In the fifth month of her transfer to NCIS, Ziva woke up wanting two things: 1) Kugel -- extra butter, light on the cinnamon, and 2) to watch her father put on Tefillin. The first craving wasn't that odd, really. Kugel was the pinnacle of Ashkenazic culture, clearly. Ziva had, once or twice as a child, gotten into a full-on fight with the kids in her neighborhood who thought blintzes were better. Blintzes. Honestly.
The second desire was weird, though, and discomfiting. For one thing, neither Ziva nor her father were that religious. The trick to being a Mossad officer was that you had to either reconcile all the commandments you were breaking and mitzvot you were ignoring, or you had to simply be comfortable with hypocrisy. The first involved a fair amount of not believing, which was easy, for the most part. The convenient thing about Judaism was that so long as Ziva stayed away from pork, shellfish and cheeseburgers, she could feel connected without having to put much of herself into it. If this was slightly easier to do in Israel, where nobody looked at her and saw anything but a Jew, well, Ziva didn't dwell on that. She had bigger concerns.
The last time Ziva could remember seeing her father put on Tefillin was when she was sixteen and Zeyda had died. He had said Kaddish, to the extent that he could, because evidently her father's filial piety went considerably further than what he felt for his children. Ziva pushed the thought aside and shoved herself out of bed. She closed her eyes in the shower and tried not to see strips of sheep hide being wrapped over fingers, the shin coming in to formation, the shel rosh resting gently, loosely, just below a hairline of dark brown. Ziva had her father's hair.
She scrubbed the shampoo in harder than was really necessary or pleasant and conjured up an image of Mitzi Gaynor, long legs and curly hair. She mumbled, "Gonna wash that man right out." Then, giving into her first impulse, she just sang the damn song. The acoustics in her bathroom were top shelf.
Ziva made cholent because it seemed slightly less imbalanced than finding a shul with men who had been going for fifty years, and sitting behind a wall, listening to the whisper of tallit being kissed and prayed over. She invited the team because other than McGee and Gibbs--who had good reason to trust her, yitgadol v'yitkadash--she wasn't making much headway, and everyone liked a woman who cooked and shared. She didn't invite Tony because Tony paid way too much attention to the things he shouldn't, and was better at noticing clues than he had any right to be.
Ducky brought a bottle of 2002 Yatir Merlot-Shiraz, which was thoughtful of him, even if opening it made her homesick. McGee brought flowers and then arranged them in a glass. She had never owned a vase in her life. She wasn't much interested in owning glass items if she could help it, they shattered far too easily.
Abby came, which took Ziva by surprise. What was more, she was dressed up. Ziva was learning to tell the difference, and her outfit was definitely a little something special. For one thing, her corset had ice-blue lacing on it. The lacing ran through the top of her knee-high stockings, as well. Ziva made sure not to get caught looking, which was not the same as not looking. It also wasn't as easy as it should have been. When Ziva didn't want to be noticed, she wasn't. Abby, though, seemed to feel Ziva's eyes like her fingers, and given some of the places Ziva's eyes kept wandering, that was...unfortunate.
Abby set a bag down on Ziva's kitchen counter and said, "I brought cannoli. Real cannoli," the way some people said "fuck you."
"Then we have dessert," Ziva said, and silently said todah over the fact that she'd never really kept the six-hours-after-fleishich before diving into the milchic law.
Jenny said, "You cooked for your team?" She raised her eyebrow in that expression which was neither smirk nor smile. Ziva didn't know the English word for it. She wasn't sure there was one.
"You catch more bees with honey," she said. Then, after a second, "Flies. You catch more flies with honey." She'd made a note of that one after Tony had taught her it. She liked that it made even less sense than most American idioms. The Dada-ist nature of it spoke to her life, at least for the moment.
Jenny considered her for a bit. Ziva pretended not to notice. It was a little difficult, with the MTAC screen showing nothing but colored bars--not exactly riveting--but she managed. Ziva was plenty good at not betraying what she was thinking. Finally, Jenny murmured, "They'll come around, Ziva."
"I know." She did, too. They were already coming around. But in the life of assassin, almost dead was not dead and the lessons she'd kept close to her chest her entire life were hard to simply let go. "There was too much for me to eat by myself."
Jenny smiled at that, just a quirk of her lips. "Next time, bring me leftovers."
The thing with Abby was that she was a hard read. With Gibbs, Ziva understood that he trusted her with his life, but not necessarily with much else of worth--and knowing what she knew about the man, she often had to wonder if he wasn't just slightly on the suicidal side, in a Death-By-Duty sort of way. With McGee, she recognized his respect of her skills and his slight awe of her as a member of the opposite--and mildly alien--sex. Tony, well, Tony appreciated her, both as a woman and as his coworker, and that was all she needed from him.
Abby was different. For one thing, Abby's dislike of her stemmed from the fact that Kate was dead and Ziva wasn't--something Ziva had no power over. To make matters worse, Abby's vehemence in her attitude toward Ziva was in direct opposition to the way she was with most people, so it was a little hard to know how to win her over, when most people hadn't even had to try. It was annoying to Ziva that she cared. Certainly, having Abby like her would be professionally useful, but that wasn't enough of a reason to mull the problem over, to get stuck on it day after day.
The worst part was, since Abby's admission that she didn't want Ziva dead, the tantalizing nearness of a possibly affable rapport was taunting Ziva. Having pulling out all of her best tricks--helping to organize the lab, home-cooked meal, attempt at thoughtful birthday present--Ziva decided that the only thing to do, really, was to try the direct approach. She made her way down to the lab as her day was ending. No cases had come in for a couple of days, and she was catching up on paperwork. She knew Abby was probably still busy, since she supported the building, not just their team, but everyone had to eat. She walked into the lab and said, "Good evening."
Abby didn't look away from her screens. "You guys get a case at this hour? That sucks."
"No. No case. I thought maybe you'd like a break. Get out of the building, have some coffee, maybe a bite to eat."
Abby did turn at that, focusing a fairly discomfiting look of scrutiny on Ziva. "Are you asking me on a date, Officer David?"
That had not actually been Ziva's intent, but now that Abby was asking, she could see that it certainly looked that way. Making a flash decision she nodded. "Yes. And I don't take rejection well."
"That a gun in your pants, Ziva?" Abby asked, a smile that Ziva hadn't yet learned to read on her face.
Ziva blinked. She had a knife on her, and a gun in her ankle holster. "Ah...no?"
Abby laughed, then. "I guess I could go for a coffee. You're buying."
Ziva refrained from rubbing at her forehead. "I asked, did I not?"
It was discomfiting to Ziva that she wasn't entirely sure how "coffee" became "dinner." She suspected it had something to do with the way Abby was eyeing her neck--she'd pulled her hair up--and the fact that she'd admitted, "I know she was your friend. I know."
And when Abby had said, "And you're there, in her place, like she never--" Ziva had said, "In the army, we had bunkmates. From the first day of our arrival, that person was below us or above us every night. My bunkmate's name was Tziporah, it means bird. Her family was from Latvia, her grandparents were survivors who had emigrated to Israel and gotten stuck in refugee camps after years in concentration camps. Every successive generation had Hebrew names that referenced freedom in some form.
"She liked British pop-rock, and hated that the army wouldn't let her dye her hair blue and really missed her chow-chow back at home. She was the closest friend I'd ever had, as many people find their bunkmates to be. We were assigned to the Jordan border, which is a position of less strife than most, considered to be easy, and I had the sense, even at the time, that my father had pulled strings, I just didn't want to think about it. One day I was on a supply run when a renegade Hamas needed to get past the border and decided to try and force his way out with explosives.
There were four dead at the scene. Tzitzi was one of them. Two nights later, I had a new bunkmate--we can't afford empty beds, to not replace the soldiers lost, you understand? But the new girl, she was quiet, very no-nonsense, a Bobover who had left her family and way of life behind to serve her country. I despised her, simply for breathing, for the better part of that year."
Abby seemed hesitant to ask, but she did anyway, and that was a trait Ziva could certainly appreciate. "What happened?"
"One of the girls who had started with me and Tzitzi took me outside of a bar on one of our nights off and beat some sense into me."
Abby blinked. "Really?"
"Batsheva is one of the few people I've ever met who hates conflict but has no problem with confrontation when needed. She teaches kids now. In the Golan."
"Wow, kickass." Abby nodded for a second. "So, did you and the new girl--"
"Ruth. I apologized and she said she understood."
"Is she-- Um."
"She's still in the army. A...life-long-- No, what do you call it? Something about--"
"Yes, a lifer. She's a strategist."
"It must be hard, having so many friends at risk all the time."
Ziva said, "The difference being, I grew up with that expectation." She looked straight at Abby.
Abby looked back at her for a long moment and then said, "You know, I'm kind of really hungry. You mind if I order something more than coffee?"
Ziva caught her breath at the implicit acceptance and said, "I think I'll join you."
Ziva was good at compartmentalizing. It was learn that skill or go crazy from doubts, from ending days with blood on her face, the smell of gunpowder in her nose, the sight of her brother's blood on the ground. It was maybe the easiest thing she'd ever done to simply have one Abby at work and have another who sometimes had brunch with her on Sundays, or called her late at night when Gibbs wasn't answering his phone and she needed a ride home.
And if on those nights Ziva stayed and patiently uncurled the complicated spirals that Abby had twisted her hair into, carefully unlaced the stays of her corset, pulled her into a nightgown and pushed her into bed, well, Ziva had been a sister once. She was good at that sort of thing. Even if, say, Abby sometimes drunkenly said things like, "You're nice, you and Gibbs, you act all scary, but you're just nice," and it made places Ziva had forgotten about in her chest hurt, well, she still knew that Abby was drunk.
Then Abby went and broke all their clearly unstated but agreed upon rules by showing up at Ziva's house at midnight, face painted with dark whorls of color, gemstones pasted to the corners of her eyes, along her lips, the lace of her dress more invitation than barrier, the clips of her garter belt on full display. She wasn't drunk. There was the faint scent of wine--red, dry, not what Ziva would have imagined--and the lavender soap that Abby kept around her house, in the bathroom, kitchen, but nothing more, and Abby's eyes were sharp, focused the way they became when the alarm on Major Mass Spec went off.
Ziva let her in and asked, "Is everything all right?"
"The music was too loud," Abby said. She stood in the entrance to Ziva's apartment looking unsure, like she hadn't been there before; she had, countless times.
Ziva wondered what qualified as too loud, given what she'd walked in on playing in Abby's lab. Softly, she asked, "Coffee?"
Abby blinked and then nodded. Ziva said, "C'mon," and took her hand, leading her into the kitchen. It wasn't so different from when Abby was drunk, except for how then Ziva just came and got her and had water at the ready and took her home. They were never here, and there was never any wait for a beverage to brew. Ziva left Abby in one of the chairs at her kitchen table and set to making the coffee. Abby asked, "Why are you doing this?"
Ziva pulled two coffee mugs from her cabinet and asked, "This?"
"Letting me in, taking care of me?"
"Maybe I'm just nice," Ziva told her.
Abby went still in that way she did when hurt, quiet and wrong. "Yeah, maybe."
Ziva looked at the coffee maker, told herself not to turn around, not to look at Abby, that Abby would get back all her defenses momentarily, and then everything would be fine. Abby said, "Listen," and she was a lot closer than Ziva had thought, even in her high-heeled platform boots, even though she should never have been able to get even a step closer. Ziva turned and Abby started to say, "I should probably just--"
Ziva went to her tiptoes and told Abby, "Maybe not," before pressing her lips to Abby's, the roughness of the gemstones cutting into hers.
Abby was trying to talk, Ziva could tell, but she wasn't pushing her away, and that was what mattered. Sure, Ziva could kill Abby without leaving a mark, but she wasn't holding her down, in place. Abby was more than capable of shoving her off, of taking a step back. She was doing neither. She was pulling the cami Ziva had been wearing when she came to the door over Ziva's head, breaking the kiss just long enough to get it off.
Ziva was trained to notice everything, and while it was a useful skill to have in general, it was never more pleasurable than during sex. Even the things that hurt--the edge of the table scraping the back of her legs when Abby finally got her pants off and turned them around, hoisting Ziva atop it--were good, part of the experience, and although Ziva actually liked things a little more gentle than her reputation probably suggested, she didn't mind a bit of mess, the dull edge of a set of teeth.
Abby clearly liked to touch and taste, the curiosity that drove her professionally obviously a through and through personality trait. Ziva wasn't complaining. Abby's hands were warm and knowing as they spread her legs, and at the touch of Abby's tongue--sliding upward, a slow progression to press against Ziva's clit--Ziva gasped, "Ken, Abby, bevak'sha."
Whether Abby knew Ziva was begging or not, she didn't stop, not even when Ziva tugged at one of her carefully styled curls and arched up into her mouth, not until Ziva was taut and swallowing cries and coming harder than she had since her first good sexual experience when she was twenty-three. Her fingers felt loose, disconnected when she wanted to get to Abby, pull the ribbons that held her lace and silk cocoon together. Abby, ever helpful, took Ziva's fingers in hers, the two of them managing together.
Ziva had undressed Abby before, she knew of the black-tinted metal that peeked out from each nipple, the sweeping lines and shadow of art over her right hipbone, the fine lines of green and blue over the other. She could control all her extremeties again by the time she excavated Abby's feet from her boots, the lacy stockings clipped into the garter belt. Abby was sitting on a chair as Ziva managed the feat, but then Ziva ushered her to her feet, nothing but the belt and stockings remaining, and Ziva liked it that way. The makeup on Abby's face was ruined, smeared and lightened and perfect.
Ziva took one last look and stepped into Abby's space, sliding two fingers inside her without so much as a warning. Abby didn't need it. She whimpered and Ziva closed in, kissing down the sound, swallowing it for her own. Her thumb found the ring of metal she was mostly expecting and angled it down slightly so that it would provide just the right amount of friction. Abby made sweet, desperate sounds into her mouth, and Ziva thought, Ken, setem choch.
She added a third finger and arced them into Abby, right at her g-spot in what was probably a bit too much pressure, but she thought Abby would probably appreciate that. Against her other hand, Abby's entire body was vibrating. Ziva worked the peircing a bit more, her tongue mimicking the rhythmic motion of her fingers. Abby stopped breathing for a second before the orgasm hit. Ziva smiled against her lips.
It took a while to peel Abby off her kitchen floor, where she pretty much immediately crumpled, bringing Ziva with her, the two of them kissing slow and lazy and maybe just a little bit sweet. Ziva managed, though, and pulled them both into a shower, where she took her time uncovering Abby beneath the makeup, removing the gems, one by one, making it so that it was just the two of them and the apartment, no shadowy figures of parties that were too loud, places that made Abby's eyes go dark and unsure.
Abby cleaned Ziva as well, hands sudsing in the Ahava scrub that made Ziva feel less homesick, even if she never used it when in Israel. Abby said soflty, "Your skin's so clean. No signs. Nothing to tell on you."
"Jewish law," Ziva told her, and started laughing, because of all the stupid ones to keep.
Abby kissed her again, tasting a little bit of soap, but mostly of salt, and that made sense to Ziva. Tears were salty. Then again, so was kashered meat. She shook the thought away. Abby turned to set the scrub bottle on the caddy, and Ziva touched her fingers to Abby's cross. "How do you-- You're Catholic."
It wasn't a question, not as she'd intended it, but Abby seemed to understand. She rinsed Ziva slowly and explained, "My mom's deaf."
"Yes, you and Gibbs. I've seen you sign."
Abby nodded. "When I was a kid, I used to think-- I didn't understand why G-d would take music and the sound of crickets and all this stuff that I loved from my mom. I thought maybe it was a punishment, but that didn't make sense, because my mom was a really good person, you know? And you weren't supposed to be punished if you were good. So I asked my mom, why G-d had made her wrong."
"Oh," Ziva said, wincing.
Abby smiled. "My mom understood. She told me that G-d didn't make her wrong, He just made her special. He made all of us special in our own ways, because He loved us so much, He wanted to make sure He knew every single one of us from each other, so He could find us, if He needed us." Abby shrugged. "I've always listened to my mom more than most people, so when I started looking at girls, well. I just figured G-d made me special."
"Understatement," Ziva murmured. She hadn't meant to say it aloud, but when she saw the way Abby's eyes curved up, pleased at the sentiment, she didn't mind so much that she had.
Abby was still asleep when Ziva slipped from the bed for her morning run. She showered upon returning and when she got out, she could smell coffee brewing. She threw on some clothes and went to find Abby in the kitchen. Abby smiled brightly, a little too brightly, the kind of smile she smiled when it was all she had and she was going to make it work. She said, "Found your frozen bagels. And the cream cheese and lox. You keep lox in your house."
Ziva knew this. "Protein," she said and left it at that. She gave Abby a good morning kiss, mostly to get rid of the smile--it was unnerving. The toaster dinged and she grabbed a couple of plates and a knife. Once they were seated, each putting together a bagel, Ziva asked, "Would you like a ride in?"
"Tony's eyes will never go back to being in his head," Abby said.
Ziva said, "It'll do him good."
It took two days for Gibbs to catch on. Ziva knew, because on the second morning he got her alone in an interrogation room and asked, calmly, "You know they'll never find your body if you hurt her? Not even your Mossad friends?"
"Fair enough," Ziva told him, and didn't let on that she was maybe freaking the hell out. It had only been two days. And Abby hadn't even spent the night last night--she'd had some kind of Game Night planned.
Gibbs smiled then--not his reassuring smile, his 'I like human liver for lunch' smile--and left the room.
Saturday morning Ziva got up and put on a skirt and drove about ten miles to a nearby synagogue. Her grandfather had been Orthodox--where her father had learned his skill with the tefillin--and not even the Nazis and their camps had been able to take that from him. The few memories Ziva had of regularly going to shul involved hearing old men but not seeing them, women wrapped up even in the heat, gossiping and laughing, and Ziva wishing she were old enough to understand their jokes.
This synagogue was worlds away, not only in miles, but in philosophy. There was a woman rabbi, which was why Ziva had chosen it. She knew she counted to G-d--if she didn't, why be concerned about any of her actions?--but it was reassuring to count to her fellow congregants, like she could figure out what it meant to count to G-d, if only she counted to the person whose hand she shook as she walked in the door.
She stood as they said the mourner's kaddish, slow and toneless, separated by the depth of a chant from kaddish shalem, kaddish derabanan. The words made her lips dry, her chest ached with them. She was neither Ari's child nor his parent, but she stood side-by-side with people who mourned for those they'd never even met, and if what Ari said was true, she didn't owe her father the respect of asking permission. Still, saying the words was harder, even, than pulling off Abby's last sock at night, maybe harder than the moments she released her knife, knowing it would hit its intended target.
Afterward she drank too-sweet wine that reminded her of Passovers at her grandfather's house and took a piece of challah and watched people let their children run around, couples kiss and wish each other shabbat shalom. There were same-sex couples, men and men, women and women, some with children. She hadn't known that there would be when she'd chosen the synagogue, but it helped parts of her that didn't want to settle to at least calm.
She had her tennis shoes in the car. She changed into them and ran the ten miles back to her house. Abby met her at the door, took one look at her and said, "The only reason I'm forgiving you for scaring the fucking shit out of me is because you look worse than I do at this moment."
Abby's hair was completely undone, flat on one side, flying out to the other. She didn't have any makeup on, and she could barely stand still. Ziva stepped toward her, murmuring, "Sleicha, sleicha."
Abby laughed, slightly off-pitch, relief pouring off her. "I don't even know what the fuck that means."
Ziva kissed her. Abby said, "Yeah, okay. That one I know."
Three weeks after Abby's impromptu stayover, she said to Ziva, "Come to one of my parties," but it wasn't a demand, just a hope.
Ziva's lips quirked upward of their own volition and she asked, "Do you think I'll fit in?"
Abby smiled at that. "Of course not, silly. That's the point. None of us do."
The evening of the party, Ziva came home and showered before putting on a green sundress with ribbons that tied below her breasts and atop her hips. She drew her hair up on her head and pinned it into place without making it precisely neat. She painted her lips and her eyes a golden hue and then padded to her kitchen.
She boiled the water for the eggs noodles while beating the butter, cottage cheese, Israeli white cheese, eggs, vanilla and sugar together. In another bowl she crushed some cornflakes and mixed in the cinnamon and sugar. Once the noodles had softened enough, she combined them with the wet ingredients before sprinkling the dry ones atop everything and pushing the dish into the oven.
Abby let herself in and said, "Wow, something smells almost as edible as you look."
"Smooth," Ziva said dryly, and pretended like something in her chest hadn't fluttered.
Abby laughed. "No, really, that smells amazing. What are we having?"
"Kugel," Ziva said.
"Because we need comfort?" Abby asked, her head cocked to the side.
Because it's Friday night. Because I haven't bought candles since I came here. Because I'm welcoming malava malka and I think you would too, if I explained. "Something like that."
Abby frowned. "I am a scientist, Ziva David. I like facts." Then she got close enough to poke at Ziva. "Explain! Explain!"
When Ziva stopped laughing, she actually gave it a shot.