An Apology: I am sorry. I am sorry for being away, I am sorry for how things have shaken out on the show, and I am sorry for writing something new rather than posting an update.
I AM still writing. I will continue to write until I've just had it out. There are several stories that I have to finish and a few more that I have scaffolded and not yet written.
But. BUT. My family has grown. Mr. and Mrs. Mecha are +1 now, and I have a LOT less time than I thought I would. (Like who knows that, though? Seriously? Babies need instruction manuals and warning labels.)
THIS story, though, is completely written and I will be posting one chapter every four to five days. Expect five chapters in total.
I also want to make a public expression of gratitude for all the lovely notes I've gotten from people near and far. Thank you for thinking of me and my work, thank you for reaching out. You are all great.
Expect updates to "A Village Life" and "Holy Land" in the coming weeks.
. . . .
"Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?"
A small voice came across the line. Female. Young—seven, maybe eight. "My mother is having a bad seizure," she said. "I think she needs to go to the hospital and my grandfather isn't here to take her."
Dwayne clicked over to PowerMap and traced the call. The burbs. Mom probably wasn't OD-ing. Probably. "What's your name, sweetheart?"
There was no panic in her little voice. "Liana DiNozzo. My mother has epilepsy from an accident, but she took her medicine this morning. I saw."
"Do you know what medicine she takes?"
Liana DiNozzo hesitated. "I can't remember."
Kid in house, he noted in the dispatch, and sent Bethesda-Chevy Chase EMS on their way. "That's ok. Tell me what Mom is doing right now, sweetheart."
"She's on the floor, shaking all over. She...she fell out of her wheelchair. There's blood on her mouth."
He sent another note to dispatch, but he doubted the team would get it before they got on scene. "Look closely, kiddo. Are Mom's clothes tight around her throat?"
He heard her swallow. "I loosened her collar and her shoes."
"That's great. Is there anything around Mom could hurt herself on?"
"Great. What room are you in?"
"My bedroom." She gasped. It whistled in the receiver. "Someone rang the bell!"
"That's probably the paramedics," Dwayne said easily. "Can you go check without hanging up?"
"Yeah," she breathed. He heard her footsteps on the floor. Hardwood, probably, if mom was in a chair. "They're here."
"Ok, let 'em in."
He heard a chain lock clatter and then the kid asked to see IDs. He smirked; she was one smart little cookie.
"Should I hang up now?" she asked.
"Nope. Is there another grownup with you?" Say yes, kid, he willed. He didn't want to send a social worker out for her.
"My grandfather just got home. I see his truck in the driveway."
He smiled. Attagirl. "Then go get him, sweetheart. You did good."
"Thank you," Liana DiNozzo replied absently, and hung up.
. . . .
The seventh floor was silent, the hallway empty. Only one nurse sat at the central desk. She waved Tony toward the family waiting room, where Gibbs sat stiff in an armchair and Liana dozed on a hard sofa. He nodded at Gibbs—he was staying, of course—and gave Liana a gentle kiss on the brow. "Hey, my lioness. Let's go home and sleep in actual beds."
She woke with a start. "Ema?"
"She's gotta stay, babe. C'mon."
He guided her down to the parking garage and waited in the driver's seat for her to buckle her car seat. Ziva wouldn't hear of switching her to a regular booster until she outgrew the five-point harness. "Heard you were quite the hero today," he said, pulling the car onto the street.
She was quiet for a long time. "I only did what you and Saba said," she said softly. Softly. Liana rarely spoke above a murmur.
"A lot of people can't do that," he replied. "They get scared and freeze up, but you powered right on through like a champ. I'm really proud of you, Lee-lee." Tony pulled up to a red light and glanced at her in the rearview mirror. She was staring out the window, eyes ringed with shadows, and picking at her cuticles. The light changed and he had to look away. "Ya ok, sweetheart?"
"Ema has the flu."
"Yeah. The fever triggered the seizure. Bet she'll be home by tomorrow." He turned onto their block. Their porch light beckoned.
Liana got out and watched fireflies alight on the grass. "It's my fault she's sick."
He closed his eyes for a moment, glad for the dark. "No, it isn't."
They got out. She finally looked at him. He slid one hand across her nape and pulled her close. She shook her head against his leg. "Yes, it is. I probably brought the virus home from camp. I didn't get it because my immune system is stronger."
He rubbed her back. "It's not your fault, Liana. That's enough."
She hadn't heard him. Or wouldn't. "I shouldn't go anymore."
He sighed; Liana was finally, finally making friends at her artsy day camp. "No," he refuted. "You're not quitting camp. You are not the reason your mom got sick. Go put your pajamas on and we'll have a snack before you head off to dreamland."
She fell silent. Tony could hear her breathing quicken. She reached for his hand after a long moment and blinked up at him with wide, dry eyes. "We were in my room when it happened."
She was a big girl now— seven years old—but he picked her up anyway. "C'mon, little lioness."
She clung to his neck. He carried her inside, down the hall, flicked on the light. They both squinted at the mess. Ziva's chair was tipped over on the area rug. IV caps and alcohol pads littered the floor. There were a few drops of blood on the hardwood.
"Wow," he said slowly. "You must've been scared, kiddo. Did she bite her tongue?"
She shook her head. "No, her lip. Saba said it needed stitches."
He eased her down. Liana went straight for her mother's chair and righted it. Her hand lingered on the seat cushion. "We'll have to take this to her tomorrow."
"She doesn't like to be without it. She doesn't like to be stuck. Remember when the caster fork broke and it took the guy a whole day to fix it? She was so mad."
"I know, sweetheart. I'll take it to her when I drop you off at camp."
Her fingers traced the handrims and brake levers. She snapped them closed. "I never saw her fall like that."
He smiled a little. "Oh, I've seen your mom take plenty of spills. Did Saba tell you about the time she pulled the whole closet down on herself?"
The corner of her rosebud mouth tipped up. "Yeah."
"What about the time she fell in a pile of snow?"
She giggled. "You did that, Daddy!"
He scoffed. "I did not!" Liana fixed him with dagger-eyes that could only be ascribed to her mother. "Fine," he relented. "I confess. But only because she nailed me in the throat with a snowball and it really hurt."
She took her pajamas from the hook, turned her back to him, and tugged her shirt over her head. "Ema is going to be ok, right?"
He wasn't nearly as confident as he sounded. "Yeah, she will." He crouched and scooped the mess off the floor. It was only a palm's worth of debris. "You want something to eat before bed?"
Liana slid beneath the blankets. "No thanks."
He sat next to her. "Want me to brush your hair like she does?"
"No thanks," she said again, and pulled the blankets up to her nose. "I love you, Daddy."
He kissed her cheek, palmed her head. Her pulse thrummed beneath his ring finger. "I love you, too, Liana. Buonanotte."
Her eyes smiled above the quilt. "Spokoyni nocheh."
. . . .
"Lia-levi'yah," Ema called, lifting her sunglasses.
Liana frowned; something about her eyes didn't look quite right. Maybe it was the glare. Or maybe Liana was just being a worrywart. She hitched her backpack higher and made her way through the crowd. "Hi, Ema."
It was a short walk home. "How was your day?"
"Fine," she lied.
There were no cars in the driveway. "Saba is out," Ema said, unlocking the front door. "He has errands. Tell me what you did today, motek."
"We're learning about Native American art. Natasha from the art store is teaching. Today we drew kachinas and tomorrow we'll do Zuni fetishes. We already got to see some today. Natasha brought them."
"I have never heard of such things."
"The Zuni live in Arizona and New Mexico. Here-I'll show you."
"Daddy and Saba went to Arizona on an investigation once. They made no mention of any fetishes."
She pulled up an image search on Ema's tablet and pointed. "See that arrow? It's turquoise. The Zuni believe it's a sacred stone, so they use it to make the animal's heartline. That signifies the animal's life force."
Ema rubbed her eyes and blinked hard. She hummed a little. Something in the sound hurt Liana's stomach. "Very nice. Will you be making one?"
"Tomorrow," she echoed. Her voice was thin as wire.
A strange, cold fear walked up Liana's spine. Something was wrong. "Ema?"
Her hands curled into fists, wrists locking in her lap. Her head rolled, eyes flitting, and her chin hit her chest.
"Ema? Are you ok?"
She grunted once, lowly, and doubled over her knees. Her long, dark hair fell over her face. Liana patted her arm. It was taut, the skin hot and dry. "Ema? It's ok. Don't be afraid. I'm here."
Ema tensed further and tumbled face-first onto the floor. Her wheelchair teetered and fell, too, landing on its side on the area rug with a muffled crash. Liana's panic cleared abruptly and she dashed for the portable telephone. She punched the numbers with her thumb and ran back to her room. Ema was shaking hard now.
"Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?"
Cool, calm, and collected, Daddy would say. "My mother is having a bad seizure. I think she needs to go to the hospital, but my grandfather isn't here to take her."
There were a few clicks and then a voice said, "Your mother is dead, Liana."
"No," she argued, frustrated. It was hard to explain adoption sometimes. "No, not my...not Lyuda—Ziva. Ziva is my mom and she has epilepsy. You need to send an ambulance for her. She needs to go to the hospital."
She heard the front door bang open and then there were heavy footsteps down the hall. "We're in here!" she called.
Ema grunted again. Her fists were curled beneath her chin. They looked smashed and broken. "It's ok," Liana soothed. "They're going to help you."
Two men in uniforms stormed in. They wore black masks and didn't speak. She got nervous; weren't paramedics supposed to ask her questions about what happened? "My mother fell," she reported. "She's having a bad seizure. You need to give her medicine to make it stop."
They ignored her. One lashed Ema's hands together with a length of cord, and another jabbed a needle against her throat. She went limp. He lifted her up. Her thin legs dangled like yarn.
He carried Ema out to the ambulance, but it wasn't an ambulance; it was a white, windowless van. He tossed her carelessly in the back.
"Hey!" Liana shouted. They were making her so angry. "She's going to have bruises! She could get a blood clot!"
One of the men gave her a shove. They were identical, she realized, right down to their policeman boots. "Look at what you did," he said. He pointed at Ema. "It's your fault. You need to go."
She was still mad. "Saba isn't here," she said. "We need to call him."
He pushed her again. She tripped over a buckle in the sidewalk. "Go," he ordered. He spun her by the shoulders. "Get out of here. You can't come with her. Not after what you did."
An empty freeway opened up before her. A snake sunned itself on the shoulder. Alligators lazed open-mouthed in the muddy roadside canal. Liana dug in her heels. "No," she said, but quietly. "I'm going to the hospital with Ema."
But the van was gone when she turned around. The saw palmettos rustled. A storm was coming.
Daddy pulled up in his work car and leaned out the window. His eyes were red like he'd been crying, and his wedding ring was gone from the hand he let dangle against the door. "I can't have you here," he said, and Liana nearly choked. "Not if...not if it's going to be like this."
"I'm sorry," she cried. "I'm sorry. Please, Daddy, I didn't mean to make her sick. I didn't mean to make her have such a bad seizure."
He let the car inch forward. "I can't, Liana. You understand, right? You're so smart. I'm sure you get it."
"So smart," a voice echoed from behind her. Grating, full of muck and moss. "So smart, Liana. So smart." Liana whirled. Her mo...Lyuda was climbing over the guardrail, hair wet with swamp water, skin bluish-white and bloated. "So smart," she said again, and grinned a blackened, rotting grin.
Liana's heart pounded. She urged her heavy feet forward. "No!" she shrilled, but Daddy revved the motor. "Come back!"
She ran after him, skin taut in the shimmering heat, but the taillights disappeared in the underbrush and she collapsed, skinning both knees on the macadam. She jumped when Lyuda's cold, gritty arm slid around her shoulders.
"Liana," she hissed. "So smart. But never enough, are you? Never enough."
She skittered away, brushing slime from her arms and neck. "Stop it. You are supposed to be gone."
"No," Lyuda drawled. She dragged Liana down, down into the swamp. Mud came up over her battered, too-small sneakers, up over her knees, over the hem of her striped sundress. Ema picked it out for her. She didn't want to get it dirty.
"Stop it!" she said again, and flinched. She'd never spoken to Lyuda like that, but she kept going, too scared and angry to care anymore. "You left! You're supposed to be gone and I am supposed to be with Ema and Daddy!"
Lyuda lashed out, striking Liana once with a wet, fishy hand. "Zat'k'nis!"
"No, you shut up!" Liana retorted. "You left! I hate you!"
Lyuda overpowered her, pulled down and down until they were neck-deep in the stagnant water. Liana could smell fish and rot. She struggled, kicking up mud and debris. A gator slid off the bank with a splash. She screamed once, high and piercing.
She looked up. Daddy was standing at the guardrail, looking down. His shirt was clean, his badge and gun on his hip. "Stop," he ordered.
"Daddy!" she screeched. "Please get me out!"
He shook his head. "Stop panicking. You're only making it worse."
"I'm sorry!" she begged. "Please take me back. I won't make Ema sick any more, ok? Please,?" Lyuda pulled again. Water filled her mouth and she gagged. "Daddy!" she cried one last time.
Water came up over her head, filled her ears, burned her eyes. She gasped, struggled. She was a good swimmer but mud sucked at her ankles and Lyuda's fishy, bloated hand forced her under.
Her lungs filled. She thrashed harder, tried to find the surface. Was this what it was like to have a seizure? Was this what she had done to Ema? Lyuda let go and he bobbed up and sucked air, desperate. She tread water, looking around. Daddy was gone. Lyuda was gone. The winds had stilled and the sun was lower. She paddled calmly toward the muddy bank. She would get out. She would walk to the casino on the reservation. She would call Saba, he would come with clean clothes and take her home. Ema would be there. She would smooth Liana's hair and stroke her cheek and say, it was all a bad dream, motek. You are fine.
But something clamped around her leg, tore the flesh just above her knee, ground against the bone and then she was flipped on her back. It hurt. She kicked with her free foot and caught something cold and dense. Were those scales? There was a groan, some low clicking, and she was dragged under again in a cloud of silt and leaves. She tried to fight, but her fists clenched, her back arched, and her hair tangled in some blowdown below the surface. Air left her lungs in a rush of oily bubbles. She drew in water and it burned.
Teeth and scales flashed in the remaining light. Liana tasted blood. A claw slashed across her face and she closed her eyes, sank into the mire.
. . . .
Ziva woke with a jolt. Everything hurt—her head, her hands, her teeth. Her toes? No. That couldn't be right. There was soft clicking somewhere, and the telltale squeak of crepe soles on linoleum. Hospital. Of course. She turned her head and winced—even her hair hurt. She frowned without opening her eyes; someone was there, right?
She shifted, but everything was heavy. Was she tied down? Damn the restraint-happy nurses. Her tongue thickened in her lazy mouth. "L'ana?"
Alone? She'd kill him. "Gedd'er."
"It's oh-four-hundred, Ziver. Tony's got her and they're sleeping. You'll see her later."
Did he not understand anything? "No," she argued. "Phone."
She finally pried her gluey eyes open. The light was too bright. She pinched them shut again. "Now," she snapped. There wasn't time for his nonsense. "Home."
It meant he was to dial the landline. He did, she thought, and held the mobile to her ear. Her hands were lost somewhere among the bedclothes. Had she been swaddled?
"'Nozzo," Tony said on the third ring.
She swallowed. Her throat was fire. "Tony, where is Liana?"
"No," he slurred. "S'early."
She shifted and ended up slumped. "Please, Tony."
That got him up. "You ok?"
"She was there."
He sighed. She missed him. "She was there, Zi. She called the bus for you."
Her stomach clenched. Was she a bad mother? "Please get her," she ordered again, but softly.
She heard him slide out of bed and pad across the hall but his breath caught and nausea crept up her throat. "She's not in bed," he said tightly.
She bit down hard on...something and tasted copper. Abba's fingers pressed the phone to her ear. "Liana is not in bed," she informed him.
His jaw tightened. "Check the pool."
Tony was already there. "Not here," he said, and they all sighed.
"Her room," she ordered. "Ours. Abba's. Is she outside? She likes the new deck. The yard."
Ten minutes crept by while he tossed the house, until fear caught up with him and he slammed the pantry hard enough that Ziva heard the glasses rattle in the cabinets. "I'm calling McGee and Bethesda PD. You don't think she ran, do you?"
She bit back another wave of nausea. "No, Tony. No. She wouldn't—"
She heard him banging about again, cursing. He was teething on the edge of panic. "I texted McGee," he said absently. I'm just gonna thr—oh shi—Liana?! Lee-lee? Come here, baby. Were you here the whole time?"
Ziva heard her daughter's sweet, sleepy voice and nearly cried in relief. "Where was she?"
It took Tony a minute to answer. "In our closet," he panted. "She was under your clothes."
Poor buba. "Put her on?"
There was a muffled exchange and then Tony said, "Hang on. I scared her, Zi."
She looked at Gibbs. "I need to go home."
His face was impassive. "You're still on the EEG."
She scowled. "Tell them to take me off."
He shrugged. "Call the nurse." Tony's voice came across the line again and he held it back to her ear. "I'll do it. You work this out."
"Thank you," she sighed. "Tony?"
Ziva nearly crowed. "Hello, baby. You scared me when you weren't in bed."
Liana's voice was soft but strident. "I'm so sorry, Ema. Are you ok?"
She scowled and tried to work her hands loose. "I am, Lia-girl, and this was not your fault. I will come home today, all right?"
"Are you sure?" she worried. "You fell down and you were shaking so hard. I had to call an ambulance."
"You did a very brave, grown-up thing, my girl. I am very, very proud of you. And I have the flu, motek, but I will be fine. I'd like you to listen to me, though."
Liana sounded nervous. "Ok."
"I want you to go to camp today."
"No, Ema! I want to be here when you get home! I want to see you!"
"You will," she replied, feigning calm. Liana couldn't see her this way. "I will pick you up at the bus stop, just like always."
"No, Ema!" she whined. "Please! I want—"
Ziva took a breath. "Lia, if you are brave enough to take care of me then you are brave enough to go to camp. Please be a good girl for your mother."
Silence, some sniffling, then "Ok, Ema."
"My levi'yah. My fearless lioness. I love you very much and I will see you at four-oh-five, ok?"
"Ok," Liana replied morosely. "I love you, too."
Ziva nudged the phone away. "Get me out of here."
"Not so fast," Anya interjected, and took Ziva's temperature with a digital ear thermometer. "One-oh-two. Too high. You're staying."
She struggled among the tight sheets. "I will sign myself out."
"How? You've been having contractures since you got here."
Ziva finally got her arms out and grunted in irritation; they'd splinted her hands. She lifted one and picked at the Velcro with her teeth. "My seven-year-old is panicked. She thinks I'm dying. Page Ellen to sign me out or I will leave AMA."
Gibbs crossed his arms. "Your chair's at home, Ziver."
"B'sheim HaShem!" she burst, furious. "Then bring it to me!"
Dr. Monroe came in on rounds and planted a hand on her hip. "What's the commotion in here?" she asked, checking the monitors. "Your heart rate is way up, Ziva."
Her headache intensified. "Liana is at home and she is afraid. I need to go to her." The doctor hesitated. Ziva pressed her. "She was alone with me when it happened. Please—she is terrified. I need to be there by the time she gets home from day camp."
Dr. Monroe made a few notes. "Where's camp?"
"Rockville JCC. She gets off the bus at four. I need to be out of here by noon at the very latest."
She nodded. "How's your head?"
"I have the flu," she replied tartly. "There is nothing you can do for me. Send me home."
Dr. Monroe shrugged. "Ok. We'll get your morning meds in you and give you another forty-five minutes on the EEG. If nothing pops up then you can get out of here." She looked at Gibbs. "That means you're on duty. You ok with that?"
"If I can get a cup of coffee."
Monroe smirked. "Ok. I'll have it sent up. And some juice for you, Ziva. I don't want your blood sugar to bottom out."
Ziva pulled off the second splint. Her hands were useless: wrists tight, fingers all but claws. It would be weeks before the contractures wore off, but she extended one aching fist to rest on the doctor's hand. "Thank you," she said softly.
She nodded and gave a tiny smile. "I'm a mom, too. Take care of yourself and your daughter."
. . . .
Gibbs leaned in the door of the art studio and scanned the crowd—day campers in t-shirts, untied shoelaces, a redheaded teacher with a thousand silver bangles on her wrist. He sighed; Liana sat by herself at the back of the room, sketchbook open, pages empty. She was an anxious kid. The past day had to have been hell on her.
"Psst," he hissed.
She jumped and looked around.
She came over on silent feet. "Where's Ema?"
He didn't take it personally. "Get your stuff, kiddo."
She nodded and turned back. The teacher sashayed over. She had a wide, lipstick mouth. "She's having a rough day," she said gravely.
"Mom's sick." This woman didn't need to know their business.
"I know. Liana's worried. I don't think she slept last night."
She didn't know the half of it. "Kid's been through a lot."
"I know," she repeated.
Liana appeared with her knapsack and cast nervous glances at each of them. "Is Ema at home?" she asked.
He steered her gently toward the stairs. "C'mon, cub." He gave the know-it-all teacher a nod.
She was silent the whole way to the car, trotting along beside him in her sundress and sandals. He unlocked the doors and she glanced down at something clutched in her small fist. "Oh."
She held something out. He didn't recognize it. "I forgot to give this back. It's Natasha's."
"Can you return it tomorrow?"
She squinted at him. Her eyes were golden in the late morning sun. "She won't think I stole, will she?"
He popped the latch on the back door. "Doubt it. Climb in, kiddo."
She did, and nearly shrieked when she saw Ziva, propped with a pillow, holding a puke bowl in her lap. "Ema!" She dove for her, skinny little legs flying. "I missed you!"
Ziva reached for her with weak, feverish arms and chortled in Hebrew. The two of them shared some kind of strange, multilingual code—Hebrew, English, a touch of Russian. Gibbs sniffed and slammed the door. Mom-kid stuff.
"You said I had to go to camp," Liana reported.
"Didn't say you had to stay the whole day," he interrupted, and Ziva chuckled.
"I decided I could not wait until four o'clock," she amended.
She sounded crappy, Gibbs thought. Congested, wheezy. The doctor was a damned fool for sending her home.
Liana heard it, too. "You should go straight to bed when we get home," she said. "I don't want you to get worse."
"I will," Ziva agreed. "But first I will have a bath while you decide which film we will watch together. "
"I can help!" she piped.
He heard Ziva shift, embarrassed. "No, Lia-girl," she said steadily. "I need my privacy. Saba will help while you put your things away and have a snack."
Biology notwithstanding, Liana had inherited her mother's stubborn streak. "I can run the water for you."
He shot Ziva a look in the rearview mirror. She gave a tiny nod. "Ok. You can run the water."
They were quiet for a while. Gibbs pulled into the drive and Liana was the first out. "May I have the keys?" she requested.
He handed them over. She dashed away and returned seconds later, pushing Ziva's wheelchair.
Ziva shoved the door open and gave him a look. "I will need your help," she said quietly. "But do not make a thing of it."
"A thing?" he teased, and lifted her out of the back seat with one arm.
She fumbled with the brake levers. Liana released them for her. She went red. "Please, Liana. Do not hover."
Liana backed up, green eyes huge in her twitchy little face. "I'm sorry."
Ziva needed a running start. Gibbs gave her a push. She arched her neck and gave him a rheumy glare. "You, too."
He returned it, but took the handles when she stalled out halfway up the ramp. He bumped her through the front door. She wouldn't look at him.
Liana scurried ahead of them into the bathroom, where she cranked open the taps. "You want bubbles, Ema?" she called.
She paused, mouth a hard line. He pulled her shoes off. "Don't start," he breathed.
"Yes," she called back, struggling with her shirt. "Bubbles would be very nice."
Liana came out beaming. "I'm going to get supplies, ok? Don't forget to tell me when you're done."
Ziva smiled and nodded, but sighed as soon as she was out of earshot. "She is seven years old."
He took over and shook her out of her t-shirt and pants. "Yep."
Her legs trembled. AD would set in if she didn't hit the head ASAP. "It's not a little girl's job to play nursemaid to her mother." She rubbed her eyes with sloppy fists, pausing to punch her trembling thigh. "I need your help."
He cathed her quickly, then dunked her in the sudsy, overfull bathtub. Water sloshed on the floor. He threw a towel over it and thumbed open a bottle of shampoo. "You're all she's got, Ziver. Get your hair wet."
She tipped her head back. "I am not," she scoffed. "She has all of us."
Gibbs scrubbed her scalp. There was glue everywhere from the EEG. "Caught her sitting by herself today."
She wiped her face. "Again. I must have scared her terribly."
He rinsed and worked conditioner into her curls. "Ya think, Ziver? Don't get your stitches wet."
She prodded the railroad tracks in her bottom lip with her tongue. It took nine stitches to close the gash. "Scar?"
Gibbs lifted her out, wrapped her in a towel, rubbed her hair dry. "Nah."
He got her into clean yoga pants and a t-shirt. There was shuffling just outside the door and Ziva quirked an eyebrow at him. "Lia?"
"Lia? I know you are there, buba."
She was quiet for a minute. "Um, do you need more privacy, Ema?"
Ziva spun, propelling her chair with the heels of her clumsy hands. Her head bobbed. Gibbs put his hand on her burning hot neck. "Hey," he prodded gently. "Bed, Ziver."
"Yes," she mumbled.
He swung the door open. Liana frowned and wrung her hands. "You look bad, Ema."
She gave her a tiny smile. "I have the flu. It's just a virus, motek. It will pass."
Gibbs shifted her onto the mattress. She tipped against the pillows, breathing hard, and dragged her legs up on her own. He got her sleep splints out of the closet, held them up. "We should do this."
She gave him a disdainful look, but it wasn't time for a fight. "Fine," she relented.
Liana inched closer. "I can help."
He watched Ziva set her jaw and hold one hand out to her. "Go ahead, baby. Not too tight."
She smoothed her mother's tight fingers, cinched the Velcro straps, but held on for a moment, eyes wide. "Is that ok?"
Ziva's smile was forced. "Yes, Lia-girl. Thank you."
Liana looked at Gibbs. "Do we have to do both? Can't we leave one out? She won't be able to reach all the things I brought." She looked at her mother, then at him, then at the arrangement on the nightstand. Everything was in a precise line. Dress-right-dress. "I got all the supplies," she said. Her little-girl voice was high and nervous. "Her favorite hand cream and Mary Poppins and a water bottle and When Jessie Came Across the Sea, but she won't be able to get them if you put that on. That's not fair."
He kissed her head. Her hair was thick and soft. "I'll be her legs while she's sick, kiddo, and you be her hands. Deal?"
"Deal," she whispered. She eyed the splint in his hand. "You do that one, Saba."
He gave her a wink. Ziva was drifting, but winced when he straightened her fingers and strapped them down. "You're ok, Ziver," he apologized.
She nodded, eyes closed, lashes fanned across her cheeks. Her wet hair tangled on the pillow. Maybe the kid could comb it out for her later. "Lia-levi'yah," she sing-songed. She didn't open her eyes. "Come—I need a chazak."
Liana hesitated, small mouth puckered with worry. Gibbs thought she looked a little like Ziva when she did that. Old souls, both of them. He gave her a nudge. "The helpers need to rest too, Li."
She kicked off her sandals, climbed up, and nestled beneath the blankets. Ziva threw an arm over her. Liana's fingers found her mouth. "Laila tov, Saba," she slurred.
He turned the AC down a few degrees and shut the blinds. "Spokoyni nocheh," he replied, and left the door open.
. . . .