DISCLAIMER: All characters and situations to belong to a bunch of different people and companies who are not me. Also I'm making no money off this.
WARNING: This fic contains a very not-nice racial slur.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To procrastinatingsith[at]gmail.com
X is for Xenophobia
"God damn towelhead." It was said in a low mutter - but one that was meant to carry.
Ziva tensed and raised her eyes to glare back at the man. Abby had been the one who had wanted to stop here. She needed a Caf-Pow fix and it was the only convenience store for fifteen miles. Ziva had had her doubts, but Abby had assured her it would be fine. She had gone in there a million times growing up. Ziva did not doubt that.
She eyed him considerately for a moment and then decided he wasn't worth it. She turned her back to him deliberately and walked away.
"Your ears stopped up too?"
Ziva heard the creak of the bathroom door. Abby was almost done. She could just pay and they could go.
"Hey, towelhead, I'm talking to you."
Ziva winced as she saw Abby freeze, coming down the aisle toward her. Then her face turned bright red and Abby was no longer walking down the aisle, she was storming down it.
"Abigail," Ziva said, quickly cutting in front of her before she could reach the counter. "Do not do this. He is an idiot." She rolled her eyes. "He cannot even be properly racist - if such a thing exists."
Abby grunted. "It's not funny."
"No, it is not," Ziva said in a low voice. "But it is not anything I have not heard before. Let us go. I do not wish to waste our time on an idiot like him."
"Fine," Abby said flatly, taking a step back, even as she gave him a furious glare that would have terrified a smarter man - or one who knew her better.
It was a short, silent walk out to the truck, where Ziva held out her hand for Abby's keys. Abby crossed her arms over her chest.
"I can't even drive now?"
"Not until you have had a chance to calm down."
"Fine," Abby huffed, plopping the keys down in Ziva's outstretched hand and stalked over to the passenger side.
Ziva let out a small sigh before she got in as well. She drove in silence for a moment, leaning forward to pass one slow moving truck after slower-moving car after another. She let the silence linger for a moment longer before she glanced over at Abby.
"I am fine, Abigail." She smiled and tried to make a joke. "I have been called much worse. He was just an idiot."
"He was more than an idiot," Abby said sharply, as she finally glanced up at Ziva. "He was an asshole. You should have let me-"
"What? Start an argument that you could not possibly win? A man like him will never change his mind."
"I could have done...something," Abby protested. "You should have let me. This is my home - where I grew up. I didn't bring you here to be insulted by some-"
"Abigail," Ziva cut her off before she could really get started. "It is okay." She reached over and laid her hand on Abby's knee, finding bare skin below the edge of Abby's short skirt. "You do not have to worry about me. One rude word will not break me," Ziva said, as she turned off the main road and pulled down the short driveway, throwing the truck into park.
Abby glanced down. "At least let me say something to Mike."
"Your brother? What can he do?" Ziva asked, confused.
"Tell everyone in the family for starters," Abby said.
"And what will that accomplish?"
"There's a lot of us - aunts and uncles and cousins - if we all stop going in his store, well it's a small town. It'll hurt."
Ziva snorted and leaned closer, raising her hand to cup. "You are sweet, but it is not necessary. Do not worry about it."
Abby stiffened. "You keep saying that! But I do worry. Don't you get it?"
When Ziva stared blankly, Abby threw open her door and slid out, slamming the door behind her - hard - and left Ziva staring after her.
For a day that had gotten off to such a promising start, it had gone wrong so quickly. Worst of all, Abby was mad at her now.
Ziva was leaning against the side of Abby's truck when Mike stepped out on the porch. He weighed nearly three hundred pounds. Most of it by Ziva's estimation was muscle. She wondered if he was angry with her now as well. It would simply be proceeding further in the direction that her day was already going.
He walked up to her and then pivoted to lean up against the truck next to her. It moved as he sank back against it. Without moving her head, Ziva glanced over at him, intent on any flicker of motion that would telegraph a coming blow. It was habit.
"Abby seems pretty pissed."
Ziva sighed. "Someone was very rude when we stopped at the convenience store. Abigail was upset."
Mike nodded, folding his arms over his chest in a move that was disconcertingly like his sister, but as a gesture was far more intimidating. He squinted over at her. "Doesn't explain why she's pissed off at you though."
"I wish that I knew," Ziva said, with more heat than she had intended to. "I was the one that he insulted. It was not a big deal. I have been called far worse things than what he called me by people who's opinion I valued much more than that man's. It was nothing."
"Ah. There's your problem," Mike said. "It wasn't nothing to Abby."
Ziva furrowed her brow. "But it was just an insult."
"An insult to the woman she loves."
Unexpectedly Ziva felt her cheeks flush. She couldn't remember the last time she had blushed. "I, yes, but..."
Mike laughed. "Surely you've noticed how protective she is of the people she loves?"
"Well, yes. McGee. She worries very much every time he goes out in the field."
"And I'd be willing to bet she worries even more when you do the same."
"She has never said-"
He laid one massive hand on her shoulder. "Trust me."
She nodded, deflating slightly - not at his gesture, but at what he had said. He had given her much to think on. "So Abby is mad at me because...I would not let her be angry on my behalf?"
"Something like that," Mike agreed.
Ziva sighed. "Sometimes I do not understand her at all."
Mike's eyes narrowed and he pushed away from the truck. Ziva tensed.
"Maybe so. Maybe not. But I do know one thing - if you didn't understand her at least some, she wouldn't have brought you back here. You're the first person she's brought home in all these years."
"Ah..." Ziva wasn't quite sure what to say to that either. "I am honored. I did not realize it was that big of a deal for her. I mean, yes, I knew she wanted me to meet her family. I was - I am - no one has ever wanted me to meet their parents before. I am not that kind of person, but Abby is special. I thought surely there had been others before me."
Mike shrugged. "How much has she told you about growing up here?"
Ziva smiled at the thought. "Some. How much she loved it here. About her coon dog and growing up in the bayou. She loves the people and the culture here."
"All that," Mike agreed. "But there was more. Abby loves the people, yeah. But not everyone was so accepting." He gave his shoulders a little roll. "With two deaf parents you hear things - a lot. Things they don't hear. Oh, they catch the looks and they know good enough what people are saying - and who's saying it. But it's different hearing it. And me and Abby - we heard the most of it."
Ziva's lips pressed into a thin line. "People can be very cruel."
Mike nodded. "That they can. Abby was always so sensitive to it. It didn't just make her mad; it really hurt her. But there was only so much she could do. She had a lot of determination, but back then she was just one kid."
Ziva cast a speculative eye at him. "People did not say so many things in your hearing once you got older."
Mike gave her a slow smile. "You got that right."
"So hearing this man call me that name - it reminded Abby of all these things that she hated and could do nothing about."
Ziva sighed. "And then I told her not to worry about it."
Mike winced. "How about you tell me just who did the name-calling?"
Ziva arched an eyebrow. The last thing she needed was to pull another Sciuto off the convenience store clerk today - especially since she wasn't sure she would have as much luck with Mike as she had with Abby. Not without seriously injuring or killing him and as Abby's brother, that was not an option. "Why?"
"'Cause I just heard my truck start up in back and pull out that way. The tires squealed. It's sure as hell not Mama driving like that. If Abby's pissed off and going somewhere like that, it's probably to give him a piece of her mind. It'd be best if we catch up with her."
Ziva set her jaw. "I will drive."
Ziva saw the other pickup truck out front when they got there. The truck's engine was still running - even though no one was inside - and the front door was thrown open.
Ziva threw the truck into park none to gently and was out the door in an instant. Mike was only a step behind her, surprisingly quick for such a big man.
"You always drive like that?" he asked, in an aside.
Ziva bared her teeth in what could have been a smile in another time and place. "Every day."
"Damn," he whistled under his breath, and then followed her into the store.
Abby was standing in front of the counter, having just stomped her foot and was loudly and concisely telling the clerk off. He started to come out from behind the counter just as Mike walked in and froze.
"Mike? What you doing here, man?"
Mike smiled and walked over to Abby, who was glaring at he and Ziva both, and threw an arm over her shoulder. "Well, Dave," Mike said. "I heard you were giving my sister and her girlfriend a hard time and I should come tell you what a damn fool you were being before my little sister here fed you to the alligators." He said it so matter-of-factly that Dave just blinked - several times.
"Now, see here, Mike-"
But Mike just shook his head. "You just go on and apologize. Because you're not gonna like what happens if you say something I don't like."
"Mike," Ziva said stepping forward quickly. She did not want this to get out of hand. That was what they had come to prevent after all.
But he just laid his hand on her shoulder gently.
Dave stared at him. "You're just gonna let her talk to you like that?"
Mike took another step forward. "Yeah. Got a problem with that?" He loomed over Dave.
"Ah, no, man. No, I was just, well, you know."
"No, can't say as I do," Mike said shortly. "Now how about you apologize. Now." It wasn't a question - or a request.
Dave gritted his teeth and finally glanced over at Abby. "Sorry."
It was the most un-grateful apology Abby had ever heard, but she nodded toward Ziva anyway. "I'm not the one you owe the apology too anyway, you-" Mike's hand clamped over her mouth.
"You heard her," he said bluntly.
Dave looked like he'd rather chew glass. He couldn't quite make himself look directly at Ziva, more like the display behind her. "Sorry." It managed to sound more unconvincing than before.
"I accept your apology," Ziva said as gracefully as she could manage. She glanced at Abby and Mike; she was tired of being here with this ridiculous man. "Can we go now?"
Mike shot Dave one more look, then nodded. "Yeah, I think we can." He looked between them for a moment and smiled. "I'll just take my truck back." He tapped Abby on the shoulder with one fist. "See you back at the house, little sis."
Abby punched him back in the shoulder with far more force than he had used. "You ruined my fun."
Mike just shook his head. "Just go put your girl out of her misery." He didn't look surprised when Abby flung her arms around him in a tight hug, picking her up and squeezing her back just as hard.
Ziva was already back in the truck when he put her down.
"Thank you," Abby said, really meaning it.
Mike just nodded and watched her go. He let out a snort and then started back toward his own truck.
"Turn off here," Abby said quietly, the heel of her boot tapping out a rapid jig against the truck's floorboard.
"That is not the way back to your mother's," Ziva noted.
"I know," Abby said softly. "I wanted to show you something."
Ziva relaxed slightly, and sank back into the driver's seat. She followed the road until the dirt ran out. Abby hopped out when she stopped, but this time turned and held out a hand out to Ziva.
With a smile, Ziva slid across the seat and took it, content to follow wherever Abby led. Which turned out to be a small, wooded clearing that bordered a lazily moving strip of dark water.
"This is where I used to come when I was mad and needed a chance to cool down - think."
"It is beautiful," Ziva said gently, uncertain what Abby wanted from her.
Abby turned and took her other hand then too. She sniffed her nose red, and looking like she was about to cry. "I'm sorry I got mad at you earlier. It wasn't... I was just..."
"It is okay," Ziva said quickly, rushing to stop Abby before she could start crying. She didn't think she could bear that. "Michael told me some things."
"Oh," Abby said softly. "I'm still sorry."
"I wanted this trip to be perfect."
"It still can be," Ziva said. She smiled. "I like your brother very much." She loved the way Abby's face lit up when she said that even more. "It does not matter to me what fools like that man say," Ziva said abruptly. "But I do care very much what you think of me."
"Ziva," Abby started quickly and then just shook her head. She didn't know how to say everything she felt. There was so much. She settled for the simplest, the best. "I love you. I think you're one of the most amazing people that I've ever met. And I hate it when people hurt you."
Ziva nodded. "I understand that. I am sorry that I did not early. Truly it was not such a big deal, Abigail."
"It was to me." Abby sighed. "It's not worth us fighting about."
"Indeed," Ziva agreed.
"We should kiss and makeup," Abby declared.
Ziva grinned - and complied.
It was not the worst way to end a day that could have been very bad indeed.
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