2014 update and A/N: This begins after Judgment Day, at the end of Season 5. (Was that almost six years ago now? What world is this?) So the obvious implication being that it does not take into account any canon that occurs after that point - which is one thing that sucked about going back and editing this (I mean, five+ years is a long time), because it was hard to "unlearn" things. But it was also fun, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. So that's really all there is to be said about that.
He may have set a new record.
(Not that she was keeping track. But she was.)
It had only taken him two days (and nine hours, eighteen minutes) to lose his patience and send an escort to collect her. Two days in Tel Aviv. That's all she was given.
Now she was back home (her stomach gave a weird twist at the thought), mind and heart still reeling from all that had happened in Washington. Now she was rudely dismissing the strangely eager "escort" standing at the door of her new (old?) apartment, because two days was not long enough, and fuck him.
Hadn't her phone call at the airport been enough? Didn't they already play the father-daughter pleasantries game?
All she had wanted was some time to reacquaint herself with the time change, the heat, the checkpoints – everything. She had not stayed in Israel for more than a few short trips since liaising with NCIS (another stomach twist), and the Mossad lifestyle was not one to take lightly.
But he'd given her a direct order (and she was good at that, if nothing else), and he spared her two days to climb back into her shed skin.
She began the walk to headquarters, hiding behind her sunglasses and letting the practiced steely façade fall into place. She would tell him that she wanted to see the streets, immerse herself in the atmosphere, remember. But that would be a lie.
She had only wanted to delay, to walk off the dread that weighed her down, slowed her step. She did not want to see him, not yet.
But before that, it had been three years – three whole years – since she had actually seen him. The video conferences and the sparse phone calls did not count, because that was always (she made sure of it) professional. Necessary. Director. Officer David.
Here, on his home turf, it was much harder to predict what he would say or how he would react to her presence.
He knew about her role as protection detail to Director Shepard, she could tell that much from his tone during their brief phone conversation at the airport. But did he know the details of her failure? Would he want to? Was calling her in so quickly some form of punishment? Some subtle I told you so?
Jen would know, but Jen was gone, and that was her mistake.
(And they taught her all about mistakes in Mossad.)
So she sat stiffly in his office, back straight against the chair, feet crossed underneath. Determined not to betray her agitation to her father, she kept her expression stoic. Only the sweaty palms of her neatly folded hands gave away that she was suffering from nerves, a habit she had not missed. He was one of two people in the world that could read her flawlessly, and she did not want to give him the satisfaction.
(Two days, for fuck's sake.)
The door opened behind her, and in strode her father without hesitation. Immediately she stood up, hands remaining limp at her side as he greeted her with a kiss on each cheek. His eyes pierced hers, and the breath she was holding did not release.
"Ziva," he greeted, nothing more than a statement.
"Director," she returned, in English, ignoring the odd look he gave her.
He took a seat behind his desk, gesturing with a casual wave of the hand that she could retake hers as well.
"I take it everything was in order at your apartment?" he prompted, gazing at her with a hint of curiosity.
She nodded smoothly, hoping to leave it at that. Small talk would do nothing for her churning gut or sweating palms.
A silence fell, baiting, passing, until broken by an uncharacteristic sigh from behind the desk.
"I want to speak to you about something, and I want you to listen."
No response. The sooner he assigned her to whatever it was he wanted her for, the sooner she could leave.
"I am not young anymore, Ziva. There are things I need to tell you, things I hope you can forgive me for," he added, a trace of sadness lingering. His tone was measured, testing.
She felt herself staring, brow furrowed, suspicion lining her features. This was the conversation he wanted to have?
"What are you talking about?" she replied, breaking her self-made promise not to betray any hint of what she was feeling.
"Your heart is still in America. I know you did not want to return."
That hardly qualified as an answer, and something flashed beneath the surface. Her back straightened further against the chair.
"Am I not here?"
"Yes, but not willingly. You are disappointed, especially with me."
She tilted her head in uncertainty, unable to rid herself of the fear of where this was going. She had arrived here with the expectation that she would be walking away with one of his "lessons" and some new operation to begin, but not this. Not this at all.
She opened her mouth, but found she had nothing to say.
"You try to hide it, but there is no need. I feel I may deserve it."
"I do not think…" she began, but she was quickly interrupted by a hand from her father.
"Just listen. I will explain."
Frowning with confusion, she noted that this may be the second record he has broken today. Eli David was not known for being forthcoming, personal, or scrupulously honest, and here he was –
"Do you remember the day your sister died?"
The confusion did not dissipate, instead fusing with residual irritation.
Did he think she would ever forget?
"If I had done right by any of my children, you would not," he replied, darkly pensive.
Growing more uncomfortable by the second, Ziva had the sudden urge to silence his unplanned (maybe not) confessional before he could go any further. If there was one thing she despised more than unwarranted displays of emotion, it was dragging up and beating out the past.
She had no idea what he meant by it.
He watched her, calculating, debating how he should go forward. Reluctance flickered behind his gleam.
"That is when I began making mistakes."
Impatience stirred, burning through her resolve. It was only minutes ago that she had feared a lecture or cold words about the disaster in Los Angeles, and he had turned the tables on her so quickly that she was having trouble forming relevant thoughts.
This was important, she knew it, could sense it, but –
"What is it you are trying to say?" she demanded, the dread from earlier still clinging to the back of her throat.
But he did not answer, his staring and his silence doing nothing to ease her frustration. She moved forward slightly in her seat.
"Tali is alive," he blurted out, interrupting her next thought before she could voice it.
Her mind froze, blank. Numb. The words rang in her head, struggling for comprehension.
Quiet, plain. Shocked.
"That day, it was a lie. A suicide bomber did not kill your sister. Tali is alive."
Her chest tightened frenetically, mind racing. Her stomach dropped to the floor, leaving her feeling winded and left behind.
It was entirely too difficult to say anything else.
Eli shifted in his chair, using a tired hand to remove the glasses from the bridge of his nose.
"Only months after your mother left, intelligence picked up on threats against this agency, myself and my family specifically. The group responsible were fools, broadcasting it across their network and bragging about vengeance for the deaths of their people. Tali was the youngest, and the weakest. There was no guessing who they would go after. I feared she was not safe."
"But…the blast, I was there – "
"You were unconscious in the hospital when we moved her. My people hid her somewhere outside the country, and her death certificate was faked. The public was led to believe she was incinerated."
Ziva hardly noticed her hands were shaking.
"At her funeral, you looked me in the eye, and you said –"
"I know what I said. And I wish that I didn't, but I had to. I had to ensure her safety."
"But why me? Why could you not tell me?"
All those years, and not once did he say anything. Her heart pounded against her chest, unable to handle the shock and the thrill and the questions and the anger – righteous, justified anger – vying for attention.
After Tali had died, it was unlike anything she had ever known. The grief had put a wedge between her and Ari, had marked the beginning of the end. Alone, dying from the inside out, she recklessly sought release. The brutal physicality of training became an obsession, a fucked up coping mechanism. She forgot mercy, she forgot honesty. Forgot vulnerability.
She forgot purity, and so had forgotten her sister.
(Which is what she wanted, after all.)
And her father? The same man who had gripped her shoulder at the funeral, bruising, putting chilling words in her ear?
He watched, and never said a thing.
"I cannot fucking believe you," she whispered fervently, staring him down. She could not control the rage anymore, curling her hands against the arms of her chair. She made no effort to hide it.
He needed to see it. To feel it.
But it was she that felt the sting of his hand as he suddenly stood and swung it across her face, hard. Reeling, hands still shaking, she staggered.
"You are angry, yes, but you will not speak to me that way."
Her retaliation died in her throat, body automatically falling back into her chair as it tried to register what just happened.
His voice still held a sickening amount of authority when he spoke again, attempting to shame her into place. In that second, that brief second where the truth sunk in and her cheek stung red, she swore it was the only thing that kept her from getting up and walking right out of his life.
Her glare had the desired effect.
"I do not want to upset you. Just wait, I will explain everything."
She closed her eyes briefly, considering.
"Fine," she replied tersely, trying to keep herself together. "But if you lie, or strike me again, I will be gone. And I will never forgive you."
"Agreed. Now will you listen?"
She wanted and needed to hear his explanation, but begrudged him her outright cooperation.
"Where is Tali?" she snapped, taking the lead out from under him. The rage had quieted, but she had never been skilled in dispelling it completely.
He said nothing of her spiteful tone.
"For the past eight years Tali has been staying under the protection of an old friend in Egypt, with a new identity. To maintain her safety we have had very limited contact, and I have not heard from her in two years. In our last correspondence she informed me that she had begun working for the CIA substation operating out of Cairo."
CIA? The Tali that she knew had hated violence, and war, and anything of the sort. But she had been a teenager, and Ziva knew better than anyone how much could change in eight years.
Her father laughed a little to himself, his small chuckle lacking any real mirth.
"I burnt the letter, of course, otherwise I would show you. She should not have told me about her employer at all, but she felt I had to know. Smart, using written mail," he added as an afterthought, frowning meaningfully. "Amazing what people will overlook in the digital age."
She felt there was hardly anything amazing about it. If the two had been writing letters, how hard would it have been to extend one to her? Instantly, he picked up on her expression.
"I instructed her not to contact you. I did not want to further jeopardize her safety."
"Then why now? Why not keep lying?"
"When I sent you after Ari in America I could see that you were troubled," he began easily, and she had the feeling that he had rehearsed this, which made her feel strangely worse. "I knew this life had taken its toll, whether you admitted it or not. And with the accusations against your brother, I knew cleaning up his mess would not be easy. When you brought his body back, I could see that you were doubting yourself. And me. It took me a very long time to realize you were right to."
A thin silence hung in the air, his sincere show of self-loathing unsettling. He broke it, shaking his head softly.
"One son a traitor, and one daughter that I hardly know. You are all that I have left, and if not for Leon sending you back, I think you may have stayed away forever. You had to know."
(And she wished he would look away, just once.)
"I deserved to know," she stated, accusatory, "I was no threat to her, I would have done anything to keep her safe."
His mouth twisted in a funny line, skewed, uncomfortable.
"I wanted to tell you for years, but I was…selfish. You were too valuable they way you were."
The way I am, she had half a mind to correct, but she caught herself as his words stunned her into silence.
Here he was, her ruthless father, master manipulator, openly admitting that he'd wronged her. It was not an apology, and she knew that the second he raised a hand to her, but here he was. Calmly changing her life.
"I will not ask that you do not blame me. Only that you understand."
She wondered if he thought she trusted him, now. Or if that was his plan all along.
"I understand enough," she said lowly, honestly, no trace of hurt or anger or doubt in her words. But the rage still lurked, still threatened, and if she did not deal with that (deal with that), she would suffocate.
She stood abruptly, making for the door.
"I will see you in the morning."
Her father nodded stiffly, any effort to stop her quelled at the look in her eye.
"Someone will pick you up. We must discuss your new assignment."
She barely acknowledged him, shutting the door behind her with a grace that did not match the turmoil within. She ignored the curious looks the secretaries gave her on her way out, instead trying to stifle the quivering of still sweating hands.
Her thoughts raced.
That had been by far the strangest conversation she had ever had with her father.
(And she hated him for it.)
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