A/N: Another chapter! Thanks for the reviews, favorites, and follows. Y'all are pretty great.
When she was seven years old, Ziva and Ari discovered a series of steps in the old city of Akko that gave them access to the rooftops. Later, Ari would swear that the discovery was his alone – that she had wanted to linger in the streets chasing alleycats, and he'd found the steps, cobbled and worn, on his own. Ari would swear that she'd been a fickle girl. Unobservant. Ari would lie – about this and other memories.
They had ascended the steps on hands and knees and climbed up onto a concrete roof where the sun was unfiltered and the trash of irreverent tourists lay in rotting heaps. Ari had gone to pick through it, pocketing chicken bones and broken watches.
Ziva had gone immediately to the edge of the roof. She'd stood with her toes curled over the edge, arms thrust out. She'd gone to the edge just to scare her brother into thinking she might jump. He had sworn at her, and then laughed and done the same.
And they had run and played and lounged on the rooftops, burning their toes, earning scornful looks from old mothers far below. They traced the routes of Templars and pretended they were soldiers. On the corrugated lip of a bakery, they had found two Domari boys smoking cigarettes. They made friends, and played until the sun went down and the boys had to climb back to the street to bend their knees and pray.
Ziva and Ari remained, watching as the light disappeared into the west.
"I'm going to be a doctor," Ari told her when the night had grown so thick that she couldn't see his face anymore. "I want to leave this place."
Ziva bit her lip; wrung her hands.
"I'm going to be a ballerina," she had said.
Both of them had lied.
Their father had never known which of his elder children would make the better soldier; he had banked on both of them, and sometimes neither, but usually put his faith in one above the other and watched as they fought for his favor. He seemed to enjoy the sport of it. He seemed to enjoy their struggle, and maybe even convinced himself that it would turn them both into soldiers worthy of merit.
Halfway into her training with Mossad, Ziva's father had taken her aside with a special request: an important mission with the Americans in the Soviet Bloc, he had told her. Mossad was being asked to provide an officer, and she would be an excellent candidate.
She may have been pleased, may have been flattered, may have interpreted his candor as an affirmation of her skills – but she'd known her father far too well, even then, to pretend that this wasn't just another part of just another game.
And so when she'd gone to meet with the American liaison in a dim-lit office in Tel Aviv, she had not been surprised to find Ari there waiting there for her. Smiling.
Because her father had done it again: he had sent them both to fight for it.
Without preamble, Ari had made his case known to the American.
"Ziva is fickle," he argued, lacking tact and professionalism on a dangerous level. "She cares too much."
"I care for my country," she'd said, and turned to the liaison with a tight smile. "Where I come from, this is called loyalty."
He narrowed his eyes. "In America we call it patriotism, and it's a word that's rapidly losing integrity. We can't have an officer blinded by dutiful ideology groping around in the U.S.S.R. like a lost dog looking for a master. Your loyalty to anything other than your mission and your ally will make you weak." The American had waved as if to dismiss her entirely. "We'll take the man."
And that was that. She'd felt her blood boiling.
"He has other obligations," she blurted, almost scoffing.
Ari glanced at her coolly from the corner of his dark, sleepy eyes.
"Bevakashah, Ziva. You are making yourself look needy."
"Jesus," the diplomat sighed. He scrubbed his palm against his face. "Does Mossad train all of its officers to act like petulant children? Enough bickering. This is decided. Officer David, I'm sorry, but you can go home – Haswari, pack your things. Be sure to bring some turtlenecks. Chechnya is cold this time of year."
"Chechnya is always cold," Ari grinned, and Ziva resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
They had tried to regain their professionalism; sent the liaison off with a handshake, and then retreated back into the hall, where again they became children. Siblings fighting for favor.
"That was almost sad," Ari said to her.
"Atah nakhash ganev," she spat."And that was pathetic."
"You are such a gracious loser. You would not like the Caucasus, anyway. They are too cold for you."
"You have never been to the Caucasus!"
"I've been to Scotland," he said, and deadpanned. "It was cold."
She glanced at him, furrowing her brow and trying, suddenly, not to be amused.
"You know you haven't won yet," she said. "They are going to pick me."
He threw a glance over his shoulder.
"Have you not heard, Ziva? They already picked me."
And then, something strange: an explosion in the West Bank. Casualties. Something tragic. Ari had been forced to retreat very suddenly, and her father had called with the grave news that Ari's mother was dead – and then, with a low and deliberate voice, he had told Ziva that she should pack her things.
Because she would be taking Ari's place on his mission to Chechnya.
Ari was never the same. Their scramble for favor seemed to swiftly shrivel up; and she would tell herself that they were simply getting older, growing up, that it didn't matter anymore. That her father loved them both. That he saw their merit; knew that his children had become exceptional soldiers.
One day, in the middle of a mission, her father had called her into his office for a private discussion. Ari was in trouble, he'd told her. Something had happened in America.
He asked her, as a control officer, to resolve the situation; and, as a sister, to fetch her wayward brother. Bring him home.
But she had seen that conflict swimming in her father's eyes, and knew, even then, with a tremendous weight in her belly – that her brother was already gone.
A jolt, a puff of smoke, and it was over. She had never before felt the heat of the kickback on her hand; had never realized how heavy the gun actually felt, or how the smell caught in her lungs and made her hiccup.
She paid great attention to the gun. Tried to ignore the body in a quickly expanding pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs.
In a daze, she'd gone to him.
And she thought of that night on the roof in Akko, wishing that neither one of them had ever touched this world; wishing that he'd been a doctor, that she'd been a ballerina.
She prayed over the body of her brother.
"I am coming home, Abba."
There was a long pause on the other end. She hoped that he was glad, hoped in a way that almost made her sick that he believed that Ari would be coming home with her, absolved and alive. He couldn't be surprised by a death he had all but ordered, but she hoped that her father had loved his son, because that meant something, and she just hoped he'd be surprised. She hoped, and for a moment, it made her sick.
"Ari?" he asked.
She turned her eyes to the open hangar. The night was closing in around her; wet and cool with rain.
"Ari is dead," she fumbled over her tongue for a moment and then added a lilting "Abba" to the end of her sentence, hating the way it inflected, hating how small she felt. How her father and death could make her small.
There was a pause. She imagined him sinking nimbly down into his seat. Staring at a wall. Imagined grief on his face and realized with a soft jolt that they'd been here once before, she'd twice had the chance to tell her father that one of his children was dead and neither time had she seen it on his face; for he had always been a world away.
"How?" he asked.
She swallowed hard and almost bit her tongue. Gibbs' voice echoed in her mind.
Lie, she thought, and took comfort in the cold of the night.
"He tried to kill Agent Gibbs. He killed Agent Todd, Abba, he assassinated her and then tried to do the same to Gibbs," and then she leapt over the lie without missing a beat, "and he killed him in self-defense."
She tried to convince herself that the pause which followed was shorter than it felt. When her father spoke again, if he knew that she was lying, he did not let it show in his voice.
"Come home, Ziva. Bury your brother."
Lo emet v'lo shalom. And Ari was dead.
A/N: Building up to Jenny in the next chapter (Chechnya! Vodka! Gunfights!)
Anyway - psychologists have suspected for quite some time that there is a correlation between awesome summer vacations and plentiful reviews. Vacationers who fail to leave reviews for the stories they read report, on a whole, that their summer vacations pretty much sucked.
It's true. Even if it wasn't...would you want to take that risk?