
Ziva found a matching memory game on a shelf and put the box on a table. "Come, Shaifeleh. This is similar to what I got you for Christmas."
The game consisted of simple picture cards. Sara picked up one and held it close to her face, frowning. "Ok."
Ziva spread the cards face down and took the first turn to demonstrate. "The object of the game is to find matching pairs. Whoever finishes with the most pairs wins." She took the first turn to demonstrate and held up two cards-a soccer ball and chicken. "No match. Can you find two cards with the same picture?"
Sara made a blind swipe of the table and came up with a school bus and a soccer ball. "No."
"Put them back just as you found them and remember what you just had," she instructed, and took her turn. A chicken and a turtle.
"No match," Sara said seriously, and picked two basketballs. Her face lit up. Ziva swelled with pride, though it had only been luck. "Match!"
"Keep those cards and take another turn. Remember what you've seen so far, Shaifeleh."
Sara put her cards aside and picked again, finding the second soccer ball and turtle. She wiggled happily and put them back, smiling.
Ziva purposely chose the wrong cards. "Your turn."
Sara matched the turtles, put them aside, and picked up the chickens. She grinned gleefully. "I'm winning!"
"Yashar koach," she praised. "That means good work in Hebrew."
"Thank you. How do I say that in Hebrew?"
"Toda," Sara echoed. "Toda, toda, toda. Thank you very much. Do I get another turn?"
She picked up two more cards. "How do I say yes in Hebrew?"
"Ken, ken, ken. Your turn, Zeeba."
She made another mismatch on purpose. Sara pulled easily ahead, matching kites and cars and soccer balls. She stacked her pairs and giggled. "I am good at this game. I am never good at games."
"I have never seen you play a game, Saraleh."
She blinked up at Ziva with those wide, seawater eyes and waved one splinted hand. "I lived by a mean house and they said I wasn't allowed."
Ziva recoiled. Was it really so easy to forget? "I am sorry that happened," she said gently. "But I am glad we are playing now."
Sara did not relent. "No one ever talks about that."
"No, they do not. Would you like to?"
She pressed her lips together. "Sometimes."
Ziva leaned forward. "So tell me now."
She pushed her paired cards into a line. "I lived in a lot of houses and they were all mean."
Sara swiped at her eyes with her right hand. The fastener on her wrist brace left a shallow scratch on her cheek. "No one saw me do good stuff. Only bad stuff."
A small hollow opened in Ziva's chest. "I understand. It is hard to feel like you are in trouble all the time."
She blinked. "I was on a lot of punishment."
Ziva stamped out her own memories. "That was not fair."
"No. I had to do work."
"What kind of work?"
"Scrubbing. The cleaner burned my hands."
Ziva remembered the rough, red rash between her fingers. She'd slathered it with lotion every day for a month. "I know," she said quietly.
Sara blinked heavily. She looked tired now. Her line of matched cards had gone askew. "I disappeared."
She swallowed around the lump in her throat. "No, you did not. You are here with me now, Shaifeleh, and I love you. Do you need a nap?"
She stacked her cards. "Yeah. But we need to clean up."
Ziva held out the box while she stacked the cards inside and put on the lid. Sara went to the LEGO table, where the little boy was still happily creating. "I'm sorry I didn't want to play with you," she said, hands tight on her tires. "But maybe another time."
He flew a LEGO plane. "That's ok. I'm here all the time."
"Me, too. We'll play next time I break. Bye." She went to the door and waited for Ziva to open it. The elevator yawed before them. "You push the button," Sara said, sighing.
Ziva was tired, too. She sagged against the nurse's station while they enlisted someone to transfer Sara back to bed, and sank gratefully onto the cot once she was comfortable.
"Zeeba?" Sara asked, snug beneath the blankets.
"You are going to be a very good mommy."
Sara sighed herself to sleep and Ziva's eyes filled. "Thank you," she whispered, and quietly cried herself to sleep.
. . . .
Gibbs banged down the stairs, limbs loose, hands hanging from his wrists. The new wheelchair lift was folded neatly against the wall, controls mounted low so Sara could reach them without help. She'd gone crazy over them, and rode up and down so many times Ziva thought she would hear the whirr of the motor in her sleep.
"You did a good job. Sara loves it."
He got a glass of water. "Thanks. Twenty hours. Two trips out to Leesburg for supplies. Nearly rewired the whole damn house."
He wasn't angry; he was bragging. She nodded and smiled appropriately. "May I speak with you?"
He slumped on the sofa, still with sawdust in his hair. "Sure, Ziver."
She sat next to him, careful to leave some space. "I spoke with Sara's metabolic specialist for almost an hour today. She and I agree that she needs some intervention."
She watched him carefully. He took a long pull on his water and shrugged. "Ok."
"There is an OI specialist in Pittsburgh. I would like you to make a trip to see him. He has a few openings in February. My doda's cousin, Leah, lives near the children's hospital. She agreed to have us stay with them. If you would like me to go with you."
He gave her a soft look. "That would be great," he agreed, and threw an arm around her shoulders. "Thanks, Ziver."
She let herself be pulled close. Gibbs hadn't inherited Jackson's broad chest or shoulders, but he was steady and strong. "I am not finished," she said gently.
"There is an OI foundation that has a number of different options for conferences—regional and national. It's a chance to meet doctors, learn about new research, and connect with other OI families. I brought you a packet of information."
She handed him a professionally printed folder of pamphlets. He took it, leafed through, and nodded. "When's the next one?"
"Free except for accommodations. Most meals are provided."
"Coming to that, too?"
She smiled. "I can."
"Good. You got more."
Ziva sighed. "I do. I know you intend to send her to public school, Gibbs, but, based on how I know Sara, I have to disagree with that decision." She held her breath and waited.
He shifted beside her. "Ok. What are we doing instead?"
We. She held up one hand the tiny knots in her shoulders loosened. "I...do not know, but a kindergarten class of thirty in a large public elementary school is probably not the best fit or the safest option. I think we ought to look into smaller schools. Perhaps a Montessori or a Jewish day school."
"Any around here?"
"Several. We can make contact with them after the holidays. We'll probably take a tour of each place and the admissions staff will want to interview Sara."
He smiled, shook his head. "Tours and interviews for kindergarten."
She laid a few school brochures on the coffee table. "Finding the right school for Sara will be a process. We need to take it seriously."
He nodded slowly, eyes wandering over the brochures and folders, the forms, the booklets. "Lot of legwork."
She pushed everything into a tidy pile and put it before him. "Sara is unique. I felt like no one—like you—were not acknowledging that. Like you were not meeting her needs. Or in denial."
"I didn't forget that she's got special needs."
"Her fall down the stairs was an excellent reminder."
He looked at the Christmas tree. "I already raised a normal kid, Ziver. I know Sara's different. I know she struggles and she hurts, but I have to give her some freedom or she'll never learn anything. Letting her fall doesn't mean I won't catch."
She harrumphed. "She needs boundaries and structure. And manners. She is so demanding."
He smirked. "She'll be all right."
"Will she?" Ziva countered. "Can I trust you to protect her?"
He raised one eyebrow. "I swore that to a judge in front of everyone. You were there. And I love that kid, Ziver." He ran his thumb down the stack of information. "You think about doing this professionally?"
She felt oddly embarrassed. "Do what?"
"Help kids. You're pretty hot under the collar and this was a lot of work."
"An afternoon. Sara was asleep."
"Might wanna think about it. You did good."
She twisted away from him, self-conscious. "Do not waste good. I will go with you to look at schools."
"Sar would love that."
He gave her a one-armed hug. He smelled like coffee and sawdust. "I would."
Silence fell again. The tree was the only light; their breathing the only noise. Sara was safely asleep in her tiny bed, and Jackson had retired to the basement guest room. "You staying?" Gibbs asked.
"No. Tony is expecting me."
"You two gonna move in together already?"
She stood and pulled her sweater down over her stomach. "I do not know. We have not discussed it."
"He wants to come home to you."
She shrugged into her coat. A headache lurked behind her eyes. Tony would help her get rid of it. "And I, him. Goodnight, Gibbs. Merry Christmas."
He touched her hand where it lingered on the back of the sofa. "Thanks. I mean that. Merry Christmas."
She stepped out into the cold. Her small, red, impractical car waited at the curb. She would trade it for a family vehicle, but for now she got in, slammed the door, and drove away.