Summary: Indifference is her greatest strength, and she's always taken pride in it. It's the only thing that keeps her going.

Disclaimer: I wanted to save up money to buy NCIS, but I realize that a penny a day is not enough. :(

Spoilers: General NCIS. Descriptions of Ziva's family; 8x23 "Swan Song".

This is a weird little fic, but I kind of like how it turned out. ^^ I wanted to write a Ziva-centric fic, because I haven't written her in a while...hope you like it! Enjoy, and please review.


Pride in Indifference

If there's one thing she's always prided herself on, it's her ability to feign indifference.

It doesn't hurt her one bit as she listens to her parents argue. It seems to be happening more and more frequently, and at a progressively louder volume, but all the same it doesn't hurt her. It's just another day in her household. She tries to make out the words that travel across the hallway, but they're muffled and filled with anger, and that makes them very hard for a six-year-old to understand. She's about to creep into the hallway, closer to the kitchen where her parents are, when Ari comes along and presses his hand into her shoulder. Come on, he says to her, let's go outside and play. She follows him. Maybe she doesn't want to know what her parents are yelling about after all.

She pretends she doesn't notice when her father is absent from her first ever dance recital. She pretends she can't see the empty chair from the stage; she pretends the music doesn't sound too hollow in her ears, and the lights don't seem too bright to her eyes. She stands in position and holds her arms out the way she's been taught and follows the rise and fall of the music. Every movement, precise and graceful and perfect. She's an incredible dancer, both on and offstage. And as she watches her mother proudly applaud her, she pretends her father hasn't told her that she will never amount to anything if the only thing she can do is dance.

This time she's the one pressing a hand into Tali's shoulder. Come on, she says to her baby sister, let's go outside and play. But Tali has never had the ability to feign indifference. Tears streak down the two-year-old girl's face and dampen the soft brown fur of the teddy bear she hugs tightly to her chest, and so Ziva leans down and picks her up; carries her away from the yells that are now so loud one needn't even creep towards the kitchen to hear them clearly. She ignores how her heart breaks at the way her sister's tears are now dampening her shirt.

This knife isn't too sharp. This gun isn't too heavy. This blindfold across my eyes isn't too thick. This forest isn't too scary. I am fine. I am always fine. That's what she tells herself each and every time she has to go for training. It isn't official training – she won't have that until she's actually been through high school – but it's almost as vigorous. This isn't too vigorous. She resists the shudders that threaten to run through her body and the nausea that swirls about her throat. She refuses to never amount to anything.

Perhaps she isn't feigning indifference when her mother finally takes her and her siblings from her father, and leaves. She's too numb to be feigning anything. She stares wide-eyed at her mother as the older woman has the audacity to tell her to hurry up with her packing, as if they weren't slinking away into the night like the cowards that they are. She stares wide-eyed at her brother as he makes her a promise that they will find a way to come back, so that they can continue with their training. And she stares wide-eyed at her sister as the little girl asks if she can be left out of that promise. And just like that, the wall of indifference around her heart cracks a little, because she can't possibly imagine a life without Tali. But in the end, by the time Tali dies, the cracks have been filled in and mended anyway.

Somehow, after Tali's death she's indifferent to even the happy things. She feels nothing on the day that she gets promoted, especially since she's being promoted over her elder brother. Ari tells her he's glad for her. Eli, for once in his life, says he's proud of her. And oh, she knows they are being sincere. But all she does is pretend she's not wondering whether Tali would have despised her, and whether her mother does.

The day Ari's mother is killed, she's old enough and wise enough to realize that she has to be the one to comfort Ari, instead of the other way around. His wall of indifference has everything but disintegrated and blown away with the dust, and it's the first time that she sees him cry; it's the first night that she sees the cold, hard glint in his eyes. The glint so very like the ice in her father's eyes. It is justified that her indifference this time is not towards her brother's pain, but rather towards the unmistakable fact that Ari is finally becoming the soldier his father raised him to be.

She herself is already the soldier her father raised her to be on the day she sits in his office, back stiff as a board, knees pressed together and hands folded in her lap, as her father tells her to permanently dispose of Ari. She doesn't so much as blink an eyelid or break out into cold sweat. She's proud to say that sometimes, she can even bring that cold, hard glint into her eyes – she's going to need it whether or not she carries out her father's orders. So she doesn't admit to herself, as she shoots her brother dead with that fantastic precision she's always had, that she doesn't have the stupid glint in her eye; and that all she remembers is the way he used to press his hand into her shoulder and lead her away from her parents' arguments.

She wishes she can feign indifference at the way that simple act changes her. Aim, pull the trigger. Her skills are no different, but somehow she can't bring that glint to her eye quite as easily anymore, and she can't pretend that she's just a soldier anymore. Suddenly she's human, with emotions and doubts and motives that go beyond the need to please her father; and that completely bewilders her. And then Jeanne happens, and Roy and Jenny and Michael and Saleem and Damon and Ray and Mike Franks – and the indifference that she has worked so hard on simply crumbles to pieces at her feet, in much the same way ancient civilizations can be wiped out with a single earthquake.

A silver-haired, stand-in father figure. A black-haired friend who wears her heart on her sleeve; a wise, older man with his young, endearing assistant. A brotherly co-worker, and an Italian-suited partner – these are the people she can't pretend don't exist. These are the people she doesn't want to pretend don't exist. And when she finds herself in Tony DiNozzo's arms, still desperately trying to pretend she isn't crying over how her life has turned out, or that her skin doesn't tingle when he touches her face, she comes to the realization that she doesn't have the ability to feign indifference anymore.

If there's one thing she's always wondered about, it's what will be left of her once she's lost the only thing that she's always prided herself on.