A/N: This is one I dug up on my old computer and decided to finish. I'm a little rusty, but I'll give it a whirl. It will be several chapters long. Most is already written, though, so don't fret.
Frankly, I'm appalled by the utter shortage of Ziva fics that I discovered when I decided to check back with this fandom. C'mon, guys! She's not dead! (My severity is directed more to the show runners than anybody else).
There was a memory, soft and warm, of praying beside her sister at the wall on a sunny Friday evening. They wore their dresses, hands clasped tight against their bellies. Her sister had been quite a bit shorter than she, and so as they leaned their bare foreheads up against the wall in the flurry of prayers that surrounded them, she had cracked one eye open to peer down at Talia – and Talia had peered back, smiling and gleeful and beautifully young. They had prayed in tandem, as they'd been taught.
"Qumi tze'i mitokh ha'hafeikhah," they sang. "Rav lakh shevet b'eimeq habakha, v'hu yahamol alayikh hemlah."
And Ziva would smile and try not to laugh as they pushed themselves from the wall and shuffled backward through the chairs to find their parents. Eli, always proud; her mother, always nervous, knowing that the girls should not have gone, knowing that Eli's authority had granted them access.
But Ziva never minded that.
They smiled when they sang.
The bomb went off on a Saturday night. That was a strategic move, she knew: with the close of Shabbat, the city's dwellers would be taking to the streets to pick up groceries, run their errands, maybe stop at the movie theater or a nice restaurant. Shop keepers would be rolling back the bars on their doors. Tourists would file out of hostels. The streets would come alive, if only briefly, in a quick and modest display of relief. Shabbat had ended – and that warm Saturday night, everyone had felt especially blessed.
And so they had left the bomb tucked near a gutter on Yafo street. Plenty of foot traffic, there; plenty of fodder.
Through the murk of the smoke and fire, as she arrived to respond to the tragedy, she could see the gleam of the dark plastic bags framing the edges of the street. A haze of ground bricks where the road had buckled up beneath the crowd drifted in the air among a blare of sirens and a throaty, lilting wail. She stepped through the rubble, taking it in, trying vehemently to ignore the smell of charred flesh. The night was warm and the street already felt haunted.
It occurred to her that this was very close to her mother's home – Yafo street, just south of the police station, not far from the market where she and her sister had gone to buy passion fruit smoothies in the summer when she was young. She thought of all the times she had passed through these walkways, had hurried down this street, had known these vendors and these neighbors, and thought herself lucky to have narrowly avoided a catastrophe that could have easily claimed her life.
The thought came around a moment later that this explosion was close to her home; and on its heels was the gnawingly dreadful realization that Tali had spent the weekend at their mother's home, and that she did not know where her sister was at that moment.
Later, she learned, her sister had gone to buy a smoothie on Yafo street.
Just south of the police station.
She left her mother in the care of her Aunt Netty and she tried to step outside of herself to deliver the news to her father and her brother, who had both been traveling abroad when it happened. She struggled to find her composure; left groping in the dark somewhere between her blinding grief and a stoic professionalism. When her father finally answered the phone she blurted, "Abba," and then realized with a flash of horror that she felt so very young. That her father made her small again.
She cleared her throat and quickly corrected herself: "Eli."
But he knew, of course he knew, and she was struggling to put it into words, and before she could finish delivering this terrible news, he was saying to her, weary, "I know, Ziva. I am on my way."
By happenstance, they were left alone together at the cemetery.
Blessings given, voices choked, eyes red, the funeral was over and nearly everyone had gone. She caught sight of her brother standing quietly on the fringes of the lawn, where he had been through it all, hanging back and watching with dark, heavy eyes. He regarded their father from afar. As she watched, he scrutinized the scene without batting an eye, his gaze calculating and oddly cool. Before she could stop to consider what he might be thinking, he was gone. He slinked back into the street like a snake.
Curious, she turned to look up at her father. She examined his face, that expression. She felt very much like she knew her father very well and doubted that he could hide his emotions from her. He had a skill for remaining detached in his professional world of war, but she'd been trained to read faces, too, and he was her father and she knew him and she thought that it would be enough to detect the grief he was feeling.
But as she looked, there was nothing. No tell. His eyes were dark, half-lidded. A beam of light from the street corner shone on the surface of his glasses and broke across their golden frame. He looked old to her, older than he'd ever seemed before. But she could see nothing beyond it. As if his heart had been plastered up behind a wall somewhere.
She pulled her shoulders in and straightened her back.
"What happens next?" She asked, already aware of what the answer would be, but wanting the simple reassurance of her father's voice and not knowing any other way to ask for it.
"There are officers out investigating this attack." He paused. When she said nothing, straining for more, he continued. "As we speak, they are examining the damage and sifting through the claims that have been made by local organizations. It seems every time a fire starts or a building collapses, there are a dozen men stepping up to take credit."
She felt her lip twitching upward.
"This was not a simple fire," she said. "It was deliberate."
"Yes. I know."
"Do you have a lead on who might be responsible?"
There was a pause. She held her hands together against her abdomen and looked out at the graves, realizing just how badly she wanted to find vengeance and thinking how strange it was that it had taken so long for her to realize it. When her father said nothing, she turned to peer up at him.
He swallowed thickly.
"This is not something for you to worry about, Ziva. We can discuss this tomorrow. Take this time to grieve. To collect yourself."
Anger and resentment flared suddenly within her, and she found herself balking. She crossed her arms tightly across her chest.
"I do not need to grieve, I am collected, and I want to know who is responsible for this."
"Then when? When it is too late for us to fight back? I am sick of waiting for others to solve these problems. She was my sister."
"And my daughter."
She wanted to cry, but that would come later. She knew she couldn't cry here in front of him, and her best coping method was to wound, to lash out, to hurt, and before she could think to hold herself back, she was hissing, "How can you say this? If you loved her, you would want someone to pay, you wouldn't be able to sleep or eat or speak, you would be out there looking for the people who killed her!"
He looked at her sharply and she bit her tongue so suddenly that it flared in pain and then promptly went numb; but the action was cathartic, her anger and outrage and disbelief and that overwhelming sense of loss leaving her so restless that she needed to lash, needed to bite.
She was wise enough to stop talking.
Her tongue began to ache.
After a moment, he looked away and began speaking.
"There is a great deal of dying here, Ziva. This is not the first family to be broken by war; not the first in Israel, not even the first on our street."
She hesitated. "And that justifies it?"
"No." He met her eyes. "That humbles it."
She swallowed thickly and turned to look across the lawn, the headstones studding the hills, glowing dimly in the low light of dusk. And Talia – somewhere far below.
She shook her head once, violently.
"I'm sorry. I don't care, right now, that people here are dying and people are suffering. I've just buried my sister. She is dead now, and there is no good reason for her to be gone, and I don't care about anyone else in this cemetery or anyone else out there on the street. This should not have happened. There is no justification."
He was quiet for a moment; when he spoke, it seemed almost as if he were speaking to himself.
"You will understand this someday, Ziva. The strongest steel is forged of the hottest fires…you will learn from this. Be forged by it. You will understand it, someday."
And she thought that her father, try as he might, would never understand that this atrocity, this wrongness, could not be justified and would not be undone. Would not be reduced to some metaphor; would not be humbled.
She watched him catalog the patterns of his grief, all the broken things. She was sharp enough to know that this would not be the end of it. And the man who was struggling so valiantly to wield a human heart beneath a world of pain was being pushed beyond his means to the quietude of the realist, the humility of the fallen; all the faults she could not yet understand.
Her mother was another matter altogether. When Talia died, her mother nearly fell to pieces, and in retrospect she might've guessed that it was just a turn of fate that her mother, too, would be dead within a couple of years, long after she'd lost the will to live.
Like a piece of glass, like crystal fractured, her mother nearly fell to pieces; she did not break, but ceased to shine, the surface of her marred with the spiderweb of cracks that grief had given her. She lived with the scars of Talia's death bared clear for all to see. In the first week, Eli went to her, but even that fell apart, the way things always do. And it fell to Ziva to care for her mother, to hold her as she wept, to feed her and to sit with her those long, quiet nights, when her mother would lay teary-eyed on the covers of her bed, staring at the darkness of the ceiling, hands wrung dry on a dark scarf.
Ziva watched as the throes of grief overcame her mother. Ziva watched, and, fearing what that fire would do to her, receded, stepped away, kindled anger but not grief. She hated that she felt so much like her father – hated to be hardened – but the things that grief had done to her mother made her fear the horrors that the world could inflict on a soft heart.
And so, bit by bit, she allowed her heart to harden.
A/N: Here's one that's actually kinda true - reviews can lower your blood pressure and prompt the release of endorphins...for me, of course, but maybe also for you. So if you need a pick-me-up (and I could certainly use one, or two, or three) then drop a review and make the world a happier place.
More chapters are on the way!