Disclaimer: NCIS isn't mine.
Note: Tag to 10.08, Gone, which I adored.
Before anybody says anything, I know I messed up the timing badly enough to render this entire story impossible. In the actual episode, after Abby takes out the bowling alley guy in the kitchen, Lydia gets dressed again and the next few scenes show Ziva, Abby, Lydia, and bowling alley guy all at NCIS with the windows dark, presumably in the wee hours of the morning. Then, you know, they solve the case, and we don't see Lydia again until daylight, when her mother shows up.
But when I was writing I forgot that it was still dark when the characters came back to NCIS, making it impossible for them to spend the night at Gibbs' house.
And this is what I get for writing fanfiction when I'm supposed to be writing twenty pages about perceptions of online identity.
But anyway, for the sake of this story I ask you to overlook such blatant stretching of the hours of this case. Or consider it an AU tag. Whatever works.
Lydia retreats to the couch and turns the cowboy movie back on when Gibbs and Tony show up to haul the stunned suspect up and stuff him into the car, and Ziva, who keeps one eye on the girl while reporting to Gibbs, can't blame her. She's been through hell in less than twenty-four hours, and doesn't look like she's up for questioning again.
Ziva waits for Gibbs to try it anyway, but he abruptly loses steam when he looks around for Lydia and sees her hugging her knees to her chest on his couch. Even though he shakes it off quickly, Ziva notices the double take he gives the teenager bundled up in his big red USMC sweatshirt, all wet hair and bare feet, and she also notices the way he shuts his eyes hard for just a second when he looks away.
And Ziva understands. A teenage girl in pajamas should have been something Gibbs was used to seeing in his house, but life is cruel, and his daughter died well before her thirteenth birthday. So Ziva isn't surprised when Gibbs leaves in a hurry, dragging Tony behind him and muttering that she is to call if anything, anything happens.
About half an hour after Gibbs, Tony, and the dazed suspect leave, Ziva and Abby are chatting at the table when Lydia comes to stand awkwardly in front of the fridge, hands shoved deep in the front pocket of Gibbs' sweatshirt. She looks curiously at the frying pan Abby used to knock out the suspect, which rests empty on the table in front of Abby. In the spirit of better safe than sorry, Abby has decided it should be kept as accessible as possible.
Both women smile at Lydia.
"Um…I'm ready for bed," she says, looking from Ziva to Abby to her own toes curling against the chilly linoleum.
They wish her a good night, a comfortable sleep, and, most importantly, no dreams.
"I hope your bed's warm enough," Abby says, frowning. "Gibbs should really get a new heater, but he doesn't actually spend much time upstairs, so I don't think it's high on his list of priorities."
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Lydia says.
"Well, if you do get cold, don't hesitate to come down."
Ziva nods and tries not to smile at Abby's fretting. "We'll be awake down here if you need us."
"And we're also very okay with midnight snacks, so if you get hungry..."
Lydia nods and smiles again, but she doesn't leave. She's fiddling with something in that big front pocket. Probably her phone.
Ziva glances at Abby, who looks like she's having one of those rare moments in which she can't quite figure out what Gibbs expects of her. Ziva sympathizes; she's rather at a loss herself.
Lydia just stands there looking slightly uncomfortable.
Ziva clears her throat. "So, um…do you need anything before you go upstairs? Glass of water?"
Just like that, Abby's face shines with understanding. "Bedtime story?"
Lydia looks up, a hopeful look in her eyes.
It takes exactly one second for Abby's eyes to go dangerously soft and teary-looking, and Ziva's not really sure hers look a lot better, but she jumps out of her chair and takes Lydia's arm anyway. "You know, I should probably check your room one more time," she announces, steering them toward the stairs.
Ziva pretends to be triple-checking the window locks in order to give Lydia time to settle in under the covers. Then she peeks in the closet and under the bed, just for good measure. Security is, after all, as much psychological as it is anything else.
She straightens and puts her hands on her hips. "All clear!"
Lydia's wearing a wide smile.
"Sorry," she says, although her smile actually grows. "It's just…my dad used to do that exact same thing when I was little, except it was because I was scared of monsters."
"My sister used to ask me to check under her bed for monsters and spiders." Ziva feels a smile spread her own face. It's the first time that particular memory has turned up in quite a while.
"She'd crawl in with me if I didn't." Still smiling, Ziva returns to the closet and pulls down another blanket. Just in case.
"Ziva?" Lydia asks as Ziva drapes the blanket across the foot of the bed.
"How many siblings did you have?"
"Two. Sister and a brother."
Lydia is trying very hard to phrase her question sensitively when she asks how these siblings died, and when Ziva takes a second too long to answer, she rushes to backtrack, filling the air with half-sentences as she tries to assure Ziva that it's fine not to say anything, that she understands it's private, that she just thought, you know, well, she was just curious—
Ziva holds up a hand. "My sister was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing," she says, and she's said that before, to Tony, to psychologists, so it's not so hard. She looks at Lydia's fresh young face with its big, big eyes, and before she can stop herself she adds, "She was about your age." Lydia looks pained.
"How old were you?" she asks.
"Wow." They are quiet for a moment. Then Lydia says softly, "That must have been hard, for it to be a suicide bombing. Not being able to put anybody in jail for it."
Ziva takes a step closer and sits down on the edge of the bed. Lydia may be young, but she is perceptive, and this makes Ziva's side of the conversation rather more complicated. She has no desire to tell this traumatized girl that yes, it had been hard for Tali's killer to be a suicide bomber, so hard as to be unbearable, so hard that she had thrown herself into tracking and spying and killing, doing anything to keep moving, keep seeking vengeance. Lydia does not need to know of the blood Ziva spilled trying to create the illusion that justice had been done.
She hopes NCIS will be able to give Lydia closure a little less violently.
"Yes, it was difficult," Ziva says eventually, keeping the expression on her face as vague as her words, "But we did neutralize the rest of the cell responsible, and that helped."
Lydia nods. "And your brother? Was it the same thing?"
"My brother—" Ziva hesitates and smooths a palm across the quilt, ironing out a wrinkle that runs parallel to Lydia's leg. Lydia's still holding tight to her smartphone, she notices, like it's a beloved stuffed animal. It's silly, but she can't help thinking that she would have liked to have had a stuffed animal to hold that night Ari died. Instead she had had phone calls to make and a gun to clean. She shifts a little. "My brother was shot."
Lydia's pain comes from a bullet, too, and her breath catches a little when she asks her next question. "Did—did you catch the person who shot him?"
Oh, the person who shot my brother has paid for it very dearly, Ziva thinks, and the irony in it makes her mouth taste bitter. She swallows it down along with a strange and completely inappropriate urge to laugh.
"My brother had gone astray," she says simply. "He was in trouble with the government in several countries and he had made some…well, some very, very bad decisions." She looks Lydia in the eye. "The person who shot him was doing their job."
"I'm sorry." Lydia looks slightly aghast to have brought up the specter of a loved one who doubled as a bad guy. There is an awfully stark contrast between Ari and the hero she has in her fallen father, after all.
"It was a long time ago," Ziva says with a gentle smile, because it was and because it's not Lydia's fault the David family tree is rotten. "Like I said, you get through. Eventually it doesn't hurt to remember them." In fact, this is a lie. It does still hurt to think of Tali singing in the shower, and it still hurts to think of Ari bringing home treats from Scotland once a year and listening patiently to her schoolgirl stories. She thinks probably always will. But it's a good hurt, and some days she needs it. Lydia will understand this soon enough.
And Lydia smiles back. It's a little wobbly at the edges, and Ziva suspects there will be tears as soon as the door is closed, but tears, too, are necessary sometimes.
She pats Lydia's knee and rises, fighting the urge to kiss the girl's forehead. "Goodnight," she says instead. "If you need anything, I'll be downstairs." Lydia nods.
Abby is still holding the frying pan by the handle, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum as she paces between the couch and the table.
"You know, it's not likely you'll need that again tonight," Ziva says as she comes down the stairs. Abby, relief etched ever-so-faintly across her face, plops down on the couch with her pan.
"I know. But I kinda like it." Abby affectionately smacks the side. "It reminds me of my grandma's skillet—you know, heavy. Solid."
She thrusts it toward Ziva, who hefts it and nods. "Mhm. My Bubbe David had one like it, too."
Ziva laughs and hands the pan back. "Jews do fry other food besides latkes! But yes. She was a very good cook."
"Remind me to make you my grandma's hushpuppies sometime," Abby says, grinning back at her and patting the couch. Ziva is happy to fall upon it, propping her elbow up on the back. "I promise they're better than my frittata."
"The frittata was good," Ziva protests, and Abby fixes her with a look that says she's not convinced.
They are quiet for a moment. The cowboy movie—or another one just like it—flickers silently across the television, and the kettle rattles gently on the stove. Ziva wonders if Gibbs will come back tonight. She also wonders how the cowboys on TV manage to shoot anything while bouncing up and down on horseback. Briefly, she wonders if Gibbs has ever tried shooting from horseback, and, if so, how it worked out for him.
She wonders if Lydia will be able to sleep tonight.
"She okay?" Abby eventually breaks the silence to ask.
Ziva chews at her lip. "Yeah. Yeah, for now," she sighs. "I mean, she's probably crying herself to sleep right now, but you know how it is."
Abby's mouth twists into a wry little smile, because she does indeed know how it is. "Yeah. She's not in for a great night, huh?"
"I'm glad her mother is on the way home. Neither of them should have to deal with this sort of thing alone."
Abby unties the black ribbons on her pigtails and tucks them into her bodice, then pulls the pigtails out and rakes her fingers through her hair. Ziva's only seen Abby wear her hair down a handful of times. It's pretty, despite the deep creases from the hair ties, and it makes her look more adult.
Abby shrugs. "At least Lydia has us," she says, rolling the hair ties onto her wrist and reaching for her the snap on her dog collar. "I mean, we may not be much, but it's better than her mom has right now, spending so many hours travelling alone."
Ziva agrees with that.
When the clock strikes three, and Abby is drowsing on one side of the couch while Ziva wonders if the plots of these westerns would make more sense with the sound up, the front doorknob jiggles loudly.
"Just me," Gibbs calls before Ziva even has her gun unholstered. She relaxes back into the couch, while Abby gives a start and perks up.
"Hey, Gibbs!" earns Abby a kiss on the temple as Gibbs passes behind the couch; Ziva gets a hand pressing her shoulder before he circles around and settles into the armchair beside the couch with a sigh.
He glances at the muted movie and then jerks his head at the ceiling. "So, she okay?"
"She is fine, Gibbs. She might even be asleep by now."
He nods. Ziva contemplates him for a moment, noting the weary pull of his mouth.
Abby says what she's thinking. "You look tired, Gibbs."
The left side of his mouth curves up. "You could use some shut-eye yourself, Abs."
The dirty look Abby throws him draws a chuckle from Ziva.
For a long minute, Gibbs watches the tiny figures in big hats galloping across his TV screen. Then he cranes his head back and examines the ceiling. Ziva looks up herself, and when she lowers her eyes, Gibbs' eyes are on her.
"You two all right?" he asks suddenly.
It surprises her a little, but it's also rather touching. He knows that dealing with grieving people is not easy, and that the surprise they got with the thug didn't exactly help, so the smile she gives him now is one of her warmest. "Of course."
"I'd be better if you'd let me keep your frying pan," says Abby.
Gibbs chuckles. "Well, Christmas is coming, Abs."
Abby appears to take this as an acceptable answer.
Gibbs goes back to his silent cowboys.
Ziva thinks she'll give it half an hour before she goes up to check on Lydia.
Until then—she toes off her shoe, tucks her feet up, and rests her head on her arm.
"So, Gibbs, are you gonna put a bow on the handle for Christmas?" Abby asks, drumming her fingers on the handle in question.
"You think I got a bunch of ribbon just lying around here?"
"I could lend you some ribbon! I buy it by the spool because, well, hair bows."
"I'm not too sure that black would look right for Christmas."
"Oh, c'mon. You don't care about that, and in any case, it's called color coordination, Gibbs. Matching. And my bows aren't all black! But if you're going to be picky—"
"Hey, since when am I picky?"
Ziva casts her eyes toward the ceiling, and she listens, and she smiles.
I'm not 100% sure about this one, but I do hope you enjoyed! Reviews are appreciated.