Ziva David found herself alone on the elevator as she traveled to Abby’s lab, able to relax for a few precious moments. She leaned back against the metal wall, smiling sadly. To think that her own father wouldn’t lift a finger to save her from a murder charge should have been easy for the Mossad officer. Yet things had changed during the year she had been assigned to NCIS.
For the first time in her life, Ziva trusted a non-family member, one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. And her trust had been well placed. Thanks to the timely return of Gibbs, she had been cleared of all charges, and caught a spy in the process.
The elevator doors opened, depositing the dark-haired woman in the outer hallway leading to the labs. Before she could take a step, Ziva heard the blast of hard-pulsing music. She smiled, shaking her head. The Israeli simply didn’t understand how Abigail Scuito wasn’t deaf.
“Abby?” Ziva searched for the Goth forensics specialist without success. Shrugging, Ziva walked over to the stereo, lowering the volume.
“Ah, Ziva.” Dr. Mallard strolled into the lab. “Have you seen Abigail?”
“No, Doctor, I haven’t.”
“How are you, my dear? I’m so glad that Anthony’s cabal wasn’t needed.”
“I’m fine, but what do you mean, Anthony’s cabal?” Ziva looked at the older man in puzzlement.
“Didn’t he tell you?” Ducky shook his head. “Of course not, he is not one to blow his own horn.”
“We’re talking about Tony? Tony DiNozzo?” Now she was certain Ducky was joking. “Tony is always boasting.”
“Ah, but not about the true talents he has, only about the superficial things, the things that distract the listener.”
Ziva shook her head. “I don’t understand, Ducky.”
“Tony has great loyalty to those he cares about.”
Abby came bounding in. “Duckman! Ziva! What are you guys talkin’ about?”
“Tony’s cabal,” the doctor replied.
Bouncing a bit, Abby grinned. “Yeah, that was sooo cool. Tony was totally in charge.”
“I still don’t understand. Tony formed a cabal, a group?”
“Sure,” Abby said, nodding her head vigorously. “And it could’ve gotten him in so deep with Madame Director.”
“Sit down, Ziva, and we will explain.” Mallard took pity on the young woman.
“Here, you can hold Bert.” Abby handed the stuffed hippopotamus to the Israeli, making him fart as she did so.
Gingerly, Ziva wrapped her arms around the gray animal. “Please do, Doctor.”
Abby plopped onto the floor and Ducky pulled another stool over to where the two women sat. He carefully looked around the doorway for possible eavesdroppers. “This still must be kept secret. If Director Sheppard found out, she could cause our young friend trouble.”
“Mum’s the word, Ducky,” Abby promised, gesturing across her lips as if sealing them.
“My dear,” he began, looking at Ziva. “When Agent Sacks appeared, Tony feared the worst.”
“After all, he’s the same scummy agent who tried to convict Tony of murder!” Abby exclaimed. “He’s worse than Agent Fornell when it comes to bringing bad news.”
“True. Tony and Timothy were already concerned about you before Agent Sacks arrived, but once he was informed of your situation, he was furious.”
“Especially when Madame Director ordered him to cooperate with the FBI and to tell Sacks if he heard from you.” Abby sniffed distainfully. “She’s such a…”
“Abigail,” Ducky warned.
“Sorry. And don’t call me Abigail, you know how I hate that,” she muttered.
Abby grinned, never one for keeping a grudge. “That’s no fun!”
“Yes, I imagine not.”
“Ducky? The story?” Ziva prompted.
“Tony called a meeting in autopsy. He was in the process of giving everyone an assignment when Abby revealed that you had contacted her.”
“It really was cool, Ziva. Tony was putting McGee on your computer and cellphone and,” she giggled, “he said even the toaster if it helped to find you. And Ducky was in charge of getting the report from the FBI so we could search for a way to prove your innocence.”
Ziva was stunned. “He did this? Who… who was involved?”
“Me, of course, Ducky, McGee, even Jimmy.”
“And he swore us to secrecy. No one was to know, especially the Director.”
“I didn’t want…” She didn’t know what to say. “Surely he realized what this could have done to his career? It’s why I didn’t want him involved. I only called Abby because I… I had to know Gibbs’ phone number.”
Ducky became serious. “He knew the risks, my dear. But he takes his responsibility seriously, both as team leader and friend. You are a member of his, or our, family. Families stick together, families care for its members.”
Ziva snorted. “Not all families.”
“Oh, Ziva, we don’t mean blood families, though it would be great if all of them were like mine. Ducky means the family you can choose. Us. You and me and Duckman and Tony and Tim and Jimmy and… and Gibbs, we’re all family.”
“As you would say, we’ve got your six and you’ve got ours.” Doctor Mallard smiled benignly at the befuddled woman.
The only sound in the room was a loud and long fart as Ziva squeezed Bert tightly. She struggled to hold back her tears. This was something else that was new in her life. During her childhood, she had been taught that emotions made you weak. “Thank you. I… can’t…”
Abby jumped from the floor and threw herself at the other woman, her hug tight and strangely comforting. Ziva realized that she had been wrong, she did have a family she could trust. Slowly, gingerly, the Israeli wrapped her arms around the other woman, Bert farting away as he was caught between their bodies. Ziva had finally found a place she belonged and it felt good. Strange, but good.