DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: General Season Seven spoilers.

Come What May: An NCIS Christmas Carol
By Jaina


It wasn't a sound or even a flicker of motion caught out of the corner of her eye that made Ziva look up, but the feeling that someone was watching her. Unfortunately, it was a familiar feeling, but not a pleasant one. Being the focus of that kind of attention in her line of work often meant that the shooting was about to begin and she was the target. This time, however, the situation was not nearly so dangerous.

Abby stood in front of Tony's desk, a red Santa's hat pulled down over her pigtails. It was far from the only flavor of the season decorating Abby's clothing. Little snowflakes - each one unique - dangled from the leather collar around Abby's neck and her knee socks were bright red and green, garish patterns broken up by a cartoon image of the Grinch.

Under her bright clothing, however, Abby looked nervous. If it was possible, her pale skin looked as if what little color it usually had, had been drained away. Her arms were folded across her chest, and she couldn't quite stand still.

When Ziva saw her she rose immediately and stepped out from behind her desk. "Abby? What is wrong?"

Abby reached for Ziva's hands as soon as she was within arms' length. "So I've been thinking about this - trying to figure out how to ask you - and I never came up with anything that sounded good, you know? So I'm just gonna ask you." Abby hesitated, biting her bottom lip, but despite what she'd said no words were immediately forthcoming.

"Abby," Ziva said softly when the moments of silence had drifted from one minute to two and then three. In a conversation waiting for someone to speak, it was almost an eternity of awkward silence. "It is okay. Just ask." She squeezed Abby's hand with her own, realizing for the first time that Abby's fingers were icy cold.

Abby shook her head and bounced nervously up and down on the tip of her toes. "It's not okay. You're going to say no," Abby blurted the words out so quickly it took Ziva a moment to decipher them.

"I cannot promise I will say yes, but..." Ziva tried not to think about how impossible to resist Abby could be at times and only her knowledge of the outrageous things Abby had asked for kept her from simply giving in without knowing what she was agreeing too. "I will promise you that I will say yes if I can."

Abby's fingers moved up her arm an dug into Ziva's wrist as she sucked in a quick breath. "Will you come home with me? For Christmas. To meet my family. I know before you couldn't because of your father - Mossad - because we couldn't be official. But, but, it's different now. You're a real NCIS agent. You're going to be an American citizen." Her grip tightened. "Please." It was the way she pleaded, the crack in her voice over the last word that had stood alone after the rest had spilled out of Abby that broke Ziva's heart.

"Abby..." She wanted to say yes so badly. Every part of her ached to say yes, to give Abby everything she had spent years wishing she could give her - a real relationship, a future, someone she could be with and acknowledge without having to hide anything for fear of putting Abby's life in danger. Something, however, held her back. The same thing that had kept her from approaching Abby since she had returned to NCIS and had prevented her from accepting her invitation to a girl's night out. Ziva shook her head as she made herself force the words out. "I cannot. I am sorry."

"Oh." The single word came out in a small puff of air that barely made a sound, more a vocalization than a word. The nervous energy that had filled Abby a moment before had drained away in an instant. "You're right. I shouldn't have-" She shook her head briefly, tossing her pigtails through the air. "I'm sorry. I'll, uh, let you get back to..." She gesture toward the papers on Ziva's desk as she began to back away.

"Abby," Ziva began, reaching out to her. She hated to hear that tone in Abby's voice; it was even worse when she had been the one to put it there.

Abby raised her hand to keep Ziva back away from her. "I just, I thought that maybe things could be different now, you know?" She sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "I'll see you when I get back."

For a moment, Ziva considered going after her again, but there was nothing she could say that would change anything. Her hand clenched tightly into a fist as frustration welled within her. Everything was supposed to be different now, and yet nothing had changed. She was still disappointing Abby and letting her down. Now she didn't even have anyone to blame for it, only herself.

Abby nuzzled into the depths of Ziva's dark, curly hair, brushing her nose against the clean-scented skin of her neck. Coarse hairs tickled her face and she wrinkled her nose, snorting involuntarily at the sensation. She straightened, trying to escape the hairs she had just involuntarily inhaled and pulled a little away from Ziva, who let out an unrepentant laugh.

"It's not funny," Abby complained.

"It is funny to me." Ziva countered, slipping her hands under the thin age-worn fabric of Abby's t-shirt and pulling her closer.

"You have a twisted sense of humor, David," Abby said, her voice once again muffled by Ziva's hair. The warmth of Ziva's hands against her skin was distracting. She shifted closer to Ziva, wanting less space between them and not more, wishing that it was still the night before. She wanted plenty of time to explore the soft warmth of her curves and their lovely contrast with the firm tight muscles of her back and shoulders and arms, and everywhere really. Ziva's strength was more than just mental.

"You like my sense of humor."

"I like a lot of things about you."

Ziva leaned back enough to look up at her. "Do you? Sometimes I am not so certain. You did not like me very much in the beginning."

"Ziva," Abby said, cupping her cheek, surprised that she still thought Abby disliked her. "You wouldn't be here if I didn't like you at least a little."

"I was not sure," Ziva admitted. "I know that you find me attractive. I am a spy. I have been trained to know when someone is watching me, and you watch me when you think no one else is looking. But I am never certain what you are thinking."

Abby laughed. "Now that's funny. You - talking about not knowing what's going on in someone's head." She shook her head. "I don't get you, but I do like you," she repeated. "You're brave and strong." She shrugged. "You can be a little bit scary sometimes, but you're nice to Timmy. There's a not a lot of people who can see what kind of person he is. I think that makes you pretty special."

Ziva's hands slid down Abby's stomach, until her fingers caught the hem of her shirt. She fingered it idly. "You sound as if you have given this a lot of thought."

"I have," Abby admitted. "I've thought about you a lot. You're right; I didn't like you when you first came here. I didn't understand you at all. I still don't, but I definitely think you're worth getting to know."

"So you are proposing a cultural exchange?" Ziva queried, with an arch of her eyebrows.

"I think we've exchanged a lot more than culture."

Ziva laughed at the cheerfully leering note in Abby's voice. "So then, what would you like to know?"

Abby thought for a moment, tilting her head as she considered, and then pounced on the question. "What's your favorite color?"

Ziva let out a startled laugh at the question. "You can ask me anything and that – that – is what you choose to ask?"

Abby gave a quick definitive nod. "I want to know."

"Very well," Ziva said with a small smile. She brushed a piece of dark hair back behind Abby's ear and ran her thumb down the side of Abby's face. "It is green."

"Your favorite color is green?" Abby asked, surprised and a little wary that Ziva was still making fun of her question.

Ziva shrugged. "I have not considered which color would be my favorite before, but when you asked, I decided it was green."

"Okay," Abby said, deciding to accept the response at face value, "Why green, then?"

Ziva's smile grew broader and she looked very satisfied with the question. "Your eyes are green, yes?"

It took Abby a second to catch Ziva's casual implication. When she did, she still wasn't certain what to say. "Z…I- that's a very sweet thing to say."

"I meant it."

Abby leaned in to capture her lips in a languid, lingering kiss. "You're such a sweet talker, Ziva David," she murmured when she finally broke the kiss.

"I have been accused of many things," Ziva said with amusement, "But never that."

"Maybe I just bring out a different side of you."

"Perhaps," Ziva said softly, "You do." The amusement had drained out of her eyes and she looked suddenly serious.

Abby wondered what had brought on the sudden change in her emotions. She thought everything had been going well. She and Ziva had been seeing one another casually for a few months now. It wasn't something either of them had planned; it had simply happened one night when Ziva had gallantly offered to drive her home after she'd had one too many when the team had gone out for drinks after a difficult case.

She, of course, had declined, not being drunk enough to agree to go anywhere with Ziva driving. She had seen and heard enough of the horror stories to know better, and besides she didn't think Ziva would be happy if she puked all over the interior of her car, which would certainly have happened with the amount she had drunk and the way Ziva drove.

Still Abby had appreciated the offer and it was when she had dropped by Ziva's apartment to thank her on the way home from work the next day when it had happened. Ziva had invited her in. Abby had surprised them both by accepting. What she had discovered was a woman not at all like the assumptions she had made, and when Abby had kissed her – tentatively, because she wasn't at all sure what Ziva's response would be – Ziva had kissed her back. That, as they say, had been that.

"What are you thinking?" Abby asked quietly, her curiosity getting the better of her.

"I was thinking that I wished things could be different."

It wasn't what Abby had expected her to say, but, of course, that was Ziva, always surprising her. This seemed perilously close to introspection and Ziva usually preferred to simply do rather than sit around and contemplate her options.

"Different, how?" Abby asked into the silence that followed, curious to hear what she had to say, but hoping that she wouldn't break the mood that had prompted Ziva's disclosure.

"My assignment here with NCIS is temporary. You know that, yes?"

Abby knew that, had always known that. In the beginning it had been a comforting thought. Surely the position of Mossad Liason would not last long. It was a new position, and one that existed solely at the whim of the new Director. Clearly it wouldn't last long once Ziva had gotten a taste of what investigators did and was proven utterly unsuitable for the job. Ziva had eventually fit in, however, and over time, proven to be a valuable resource to the team, and Abby had forgotten that despite the length of time she had spent there, there were no guarantees on how much longer Ziva would remain with them.

"Are you-" Abby stopped and swallowed back the sudden lump in her throat. "Have you been recalled?"

Ziva shook her head. "No, nothing has been said, but I know that it will happen someday someday."

"Do you want to stay?" It slipped out before Abby could consider that she might not want to know the answer to that question.

"I wish to do my duty and serve my country to the best of my abilities, in whatever way they believe I can make the most difference. Sometimes I feel as if I am betraying my friends and comrades by being here while they continue to deal with the problems that we face at home."

A sense of dread hit Abby at her words, as something she had never considered became so obvious she felt like an idiot for not having seen it before. "So you regret being here?"

"No," Ziva said quickly. "I have learned much from Gibbs, Tony, McGee." She brushed her thumb over Abby's bottom lip. "And from you. But sometimes I do wonder if I could make more of a difference at home."

"What about-" The next question that sprang to her mind was rolling off her lips so quickly that Abby didn't have a chance to stop it before it was already spilling out of her mouth, only to cut it off before it could be finished. What about us, was suddenly a question that she wasn't sure she wanted to hear Ziva's answer to.

This had always been casual between them. Abby wasn't one for relationships. It was one of the many reasons that she and McGee had broken up, but now that the possibility of Ziva returning home had been made real again, she suddenly hated it. She hadn't realized all of the little ways she had planned a future for them before she had been reminded that it wouldn't be possible.

"What about what?" Ziva prompted her.

"Nothing," Abby shook her head and took a step back from Ziva, folding her arms over her chest as she did. She felt cold and the easy comfort that they had shared moments ago had faded to be replaced by uncertainty. "Nothing." She repeated, and then straightened. Ziva probably wouldn't understand why she was upset and she wasn't sure that she could explain it. "I should go," Abby said abruptly.

"Abby, I did not mean to upset you." Ziva dropped her hand, and let it slide down her arm until she could lace their fingers together. "I have heard nothing from my father to indicate that he wishes to bring me home soon, or that Jenny is contemplating the end of my time here. I could still be here for a long time."

"Or you could leave tomorrow." Abby stepped back again. "I get it. It's not a big deal. I always knew this was temporary for you."

Ziva sighed, and pressed her lips together into a tight, thin line. "I care about you very much, Abigail."

"But not enough to try to find a way to stay, right?"

"I am not going anywhere," Ziva countered.

"Yet, Ziva. Not yet."

"I do not know what you wish me to say."

Abby shook her head. "There's nothing you can say." This time when she stepped away from Ziva it seemed more final. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Will I?" Ziva asked, bluntly.

"Of course." Abby nodded, but not with her usual cheerful enthusiasm. "We have work, remember?"

So that was how it was to be, Ziva thought. She would see Abby at work, because neither one of them were sick or injured or could come up with a good enough excuse to avoid Gibbs' wrath if they did not show up. And there was no they could tell the truth, that they'd had an argument. If it were not impossible for their relationship to be widely known and talked about because of her father's very real disapproval, then there was also Gibbs' Rule #12 which made it equally impossible.

Ziva was not sure which she hated the most at the moment.

Awkward silence reigned as she watched Abby gather her things and then held the door open for her as she left. The ache of the absence of the lengthy, consuming parting kiss that Abby usually bestowed on her just before she opened the door was keenly felt by both of them.

"Not very pleasant, was it?"

"Tony?" Ziva glared over at her typically arrogant and infuriating partner, standing in the corner wearing his usual carefully tailored suit and looking as if he had been standing there the entire time. There were many things that were confusing to Ziva at the moment, but one thing that she was certain of was that Tony had not been present for her argument with Abby. It had, in fact, taken place years before in the privacy of Abby's apartment. She remembered it clearly. They had barely spoken, except for what their jobs had required for weeks. "What are you doing here, Tony? How are either of us here?"

He waved a finger at her in the irritating tisking motion that her partner knew made her itch to break said index finger. Ziva was convinced he did it to test her patience; she was equally convinced that one day he would succeed in reaching its limit. The only thing that held Ziva back from making that day today, was the amount of paperwork she and Gibbs would have to fill out if she injured her own partner. It would be substantial.

"Ah, but there's where you're wrong, David." He drawled her last name out, exactly as he always did. Sometimes she wondered if he could say it any other way. "I'm not your dashing partner, Anthony DiNozzo." He gave a brief bow with accompanying flourishes. "You may call me the Ghost of Christmas Past."

Ziva's eyes narrowed. "Tony. Stop playing. This is not amusing, and besides I am Jewish. Why would the Host of Christmas Past visit me?"

"Ghost," he corrected, "And what does it matter that you're Jewish? You're just as capable of screwing up your life and making mistakes as anyone else. I," he said, tugging at the lapels of his suit jacket and preening not-subtly-at-all, "Am here to show you the error of your ways. This," he gestured at his body, "Was just the most convenient form." He shrugged. "Besides I like a suit with a nice cut, and Anthony has good taste."

"I do not believe you."

"Oh, I assure that Anthony has excellent taste in designers."

Ziva raised her hand sharply, stopping him before he could go any further. "I did not mean that," she said through gritted teeth. "I do not believe you are a ghost. You look like Tony. You act like Tony," she stated, irritation filling her voice. "And you know that I do not," she hesitated, as she searched for an appropriate word, "like ghosts. I will not fall for one of your silly pranks. I do not know how you did this, but leave me alone, DiNozzo!"

"I assure you this is not a trick. How else would I show you this?" Tony snapped his fingers and the room and everything changed around them with instant, dizzying speed. "Believe me yet?" The man who looked like Tony asked. "You don't, but you will. Remember this?"

Ziva chose not to look around. She had known instantly where they were and she remembered what had happened here. It was more cruel than Tony at his worst to make her re-live something like this. "Why did you bring me here? What are you doing this for? Do you get some kind of sick amusement out of this?"

"Good question. I'm bringing you here to show you how you got to where you are today. If you don't understand the past, you're doomed to repeat your mistakes."

Ziva opened her mouth to protest and snapped it shut again just as quickly when she saw what was happening around her. Involuntarily she took a step closer.

"You can't do anything to stop it or change it."

Ziva shook her head. The thought hadn't crossed her mind, but she couldn't help but be drawn back to the moment. It was like being back in Gibbs' basement and hearing Ari say that words that would seal his fate, unable to change any of it, to do anything to stop him from speaking. All she could do then was listen to his words and carry out the action that they necessitated. This carried the same feeling of finality and inevitability. Ziva hated it.

"You, you're breaking up with me?" Abby's voice broke and her chin trembled.

Ziva would have given almost anything to erase that look from her face if she could have. She hated seeing Abby like that, as if she were about to cry. She had never wanted to be the one that caused Abby pain, but it seemed as if that was all she could do these days.

Pulling a pair of jeans out of a drawer, Ziva put them into the mostly empty duffel bag on the bed. She didn't want to be doing this; it wasn't her choice, however. Her father had made that clear, if not in so many words, when he had sent Michael to Washington D.C. "for her" as Michael had so tactfully put it.

It was true that they had dated for a short time when she had been forced back to Israel as penance for the part that she and Tony had played in Jenny's death, but on her part, at least, it was never serious. Rather it was an attempt to distract herself from being separated from Abigail for the first time in years, just as she had always dreaded. It did not hurt, of course, that dating Michael had pleased her father who had despaired of her ever becoming the proper daughter that he had simultaneously longed for and striven to create something completely different from – a weapon that he could wield in whatever way he saw fit.

"I do not have a choice, Abigail." Ziva said, her voice full of resignation as she continued to clean out the scant few drawers that she had in Abby's apartment.

"Just because your father sent him here, it doesn't mean you have to sleep with him, Ziva! That's barbaric. Just tell him no. Tell your father that he's not your type anymore. You don't even have to tell him about me. Hell, tell him you're involved with Tony. Just don't do this!"

"Abby," Ziva said firmly, catching her wrists and giving them a light squeeze to calm her. "I have to do this."

"It's wrong." Abby countered, furiously. "You should tell Gibbs. He could make him stop."

"No." Ziva replied instantly. "Do not tell Gibbs or anyone about this. Abigail, you do not understand." She put her head in her hands. "I should never have gotten your involved in this." Ziva declared in a frustrated whisper. "I am sorry. I did not mean to mess this up so badly. I did not want to hurt you. I should never have allowed us to develop a relationship. It, I had an idea of how it would inevitably end and I should not have let it begin, but you cannot tell anyone. You have no idea of the danger you could be in if you do. I will not be able to protect you. My father is not a nice man."

"Let it-" Abby bit off what she was about to say as she echoed Ziva's words in disbelief. The flush of anger abruptly left her, color draining away from her cheeks as she paled. "Tell Gibbs." Abby repeated. "He can make this stop, Ziva."

"Not even Gibbs can control everything, Abigail," she said with resignation. "I know you are angry but you must promise not to tell him or anyone. It is for your own safety."

"For my safety?" Abby demanded. "Or for your cover? So that Daddy doesn't realize his little girl isn't so perfect."

Ziva let out a low, bitter chuckle. "If only that were the reason. Promise me, Abby." She stopped packing and cupped Abby's cheek with one hand, the other dropping to her waist to pull Abby close to her. "Please," she whispered the word, dropping her head to Abby's shoulder. "I have no right to ask, but please do this for me, if you ever believed that I loved you. If you ever loved me."

Abby sniffled, the sound loud in the quiet room. "Not fair, Z. It's not fair to ask me that."

"Fair or not, I do not care. I need you to be safe." Her hand slipped back into the silky darkness of Abby's hair, clenching around a handful of the thick strands.

Abby's arms came up around her and held onto her tightly. "This will make you safer too, right? Tell me the truth. Don't lie to me, Ziva."

"Yes," Ziva admitted quietly. "I will be safer, but Abby, if it were only that…"

Abby put two fingers over Ziva's lips. "I know." She closed her eyes tightly. "I hate this," she ground the words out through gritted teeth.

Her arms tightened painfully around Ziva but Ziva didn't complain or let go. If this would be the last time that she was held in Abby's arms she wanted to hang on to ever single moment of it.

When Ziva opened her eyes, Abby was gone, but then so was Tony and the apartment that she had so briefly shared with Abby. Instead, McGee was standing in front of her.

With the back of her hand, Ziva swiped at the tears that had spilled down her cheeks, hoping that he hadn't noticed. Finally she turned back toward him with her arms crossed over her chest.

"If he was not Tony, then you are not Timothy." She said it as flatly as she could, having no wish to show Tim, or whoever this was, how she really felt.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present." He hesitated. "Or if you continue to insist on being non-denominational, The Ghost of Screwed Up Situations Present." He shook his head. "It just doesn't seem to have the same ring to it, does it?"

"I do not care what you call yourself," Ziva snapped. "Simply do what you have come here to do, so that I can be done with this."

"Very well then." Tim said, with a slight frown, looking displeased with her. "I'll show you." He waved his hand, and Ziva followed the motion with her eyes.

Ziva didn't recognize the place this time, or, at first, the group of people. It was a living room, not small, but it was made to seem that way with the large group of people that filled it. Ziva identified at least three generations of people in the room, ranging from an older couple who looked to be in their sixties to a group of children that ranged from an infant to middle school aged. There was something familiar about many of them, in the way they moved and looked, but she couldn't quite place it, much to her chagrin.

The familiarity that itched at her was explained a moment later when another person entered the room. Abby's hair was pulled back in her usual pigtails, but she wore less makeup than she did at work. She looked almost too cheerful in the room's cozy lighting and she was mixing easily among the people. They responded to her casual touches on a shoulder, brief pecks on the cheek or half hugs with the slight distraction of familiarity.

This was what a family was supposed to look like, Ziva mused. It was messy and loud, full of motion and not a little bit of chaos, but it was also warm and welcoming, and Abby seemed to fit into it perfectly. This, Ziva realized, was where she had come from and where she ultimately belonged. It was also nothing that she could have ever given her.

"Why did you bring me here?" Ziva demanded, turning to Tim. "She is happy. I can see that she is better off without me. What else do you want me to see?"

But Tim shook his head. "If that's all you see, then you're still missing it. Look closer - at her," he added.

Ziva shifted her attention back to the scene before her, but not before first directing a glare at him.

A young man close to Abby's age or perhaps a little bit older through an arm over Abby's shoulder and pulled her in close to his side. "Whatcha doin' little sis?"

The back of Abby's hand thudded into his stomach. "Trying to walk across the room, you big Oaf." The drawl of an accent in her voice surprised Ziva. She had only ever caught hints of it before, but surrounded by her family the depth of it had returned in full force. She thought she might actually like it. It was rich and full of character, very much like Abby herself.

The man squeezed Abby's shoulders a little bit more tightly. "Mom and Dad are worried about you. Said you haven't been yourself since you got here."

Abby shrugged, rolling her shoulders to throw his embrace off of her. "I'm just tired. They were out of Caf-Pow at the gas station earlier."

"Hey," he nudged her with his elbow. "This is me, Mikey. Mom and Dad might buy that but you can't fool me. Tell me what's really wrong?"

For a moment Ziva could see Abby wavering. Her lip trembled and indecision warred over her features, then she straightened imperceptibly and the stubborn look that Ziva took was so familiar with slipped over her.

"Nothing." Abby said firmly. "Nothing's wrong." Despite her words, however, she pulled him into a tight hug. He hugged her back just as tightly, sensing that she needed it.

Abby's eyes were squeezed tightly shut as she melted into his embrace.

"It's okay if you can't tell me about it," Mikey said quietly into her ear. "But you know I'm here if you need me, right?"

"I know," Abby said, her voice sounding tight and strangled with emotion. She gave him one last squeeze and then let go, stepping back from him. "C''mon. Give me a hand. I brought presents. They're out in the car."

"This is now?" Ziva asked, turning back Tim. "You are showing me Abby celebrating Christmas with her family."

Tim nodded in the smug way that he had when he knew the answer that no one else had arrived at yet. "Celebrating without you - after she invited you to join them."

Abby missed her. In a way, it shouldn't have been a revelation and yet it was. After the way that she had treated Abby, first being forced to leave after Jenny's death and then a second time, leaving Abby to be with Michael, even if it hadn't been entirely voluntarily on her part, she had assumed that Abby wouldn't miss her when she was gone. She had assumed that the invitation to join her family for Christmas had been extended more out of pity than anything else. Abby was nothing if not generous and kind, but she did not wish to be anyone's charity project, not even Abby's.

"I should have said yes," Ziva whispered.

"Yes," Tim said succinctly. "You should have.

When Gibbs appeared it was almost expected. His silence was unnerving but also not unexpected. Tim - the real Timothy - had told her Tony had once called Gibbs a functional mute, and it was true. He never used two words when one would suffice, or even one when a grunt or nod of the head would do the job. At first his reticence had troubled Ziva, but she had grown used to it over the years and now appreciated the calm of his silences, the lack of the need to fill up the space between them with words. He understood her without needing a thousand justifications and explanations.

She also knew by now that like Timothy and Tony before him, this was not the real Gibbs.

"You are here to show me the future, yes?" Ziva asked him, when he said nothing.

This was Gibbs at his most inscrutable and intimidating, and instead of responding he merely held out a hand, index finger extended to point her in the right direction. There was something about him, the set of his mouth or the disapproval in his gaze that made her wish she didn't have to look. Everything in her screamed that this would not be pleasant.

She looked anyway.

Abby was lying in bed facedown, covers pulled up around her shoulders. Ziva recognized the inky black of her hair splayed out of over her pillow and caught the smallest glimpse of the spiderweb tattoo that adorned her neck. How many hours had she spent memorizing that pattern as she watched Abby sleep or tracing it with her tongue in a much more exciting moment? She would recognize it anywhere.

She was so focused on Abby and soaking in every detail of her that it took a moment for her to realize there was someone else in bed with Abby. For one heart stopping moment, she thought it might be her, but before the wonder of that possibility could explode inside her chest and send her heart racing, the figure on the bed shifted. Her moment of hope and excitement died a swift death as a hairy arm was flung over Abby's midsection and the person rolled onto their side enough for Ziva to catch a glimpse of close cropped hair and stubble.

Her heart, which a moment before had been prepared to beat out of her chest, sank like a stone. Knowing that they couldn't see her, Ziva took a step closer to the bed, unable to resist leaning over it to see if she recognized its other occupant. To her relief, she didn't. Somehow it was not better knowing who was sharing Abby's bed. It did not, however, mean that she liked seeing her with someone else any more than she had before.

When the man unexpectedly moved, rubbing at his eyes and sitting up in bed, the covers falling away from his shoulders and into his lap, Ziva jerked back instinctively, forgetting for just that moment that they couldn't see her.

He leaned over Abby, dropping a kiss onto the bare skin of her shoulder visible now that the covers had fallen away, and then tucked her hair behind her ear, brushing it out of the way so that he could see her face. The first thing Ziva noticed was the lack of the small smile that usually curved over Abby's lips even in her sleep. It was a minor detail, but one that felt important to her. If Abby was going to be with this man, with anyone other than her, then as much as Ziva might hate it, she wished to see Abby happy with him, not miserable. Of course, the absence of one small smile didn't mean that she was miserable…

"Happy Birthday, Baby." The man whispered as he snuggled closer to Abby, drawing her further into his embrace as he covered her face with kisses, urging her toward wakefulness.

Ziva's stomach rolled uncomfortably at the scene in front of her but she couldn't seem to turn away from it.

"Are you going to sleep the day away?" He asked, nuzzling into her hair.

Abby gave a grunt that sounded vaguely affirmative and Ziva couldn't help but smile at that. On weekends, deprived of caffeine and free of work, Abby could be remarkably hard to wake, clinging greedily to all of the sleep that she didn't get during the week due to the combination of working long hours and caffeine-induced insomnia.

He laughed too. "C'mon," he cajoled. "That's no way to spend your first birthday as a married woman. In bed, maybe," he said with a teasing grin, "But definitely not asleep."

That prompted a soft snort of laughter and Abby rolled over just enough to face him, reaching out for him without opening her eyes.

"She is married?" Ziva demanded indignantly. It was bad enough to see Abby with someone else, but knowing that she had loved them enough to marry them was worse.

But Gibbs did not answer her question, only stared back at her with a gaze that saw too much. Her hands clenched into fists at her side and only his resemblance to her Gibbs kept her from lashing out at him. The real Gibbs or no, she couldn't bring herself to betray his trust and strike him.

"I have seen enough!" Ziva declared, turning her back on the happy couple in bed, wondering against her will if Abby even thought of her still.

And how had she gotten so involved with a man that she had been willing to marry him all while Ziva remained so close to her at NCIS? Had she been so distant from Abby that she had been unaware of what was going on or had she no longer cared? Ziva couldn't imagine ever not caring about Abby. So much had happened between them, betrayals and failures and yet she still cared. She didn't see how that could change.

"Well, find it, McGoogle! I don't care what it takes."

Tony's voice startled her out of her thoughts and brought her attention back to the scene at hand. It was different than the previous scene and once again it was something she had never seen before, although the people and the place were familiar.

"It's not that easy, Tony. This isn't like last time!" Tim growled, rising out of his seat and actually taking an angery step toward Tony.

Tony responded by instantly rising out of his seat and meeting McGee in the middle, clearly just as irritated as Timothy.

"We shouldn't even be doing this. She isn't part of our team anymore. Vance will have a fit if he finds out and so will McKeon. He was her new team leader."

"You think I care about what McKeon thinks?" Tony countered. "She's my wife. I'm not going to just let her rot out there; I'm going to find out what happened to her and bring her back."

"Ex, Tony. Ex-wife," McGee corrected him flatly. "She made that pretty clear when she transferred to McKeon's team and then resigned."

"Tony is married, also?" Ziva asked, her brow furrowing. "Or rather, divorced, yes?"

But still Gibbs would not respond. He was taking it farther than his usual silences and it was beginning to be unnerving, especially in this familiar place that suddenly seem so very unfamiliar.

"But what does this have to do with me? Abby is married. I understand how that is relevant, although I am not sure why I would not have tried to stop it. But, this? Tony. I do not see how that is relevant." Gibbs only shook his head and gestured back toward McGee and Tony.

"Well, it wasn't exactly her idea to transfer to McKeon's team, was it?" Tony said, sounding bitter and sarcastic.

Tim's expression softened unexpectedly at Tony's words. "Tony," he said, with more gentleness than the Senior Field Agent deserved, "It's not your fault."

"Not my fault? Then who is to blame, McGee? It sure seemed like being married to me was the worst thing that ever happened to her. It was so bad she divorced me and after that she couldn't stand me at all. It got so bad that Gibbs – Gibbs, the one person always on her side - ¬ actually made us choose which one of us got to stay on the team, and she chose to leave. Then she hated it so much with McKeon that she bailed and tried to go back home. How is any of that not my fault?"

"Tony…" McGee tried again.

"What?" Tony taunted. "Can't think of anything to follow that up with, McGee? That's because I'm right!" He paused for a second, and then straightened his shoulders. "Now, since I'm right – as always – let's get back to it. We are going to find her."

"That won't be necessary, DiNozzo." Gibbs voice cut through the air from behind them.

Ziva whirled surprised that he had spoken and even more startled that they could hear him. It took her a moment to realize that it was a second Gibbs stalking past them.

"Uh, Boss," Tony immediately began to try and rectify whatever damage had been done by Gibbs overhearing them. "We were just trying-"

"I know what you were trying to do," Gibbs cut him off. "But I'm telling you it's not necessary." He stopped in front of Tony's desk, and for the first time Ziva noticed how weary he looked. "I know where she is. Got these from Mossad today. Their Director thought we should know." He looked down and away. "Or more likely he wanted to throw it in our face." He set a manila envelope down on Tony's desk, and waited for him to open it.

Slowly Tony picked it up and turned it over. His gaze never left Gibbs as he opened it and pulled out its contents.

"Damn it!" The photos dropped out of Tony's hand and spilled onto his desk. He refocused on Gibbs. "Are you sure this is real?"

Gibbs nodded, once, curtly. "I'm sure."

Tony shook his head and sank limply back into his chair. McGee rose and walked slowly over to Tony's desk. He blanched when he saw the photos.

Ziva stepped closer and realized they were staring at a photo of her. In it, she was sprawled out on a floor, unadorned concrete, it looked like, and lying completely still. Her body – what was visible of it – was covered in contusions, lacerations and bruises. What dominated the photo and drew her eye immediately was the bullet hole squarely in the center of her forehead. There was no way she could have survived it.

"So," Ziva said slowly, turning back to the Ghost behind her. "That is it, yes? That is how I die. It does not seem to be worth much or as if I accomplished anything. Did I even succeed on my mission?" She swallowed and shook her head. "It does not matter." She tilted her head toward the photos. "I will be dead." Ziva directly into Gibbs' eyes. They lacked his usual gentle amusement or knowing certainty, and were instead cold and empty. Ziva faced them without flinching. "I will change this," she declared. "I will."

His features did not shift in the least, and once again, he remained silent.

"It can be changed, can it not?" It wasn't a possibility that Ziva wanted to consider. Surely they would not be so cruel as to show her, her fate without giving her the chance to change it all once she seen it. "Tell me," Ziva said forcefully. "Answer me!"

She reached for him, lunging to catch his arm and force him to answer, whatever that would require, but there was nothing there when her fingers closed around where his arm should be and she lost her balance, falling forward into nothingness.

Ziva jerked up sharply when she hit something solid. It took her a moment to recognize the tightly woven strands under her fingers as carpeting and a moment longer to realize that she was in Tony's apartment lying face down on the floor in the space between Tony's couch and his coffee table.

She pushed herself up onto her knees and tucked her hair behind her ear, getting it out of her face. Wiping the sleep out of her eyes, she glanced blearily around the room. In front of her, the TV still let out its barely audible electronic hiss and the DVD logo bounced lazily across the screen. Turning her head as her memories began to return, Ziva caught sight of Tony sprawled out in the recliner next to the couch. His head lulled back against the seat cushion and his jaw hung open, emitting snores at intermittent intervals.

"Tony," Ziva called out sharply. "Wake up."

"Whazit?" Tony slurred the words together as he lurched into a sitting position and looked around groggily before he located her. "What are you doing on the floor?"

Ziva shook her head. "It does not matter. I have to leave."

He wrinkled his brow and ran his hand through disheveled hair. "I thought you were going to spend the night." He realized how that had sounded and quickly added, "In the guest room. Spend the night in the guest room. Christmas Eve, too late to drive home with lots of drunk drivers on the road and all that."

"No." Ziva said firmly. "I must leave now. I have to catch the next flight to New Orleans."

"What? Why? Did we catch a case? No," Tony dismissed that possibility immediately. "Gibbs would have called. There would have been more growling and me or Timmy would be going with you." His eyes narrowed. "Have you heard from your father recently, Ziva?"

"No," she denied it almost before the question was out of his mouth. When he still looked skeptical, she repeated it. "No. I have not spoken to him in some time – since I left Israel – other than an email to tell him about my resignation. This has nothing to do with my father or Mossad."

"Then what?" Tony asked. "You don't just wake up from a viewing a classic version of A Christmas Carol and demand to go to a city where you don't even know anyone on Christmas Eve. Getting a flight anywhere is practically impossible right now."

"I do not think that is any of your concern." Ziva said stiffly.

"You're my partner. That makes it my concern when you started acting strange. So tell me what's going on and maybe I can help."

Ziva remained stubbornly silent.

"Tell me or I'll tell Gibbs you're acting strange again."

Ziva's eyes narrowed, her expression shifting from stubborn to pissed off. Tony winced, but didn't take back his previous comment. He could be just as stubborn as she could.

"You would not believe me if I told you."

"Try me," Tony prompted her. "You might be surprised."

"What was that movie?" Ziva asked, tilting her head toward the television where the DVD logo still danced languidly across the screen.

Tony mock-gasped, holding a hand to his heart as if shocked. "The 1951 classic remake of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge starring Alastair Reynolds. Just the first part of your Christmas movie education," he waxed on fondly. "There are still so many more classics that we have to catch up on. I was thinking," he continued quickly, "Since you don't have anywhere to be for Christmas and I'm not going home for the holidays, we could make a movie marathon of it tomorrow and order Chinese. What do you say?"

It was obvious that he expected her to say yes, but Ziva had stopped paying attention to him after the first part of his explanation.

"Ziva?" Tony finally realized he had lost her, and snapped his fingers in front of her face to get her attention.

"What?" She demanded with a glare.

"Where did you go?"

"Not here," she said shortly. "Tony, I need to go to New Orleans. Will you help me find a flight? I must go as soon as possible."


"Very well then, I will do it myself," Ziva declared, not waiting for him to say anything else, and headed toward the door to let herself out.

"Wait, Ziva, why are you going to New-" Tony bit his own question off mid-sentence as the connection was made in his mind. "Abby," he breathed her name with sudden understanding. Then confusion returned. "But, wait, Ziva! Why?" He caught up with her two quick strides later and grabbed the door before she could shut it behind her. "Did you two have another fight?"

Ziva sighed, and he could see her weighing her desire for his help with her need to get to the task at hand. "Something like that, yes. Will you help me?"

He shook his head. Holiday travel was hell, and Christmas travel was even worse, but this was Ziva, his partner, and she was actually asking for help for a change. Hell or no hell, there was no way he could turn down a request like this, even if he did have no idea what was going on.

"Okay," he said firmly. "You go pack; I'll find you a flight and get you to the airport. Fair enough?"

There was a moment that he thought Ziva was going to plow on without him, but then she nodded her head. "Yes." She hesitated and then added, "Thank you, Tony."

He nodded back. "Yeah, just get going. I'll call you when I have something. Oh," he added as something occurred to him, "And you'd better clear it with Gibbs before you leave. There's no way I'm taking the heat if you leave without clearing it with him!"

Abby jerked straight up in bed at the sound of the loud ringtone in the silence of the house. She fumbled for her cell phone quickly, knowing as she did that she and her brother were the only ones still in the house who would could hear it. It wouldn't bother her parents in the least, but still Abby moved to silence it quickly. She held the now silent, but still ringing phone in her hand as she considered whether or not to answer it.

Even having not heard that particular ringtone in quite some time, Abby had still known immediately who it belonged to – Ziva. Why she would be calling at 1:42 AM in the very early morning hours of the day after Christmas, Abby had no idea. That was what made the decision for her. There was always the possibility that Ziva was calling about something important and case related and there was no way that Abby was going to miss that. Gibbs would be furious.

Just when she had finally decided to answer her phone, however, it stopped ringing and the flashing display announcing Ziva's named dimmed for a final time, returning to its previous dormant state.

Abby bit her lip and considered what to do next. She could call Ziva back. It was the right thing to do, especially if it was case related, and if it wasn't, well Abby wasn't sure how she felt about that since Ziva had turned down her invitation to spend the holidays with her family only a few days before. She wasn't sure exactly what she had been hoping for when she had asked Ziva, but it was something – anything – more than being flatly turned down.

She was just about to hit Ziva's number on speed dial when her phone vibrated in her hand, announcing a text. Quickly, Abby slid it open.

Come to the door.

Abby frowned, puzzled at the text. It was from Ziva, but she already knew that Abby wasn't in D.C. at the moment. And why was she outside Abby's apartment anyway? It just didn't make sense.

Not in DC. With my family in New Orleans, Abby texted back to her.

I know. Was Ziva's succinct reply a moment later.

It left Abby feeling even more confused than Ziva's original text. She started to say something, text her back for clarification when another incoming text shook her phone.

Come outside. Please.

It was the last word that caught Abby's attention and she quickly dropped her phone onto her bed and pulled on the fuzzy robe adorned with the cartoon likeness of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that her parents had given her hat morning, before snatching up her cell phone and sneaking on tip toe toward the front door.

Making sure it wouldn't lock behind her, Abby slipped outside and immediately winced when her bare feet came into contact with the ice-cold concrete of her parent's porch.

"Ziva?" She blurted her name out incredulously as she saw the figure standing halfway down the driveway. Ignoring her now-frozen feet, Abby fumbled her way down the steps and out into the yard, awkwardly stopping in front of her. She had to reach out and touch her just to prove to herself that this wasn't some figment of her imagination. "What are you doing here? Is everything okay?" The worst possibility occurred to her and Abby blanched. "Is it Tony? Or Timmy? Oh, God! Gibbs?"

"No," Ziva answered quickly. "It is no one. Everyone is fine, Abigail. I promise."

Abby sagged with relief, ignoring the use of her full name, too filled with relief at the moment to question it. "Oh, good." She whispered gratefully. The panic of that momentary thought was quickly replaced by her original uncertainty. "Then what are you doing here?"

It was hard to tell, given that the yard was only illuminated by a faint sliver of the moon and the streetlight out by the road, but Abby thought Ziva blushed faintly.

"You invited me to join your family for Christmas, yes?"

"You said no!" Abby countered.

"I changed my mind." Ziva said simply, and then reached for to take Abby's hand in both of her own. "I am sorry, Abigail. I should have said yes when you first asked me."

Abby tried to focus on what Ziva was saying around the feeling of warmth where both of Ziva's hands were wrapped around her own. "So what changed your mind?" She asked, tucking her free hand under her opposite arm to keep from shivering.

Ziva hesitated and Abby's heart sank. This was the reason their relationship had never developed further, not any lack of feelings between them. Abby knew she loved Ziva and she was fairly certain that Ziva loved her, but Ziva had always been willing to go only so far and no further. It had kept their relationship locked into place and unable to grow for years. Abby had understood the reasons for it before, but now that those reasons were gone, it was hard to understand Ziva's reticence unless she simply wasn't looking for the same thing that Abby was. Which was okay, Abby added to herself, but if that was the case, then she needed to distance herself before her heart got broken into any more little pieces over a certain former Mossad Officer.

"I missed you when you were gone, Abigail," Ziva began. "Very much, and when I thought of how much I missed you now, I realized I would miss you even more in the future. Eventually things would change. You would get married or perhaps I would. People change and move on, grow apart from one another. It is inevitable. But when I thought of that happening to us, I did not like it." Ziva admitted, and reached out to cup Abby's cheek with one hand. "I know that since I have returned to NCIS, I have treated you poorly, and I am sorry for that, but I would like a chance to make it up to you."

"That's why you came down here?" Something occurred to Abby and she bit her lip. "How did you even get down here, over Christmas?"

"Tony helped me to get a flight. I have been trying since last night, but this was the first one I could get a seat on," Ziva admitted.

Abby shook her head. "I still can't believe you just jumped on a plane and came down here."

"I am sorry," Ziva repeated, and then stopped. "No, actually I am not sorry. I wanted to tell you and show you how I felt without waiting for you to come home."

"How-" Abby cleared her throat. Her head was spinning and she was in no way ready for this conversation, still reeling from Ziva's sudden and entirely unexpected appearance. "How do you feel?"

Ziva stepped closer, the leather of her jacket creaking in the silent stillness of the cold night air.

"I know I have never told you directly before, and for that I am sorry, but I thought – I hoped that you knew regardless how I felt. I am sorry if you did not, but that is another thing I wished to change. Abigail, I love you."

"Huh." The snort of laughter that followed it was completely involuntary. Abby couldn't quite believe what she was hearing. It was the worried, almost terrified, look on Ziva's face that brought Abby back down to the moment at hand. "Are you sure?" Risking her heart again, after she had already been disappointed so many times, well it would be worth it if Ziva was certain, but she couldn't take getting her hopes raised one more time for nothing.

Ziva didn't seem to be offended at her question. "I know I have given you many reasons to doubt me in the past, Abigail, but I am very serious. It is the other reason that I came here – to show you that."

Abby shook her head and Ziva's heart sank. Then she laughed again and Ziva felt more confused than before. "Come inside with me?"

"Of course." She hefted her backpack a little bit higher on her shoulder and Abby noticed it for the first time.

"Is that everything?"

"I did not bring much; I was not certain you would want me to stay."

"I do…want you to stay, that is." Abby laced her fingers through Ziva's and tugged her toward the porch. "You can meet my parents in the morning and my brothers." Part of her waited for Ziva to balk, to stop walking and say no. That part was disappointed.

"I would like that very much. Will they be upset that I arrived unannounced?"

"No," Abby said quickly, although they would definitely be surprised. She would just have to explain it to them and make them understand if they had any problems with it. Ziva was worth it and she would make them see that.

She led Ziva through the darkened house, giggling when Ziva stubbed her toe as she went around the corner and let out a harshly whispered curse. Ziva shot her a baleful glance but remained silent until they had shut the door to Abby's room behind them.

There was an awkward moment when Ziva realized there was only one bed in the room and did not want to presume more than Abby was willing to grant, but it passed quickly when Abby grabbed her hand the moment she had dispense of the robe she was wearing and pulled Ziva toward the bed.

Abby sat down blindly and tugged Ziva forward until she was standing between her legs. Standing so close, Ziva couldn't resist sinking a hand into her hair and then leaning down to kiss her slowly. Abby's hands pushed her jacket off her shoulders and Ziva didn't resist, letting it fall to the floor behind them. Then Abby's hands were slipping underneath her t-shirt, cold fingers pressing against warm skin and raising the shirt over her head. Her wrists caught briefly in the sleeves and then slipped free.

Ziva moved forward, straddling Abby's hips and pushed her down onto the bed. With her arms around Ziva's shoulders, Abby pulled Ziva down with her. Ziva couldn't help the smile that tugged over her lips as she moved to kiss Abby again. This – here, in bed with Abby – was where she belonged and she had no intention of letting this slip away from her again, come what may.

The End

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