I am thanking you for your reviews with THIS. xoxo, the Mecha.
. . . .
A terrible autonomy has grafted onto you and me
Our trust put in the government; they sold their lies as heaven-sent.
The Decemberists, "When the War Came."
Ziva had taken to wearing sneakers rather than boots in her retirement, and now her feet were wet and cold after stumbling across sloppy, late-fall backyards. Muddy, half-frozen grass and flowerbeds, storm drains clogged with leaves. Would the winter rains wash away their footprints—her's and her father's? Or would Gibbs find them and send CSU out to make plaster casts? Would a K9 unit be dispatched? They could get her scent from the guest room. She still had a few sweaters and a pair of jeans in the bureau.
The airport terminal was cold, too, but she stood at attention and ignored the shivering that ground her broken ribs together. Her father was arguing with the ticketing agent. Arguing that she was fine, that they needed to get on the twelve-oh-five flight to Cairo so they wouldn't miss their connection to Sana'a. Didn't she realize they had a mission to complete? She slumped, tired, and Eli elbowed her back to attention. Could she do anything right?
A man was approaching them. He wore some kind of dark uniform. His badge was so shiny. She slumped again but received no elbow.
"Sir?" he said to Eli. "If you and your daughter can just come with me, we can have her checked out by airport medical staff and get you on your way."
Her father's voice was so loud. Why was he screaming? Was he still angry at her for that botched mission to Ri'yad? A shove sent her against the man's shirt and then there was a noise somewhere above her head. She couldn't look up—something clanged in her chest when she raised her chin—and then she was falling. Her father was screaming, someone else was screaming, and then gunshots shattered glass. Oh, it felt nice to be lying down.
Eli pulled her up again, jabbed her broken ribs, jabbed her broken face, ordered her to stand up straight. Hadn't he raised a better soldier than this? The screaming was loud but his disdain was louder. Ziva posted herself up, inch by inch, until she was face-to-chest with her father. He was, she thought, a very large man. Perhaps that was the problem; she hadn't inherited his size or strength. No, she was like her Farsi mother—soft and narrow-shouldered with small hands and feet.
There was more commotion around them—clattering, running footsteps, a baby crying and then being hushed. But where was Sara? With her father, of course. He was most certainly picking her up out of bed, smoothing her hair, kissing her and pulling legwarmers over her cast. They would go to the kitchen, microwave the potato soup she'd made and stored in the refrigerator. He would feed it to her spoonful by spoonful because Sara was cranky when she'd left—the kind of crankiness that meant she needed to be fed and rocked like an infant. The kind of crankiness that Ziva always found herself irritated by and jealous of.
Eli locked his arm around her neck. Lights flashed behind her eyes. He was shouting again, shouting and dragging her backwards. Her ears rang and her shoes squeaked on the polished floor. There was more noise, more running feet and cold air, and then she was sliding down. Something jabbed the good side of her head—the side her father hadn't ruined with his big, mean fist—and then the screaming grew even louder. Ziva closed her eyes and sighed. Would she die here—an undignified airport—rather than on the battlefield, fighting for her father?
"Papa," she grunted.
He paused with the gun still pressed to her head.
"Papa, we must go. We must…fight."
Eli relented. She gasped for air. "Yes, Ziva," he said slowly. "We are going. We will fix your mistakes. Stand up for your father."
He let go of her and she stood, shaking under the weight of gravity. She fought against the desire to go to her knees, to lie down, to sleep. There was a war to wage, deaths to avenge, and a plane waiting for them.
"We must go," she said again, and wiped the blood from her mouth with her sleeve. She wished she'd worn her uniform. It would be indecorous to die in her sweater and jeans. She looked sharp in her winter mess dress. It had ben tailored especially for her by an old religious man commissioned by the army. He'd measured her slowly, carefully, and prepared the garments with holy precision. She wore it proudly. Even her father smiled a little when she put on her cover and buttoned her navy jacket. She wanted to see that look in his eye again. She wanted to finish this mission. She wanted to make him proud.
"We must go," she said again.
Eli nodded once, sharply. "Yes, Ziva. We must go."
. . . .
Echoing cries in the vestibule made Ducky lay aside his scalpel and bone saw. "Put Private Reynolds to bed please, Mr. Palmer. I believe we're getting a visitor."
Palmer nodded his curly head. "Right away, Doctor. But maybe this isn't the best time—" He cut himself off when Gibbs strode in with his sobbing child in his arms. He paled, stuttering. "Not that we aren't thrilled to have her," he amended quickly. "She is just so adorable. Even when she's…screaming and red-faced."
Gibbs tossed a go-bag of supplies on one of the autopsy tables and handed Sara over to Palmer. She looked at him—really looked at him—and screamed louder. His ears rang.
"You gotta watch her," Gibbs said evenly. "Diapers and a clean dress are in the bag. Milk, too. She'll cry herself out eventually."
Jimmy rested Sara's legs against a table. She wailed, furious and scared.
"You can't put her down," Gibbs warned. He kissed her head and whispered in her ear in a moment of tenderness Palmer hadn't ever seen from him. Her tears abated momentarily. He went to the elevator.
"Where are you going, Jethro?" Ducky asked, alarmed. "And how long until you return?"
Gibbs turned. "To get Ziva. I'll be back when I can."
He disappeared behind the sliding doors. Ducky and Palmer exchanged worried glances. Sara fussed on, scrawny shoulders rigid above the high rim of the cast. Palmer shushed and rocked but she wouldn't be soothed.
Ducky patted her head. "There, there, principessa."
Daddy!" she wailed furiously. "Daddy! Daddy!"
"Your Daddy went to get Ziva, poppet. How about Dr. Ducky gives you a tour of his work?" She quieted, but jumped and clung tighter when he tried to pull her away from Palmer.
He gave a nervous smile. "How does Gibbs do this all day? It's not that she's heavy, she's just…"
The smile faded. "And…heavy." The wide-open angle of Sara's legs made her awkward to carry. She didn't quite fit on a hip.
Ducky gave a cursory glance around the room. "Give me five minutes, Mr. Palmer. I may have a solution."'
He went to work on a shroud, cutting it with a pair of medical shears, tying the edges together, fashioning a hammock with knots and heavy tape. He had Jimmy turn around, still holding Sara, and wrapped them both in the swath of fabric. He tied it twice—once behind his back, once over his shoulders—and stood back.
"Congratulations, Mr. Palmer. You're now the proud owner of a onbuhimo."
"Onbuhimo—a Japanese-style babywearing apparatus. We can put her on your back if you'd prefer, but at least you have your arms free." He found a pacifier in the go-bag and tucked it between Sara's lips. She pulled it free and pointed; Private Reynolds had gone forgotten since Gibbs' and her arrival. His body had yet to be returned to cold storage.
"He is dead," she said clearly.
Palmer backed up, startled, but Ducky steadied him with a hand on his arm. "Yes, Sara. That man is dead. It is my job to figure out how he died."
She blinked and yawned. Palmer assumed massive, fear-driven temper tantrums were exhausting based on her red eyes and sweaty curls.
"You helping him," she decided.
"I am," he agreed gravely. "But it is as important to figure out how he lived."
She nodded and rested his head on Palmer's chest. He smiled and cupped it with his palm. "Does that man make you scared, Sara?"
"No," she replied plainly.
Ducky beckoned them closer. "Look at Private Reynold's fingertips, Sara. Do you see how they're stained yellow and brown?"
"That means he smoked a great deal of cigarettes."
She made a face. "I don't liking smoke. S'bad."
"It's a very unhealthy habit. This man probably had a terrible cough. He would have gotten very ill from smoking and died even if he hadn't been shot."
"Dey shoot him," he agreed.
She yawned. "They shooted a boy by a wall and Tony helped him. Tony went far away."
"Yes, but Anthony is home now."
"Him is helping Zeeba."
"What happened to Ziva, poppet? Did you see?"
She rubbed her face on the front of Palmer's scrub top. "No. Her Daddy yelling. She say papa no and him hurted her."
"I'm sure it was very frightening for you."
She teared up. "Daddy."
"He is helping Ziva, too, poppet. He will come back soon. Would you like some milk? Perhaps you need some more fever reducer, too."
Palmer pushed a pacifier against her lips and she took it, sighing. "Daddy," she moaned. "Zeeba."
. . . .
She knew they had SWAT there. The sound of their arrival was unmistakable; the rattle of weapons and body armor, the hushed, creeping footsteps, the tapping of helmets. Her vision swam, all bright colors and swirls, and her father's arm tightened, yet again, under her jaw. Blood ran down the back of her throat. She choked and struggled for purchase on the slippery floor. Had they just mopped it?"
Ziva locked a hand around her father's wrist. Was that Tony? Why had he come? He should be at home, safe on his sofa, watching men play sports on his enormous television. He had no business interfering with their mission. Not when she'd made so many mistakes and had so many debts to pay.
"…go, David," Tony repeated. She knew they had to go. Wasn't that why they were there, at the airport? They were going to Yemen. They were going to fix her egregious error. She'd missed…something. Her father was furious. He'd shunned her, shamed her, refused to let her eat at his table. She'd taken her meals in the kitchen, in the dark, the page in her book held with a finger while she ate. Her arm hurt. He was pulling on it, tearing her rifle strap from her shoulder. Would he make her walk into the firefight without it?
"…go, David!" Tony shrieked one more time. Eli's arm tightened around her neck, cutting off her oxygen. No. This was wrong. He wasn't supposed to do this. How would she complete the mission if he strangled her before they got on the plane? How would she make him proud?
There was a loud noise, a noise like rockets over S'derot, and then she was falling forward. The polished airport tiles came up to meet her face. Oh. Ow. There was pressure—tremendous pressure—all around her, and darkness.
Ziva remembered snorkeling with her mother in Eilat. How the pressure had grown when she dove down, how she'd grabbed her mask and popped her ears, how the fish swam by razor-fast, all color and light under the surface. She missed her mother. She wanted her mother. She wanted her mother to cradle her aching face and sing to her. Sing the lullabies they'd sung to Tali, who'd had terrible colic in the first months. Ziva brushed her fingers down her side and jumped at the increase in pain; was that how colic felt? No. It didn't matter. She'd failed. She'd failed, but at least her mother could sing her down, down. Where was she? Laila, laila, Rivka would sing. Ha ruach goveret…homa hatzameret…
The horsemen are coming, my child.
. . . .
Gibbs pushed through the surgical waiting room doors. Tony sat alone, head hanging, chin on his chest. He raised it slightly and gave a watery smile.
"How is she?" Gibbs asked, lowering himself into a chair. Sara shifted and sighed in her new carrier, sleepy.
DiNozzo shook his head. "Not so good. Her face, Boss…she's got a bunch of broken bones on the left side. He ambushed her, it looks like. Skull fracture, broken eye socket, broken jaw."
He nodded and stroked Sara's cheek. "They gonna wire her shut?"
"Too soon to tell."
"Broken wrist, broken ribs, pneumothorax—they put in a chest tube. That's why she was gasping when I rolled David off her." He paused to swallow and flexed his hands. "She'll be here for a while."
Gibbs nodded. "Head injuries?"
"Yeah. They don't know how bad yet. There were no bleeds on any of her scans, though, so they're hopeful." He reached over Gibbs' arm to stroke Sara's curls, but frowned and pulled back. "What is that thing?"
He smirked. "Breena gave it to us. It's some kind of ergonomic baby carrier. Holds up to fifty pounds. I get my hands back."
"Must be nice," he said vaguely. "You cozy in there, Buglet?" She blinked at him and smiled around the pacifier.
Gibbs kissed her head. "Hasn't said much lately. Probably pretty shook up." She sighed again and her eyes rolled. "Pretty tired, too."
Tony offered them a tiny smile, but it faded fast. "What about David?"
"Morgue. Embassy got involved. Said we couldn't autopsy him."
He scoffed. "Now they're involved? After they let him get on a plane, break into your house, beat the living daylights out of his daughter and then kidnap her and try to drag her onto a commercial airliner? After we have to take him out with SWAT and the Feebs and…?" He shook his head. "What a mess, Boss. What a mess."
A doctor came through the opposite door. She was petite, dark haired, and wearing high-tech sneakers with her green scrubs. Her shoes were the same style and brand they'd taken off Ziva in the emergency room. Gibbs resolved to replace them for her.
"Family of Ziva David?" she asked innocently, even though they were the only ones there.
"Yeah," Tony said, rising.
"Come on back and see her," she said softly. "We'll talk on the way."
He dragged a hand over Sara's hair and saluted Gibbs with a smirk. "On the other side, Boss," he said, and followed the doctor into the recovery unit.
. . . .
The smell of food—a lot of food, all of it prepared recently—wafted toward Gibbs when he unlocked Ziva's condo and struggled inside. He was laden with bags, his daughter, and the two kittens, whom he'd found hiding in a bush in his backyard. He set them loose and unstrapped Sara, who woke with a sharp gasp. She glanced around, tiny brow furrowed in confusion.
"Where?" she demanded fuzzily.
"Ziva's house," he replied.
She nodded. "Oh, yeah."
He threw one of the beanbag chairs down on the floor and bent to put her in it, but she squawked a loud No! so he buckled her back into the carrier. He didn't mind, really. She got the cuddling she needed and he got free hands to prepare quick sandwiches for dinner. He paced as they ate, and then he found the guest room, where he unpacked a few of Sara's things—pajamas, clean diaper, pacifier—and arranged the beanbag. She'd sleep in it tonight. He undressed and redressed her quickly, though the apartment was warm. Of course it was. Ziva hated to be cold.
He looked again at the beanbag and shifted Sara against the pillows instead. He needed her close. He needed to know that he'd saved at least one life. He cupped her small bare feet in his palms and examined her for bruises-for any indication that Eli had put his hands on her. There was nothing save for a small smudge of tomato aioli from her sandwich. He wiped it away with the pad of his thumb and reached for the pacifier.
"Ready for sleep, sweet pea?"
She nodded. "Yeah. M'tired."
"No nap, huh?"
His throat closed. Daughters were such precious things.
Sara made a muffled mmph sound around the pacifier. "Daddy?"
"What, sweet pea?"
She stretched her arms over her head. "Zeeba will being ok."
He smirked at her in the low lamplight. "You think so?"
"Yeah. She will being ok. She will be sad, Daddy, but she will being ok."
"What should we do for her?" He lay down next to her in the bed and kicked off his boots.
Sara thought for a minute, both hands resting lightly on the crown of her head. "You be her daddy, too. You have to hold. You have to be...gentle."
Gibbs smiled. "That's what you think I need to do?"
"Yeah," she sighed. "You need to doing that."
He pulled her against him, sliding her across the bedclothes like an overturned turtle, and cocked his knee up so her legs could rest against it.
"I love you, baby girl," he whispered.
She slurped her soother. "Love you too, Daddy," she murmured, and slept.
Gibbs left the lamp on and the door open and went out to the living room. It was a small unit in a small building—only two bedrooms, two baths, and a square living space shared with the kitchen—but Ziva had taken great pains to make it homey. To make it hers. Had she ever owned anything? The furniture was overstuffed and draped with colorful throws, the fridge was doubly stocked, and the guest bath had spare toothbrushes lined up in a row on a shelf.
There were photographs everywhere. Every surface held at least one snapshot, and they were all of the team—Ziva and Abby laughing at a café, Tony and Ziva playing in the snow, one of them from Paris, one of Tony and Tim behaving like small boys, two or more off all of them together. There were a great number of photos from Sara's adoption celebration, all framed identically and lined up on the old-fashioned radiator cover. He smiled at one of Ziva and Sara sharing some fruit toward the end of the evening. The look on his daughter's face was of pure adoration as Ziva, stilled forever by the closing of aperture, offered her a ripe, late-season strawberry. Another was of he and Ziva at a picnic table, fawning over his newly-adopted daughter like a proud sibling.
Guilt gnawed at his insides. He hoped fiercely that she was angry with him. She had every right to be.
A noise from the bedroom made him pause, but Sara sighed and settled again, sleeping her child's sleep, secure in knowing her father would keep her safe.
. . . .
Ziva had been moved to a private room on Bethesda's quiet fifth floor. Gibbs found Abby pacing outside the door when he arrived, sniffling and teetering on her tall platform boots. She broke into hard sobs when he stopped before her and put both hands on her shoulders.
"I can't go in there," she blurted. "She looks terrible." He didn't doubt it. "She looks terrible and it is our fault," she continued. "Do you know what I said to her? I told her to go to him. I told her that Eli was her father and she should try to…something. But just…try, you know? And look at what he did—he tried to kill her, Gibbs! He tried to kill her after I guilted her into trying to love him."
He hugged her, surprised. Abby stomped and pouted and glowered and teared up, sure, but never had he seen her cry as openly and brokenly and guiltily as she did now.
He held her for a long while in the silent hallway and listened to drizzle spatter against the glass. "DiNozzo in there?" he asked, motioning toward the door neither of them had pushed open.
"Yeah," she moaned.
"Why don't you take him for a coffee. I'll sit with Ziver for a while, ok?"
She nodded and wrung her hands, green eyes big and bloodshot. "Ok."
Gibbs stepped into the tiny room—it was more of a cubicle, really—and put his hand on Tony's shoulder. He jumped with a soft snort.
"Yeah." He sat next to him in a hard chair. "You been here all night?"
Tony ran a hand down his face. "Yeah."
"She still sedated?"
"No, they took her off the heavy stuff earlier. Now its just painkillers. Nurse said she could wake up at any time." He yawned and shook out his hands. "Where's Sara?"
"In the morgue? Boss, that's not cool. She'll end up dressing like Abby."
Gibbs shrugged and looked at Ziva for the first time. Her head was swathed in surgical dressings and elastic bandages, but what he could see—her right eye, her mouth, the tip of her small, round nose—was swollen and discolored. "What's the damage?" he asked quietly.
"Fractures of her zygomatic arch, temporal bone, mandible and nose. Three broken ribs, collapsed lung, broken wrist. Grade three concussion." Tony bowed his head. "They're worried."
"Hearing and vision. Ruptured her eardrum. Doc said something about retinal detachment. She'll have a consult with an eye surgeon when the concussion clears." He wiped his mouth as if embarrassed. "They uh, they didn't wire her shut. They couldn't—she lost two teeth on the left side. The oral surgeon put in some splint that she'll need to wear for a few months. Said she'll be pretty hard to understand for a while." He felt around in his pocket. "I got a bunch of papers here about what they did to her. I'll have to look them over."
Gibbs took the pamphlets. Between Ziva and Sara he could start his own publishing house for hospital literature. "Go get something to eat," he said gently. "I'll stay with her."
Tony stood and worked the stiffness out of his legs. "She might be scared when she wakes up. Tell her…tell her there's nothing to be afraid of anymore."
He nodded. DiNozzo left and he moved closer to the bed. Ziva's right hand was splinted, but the left was free, pierced by only a single IV needle. He lifted it and marveled at how small and light it was—small and light and unblemished with defensive wounds. She hadn't fought back. Guilt racked him again, curdling his stomach contents so sharply he thought he'd toss them onto the floor.
Ziva moaned. He chafed her knuckles with his thumb. "Ziver?"
She moaned again and shifted slightly.
"Ziver? You awake?"
One puffy brown eye peered up at him. He grinned. "Hey. I know you're in pain, but can you squeeze my hand?"
She squeezed. He rang for the nurse. "We're going to get you something to knock down the hurt, Ziver. Just hang with me."
A nurse and a doctor came. Neither of them bothered to introduce themselves until after they performed a neurological exam and declared Ziva as conscious as she was going to get.
"She can't talk right now," the nurse snapped. "So don't bother asking her a bunch of questions. You can come back when she's feeling better."
"I'm not a cop," Gibbs allayed. "I'm a friend."
She puckered her mouth. "Your haircut tells a different story. I'll get her a whiteboard, but nothing pushy."
She left and he picked up Ziva's hand again. "Hey," he said softly. "I'm sorry, Ziver. I'm really, really sorry."
She blinked at him.
"I should have listened to you. I should have protected you and I didn't. I'm sorry."
She made a stifled sound and huffed into the oxygen tent strapped just under her chin. Her breathing picked up and she began to cry, tears dampening the bandaged wrapped around and around her head.
"I'm sorry," he said again. His chest tightened. Failure gripped him so hard he nearly gasped. "I'm sorry."
Ziva clasped his hand and let go, clasped it and let go. Over and over she squeezed and released, crying soft mewling sounds around the splint cemented to her teeth.
The puckery-faced nurse returned with a syringe, a dry-erase board, and a marker. "Here, little thing," she cooed, dabbing Ziva's tears with soft gauze. "Here's some medicine and a note board. You write down whatever you need to, ok?"
She blinked in response and fumbled the marker around the splint. Gibbs uncapped it for her and elevated the bed so she could see.
Sara? she scrawled unsteadily.
"With Palmer. She's ok. You were protecting her, weren't you?"
He looked at her with tremendous gratitude. "Thank you."
His heart sank. "He died, Ziver."
He sat back in one of the chairs. Grief would come later, he supposed. "I stayed at your place last night," he blurted.
She gave him a sharp look.
"I didn't make a mess. We ate some of the pastrami you had in the fridge and we slept in the guest room." He paused, gauging her for a response, but pushed on when she didn't appear to be angry. "I can't take Sara back there. I can't take you back there, Ziver. To my house, I mean. I think I'm gonna sell it. I think we need to move." Move on is what he meant.
She narrowed her good eye at him and wrote yes, sharply on her board. Her loopy handwriting was growing sloppier. She'd be asleep again soon.
Gibbs slid forward and reached for her hand again. She laced their fingers together, clumsy with meds.
"Sleep, Ziver," he whispered.
She blinked and handed him the marker.
"I've got you, ok? Just sleep."