Summary: Tiny tag to episode 8x05 "Dead Air," when Ziva says that her father taught her how to play baseball. My take on the different things that she learns from Eli and Gibbs.
Author's Note: So, my two most recent stories have both been titled after songs. Huh.
Inspired By: "Aveilit," by Mechabeira - although this story is nowhere near as good as that one.
Fathers, be good to your daughters.
Daughters will love like you do...
When Ziva is twelve, her father teaches her how to shoot a gun. One afternoon, he takes her to a small, private shooting range near their home in Tel Aviv – the owner there is a friend of his. Ziva has been looking forward to this for weeks. She's wanted to learn how to shoot for what feels like forever, but Eli has a strict rule that none of his children can handle a gun before they're twelve. Ziva knows better than to question her father about his rules.
Half a lifetime later, when Ziva is twenty-four, her father teaches her how to play baseball. She's surprised when Gibbs offers to teach her, but even more surprised when she hears herself accept. She wonders how he found out that she doesn't know how to play America's national pastime. They meet at a baseball diamond in a park near his house, late enough so that there's no one else there, but still early enough that there's light for them to play by.
The gun that her father hands her is new, one of the most recent models on the market. Eli buys guns the way other men buy ties. He has two gun safes in their house, one in his office and one in the closet of his bedroom. The metal feels cold and smooth against Ziva's palm, and the gun looks over-sized and out-of-place in her small hand, which, just a few hours ago, had held a jump rope handle. Even though Ziva is twelve now, really too old to jump rope, she still plays with Tali in their garden, when her little sister begs her.
Suddenly, she doesn't feel ready for this. She doesn't want to learn to shoot. She wants to beg her father to call off the lesson, but she knows better than that.
The bat that Gibbs hands her isn't aluminum, but an old-fashioned wooden one, with masking tape – once white, but now yellow with age – wrapped around the narrow end, and the faded words Louisville Slugger printed on the heavy end. It looks old enough to have belonged to Gibbs when he was a boy in Stillwater, and Ziva wonders if it did. Hanging onto a baseball bat for this long seems like something he would do.
The wood of the bat is warm and rough in her hand. She's never held a baseball bat before. Eli didn't approve of his children playing sports that wouldn't be useful to them as Mossad agents later. Rivka had had to fight him tooth and nail to let Ziva take ballet lessons.
Eli stands behind her, his arms on either side of her, and presses his hands over hers, showing her the right way to hold the gun. It makes Ziva nervous to have her father so close to her, and the feeling of his arms around her is a foreign one. Eli has never hugged her, only kissed her forehead occasionally, always while holding her face tightly between her hands, to keep her from backing away from him.
Gibbs puts his arms around her and gently presses his calloused hands over hers, showing her how to hold the bat. It feels strange to have his arms around her – because neither of them are affectionate people – but not completely unfamiliar. Gibbs has hugged her once before, when his memory came back after the ship explosion and she cried in his arms.
She can feel Eli's hot breath on her cheek. It smells strongly of the cigars he smokes, and it makes Ziva want to gag. She fights the urge to flinch away from him and tries to breathe through her mouth. Her arms are trembling, and she prays to HaShem that Eli won't notice. Her father has little tolerance for weakness.
Gibbs's breath is warm against her cheek. It smells like the coffee he drinks, and it makes Ziva smile. She resists the urge to lean back against him. She can't believe how comfortable, how safe, she feels with Gibbs. This must be why Abby adores the man so much.
His chest is pressed heavily against her back, and she can feel his heart beating through their shirts. It makes her think of the ticking of a bomb. Ziva swallows hard and tries to focus on the target ahead, but her own heart starts to pound in her ears, afraid. Her palms are sweaty, and she's terrified that the gun will slip. She doesn't want to think about what Eli will do if she drops it.
Gibb's chest is pressed lightly against her back, where it feels solid and reassuring. This must be what Americans mean when they use that expression, I got your back. Ziva can feel his heartbeat, but it doesn't make her think of anything but a heartbeat.
"Focus, Ziva," Eli whispers in her ear, and her entire body stiffens. Her finger tightens on the trigger.
"Relax, Ziver," Gibbs tells her, and his hand leaves hers for a moment to rub the tense muscles in her forearm.
The loud bang of the gunshot startles her – Ziva has heard gunshots before, of course, but never at such close range – and she squeezes her eyes shut and jerks back a bit, bumping into her father. Eli squeezes his hands over hers, tightening her grip around the barrel. His palms feel smooth and cool, like the gun did a moment ago. Now that she's fired it, though, it's heating up rapidly, and Ziva wants more than ever to put it down.
She opens her eyes with some trepidation to look at the circular paper target before them. Her mouth goes dry when she doesn't see the bullet hole right away, but then she spots it. Her shot has gone through the outer edge of the circle, as far as one can get from the center without missing the target completely. Eli doesn't say that he's disappointed, but he doesn't need to. Ziva can see it in his eyes. She doesn't remind herself that this is the first time she's ever shot a gun, after all. No, instead she resolves to do better next time.
The sharp crack of the bat hitting the ball is louder than she expected. Ziva keeps her eyes open to watch it, but rather than flying up into the air, the ball rolls along the dirt and grass of the baseball diamond. "It's called grounder," Gibbs tells her, "a ball that runs along the ground like that." Ziva is sure he's disappointed that she didn't hit it higher, but then he adds, "That was nice follow-through," and she smiles, encouraged.
Gibbs slides his hands further down, and Ziva feels his strong fingers knead at her forearms, then squeeze them, checking to make sure that she hasn't tensed up again. "That's good, stay loose," he praises her, and Ziva nods. She feels loose, relaxed. Gibbs's calloused palms are warm and rough against her skin, like the bat. Then he puts his hands back over hers and gently pulls her in closer to him and raises her arms, positioning her to swing at the next ball.
She waits until Eli isn't looking to wipe her sweaty palms on her jeans. She gets a heavy, sinking feeling in her chest as he puts his hands back over hers and raises her arms, positioning her to shoot again. "Keep your arms steady," he orders when her aim wobbles a bit, and she makes them as straight and stiff as she can. The lesson goes on for a long time, and when it's finally over, her arms and shoulders are sore and throbbing. They're still sore when she wakes up the next morning.
They practice batting late into the evening, until the automatic pitching machine on the mound in front of them has run out of balls. But even after Ziva has perfected her swing, Gibbs keeps his hands over hers on the bat, guiding her. She doesn't mind. It feels so calm, steady, his breath on her cheek, his heartbeat at her back. And briefly, between every swing, he rubs and squeezes her arms, sometimes her shoulders, too. The third time he does it, Ziva looks at him quizzically. "It'll keep your arms from getting sore," Gibbs explains, still working at her muscles with his fingers, and she nods. She doesn't mind that, either.
When she wakes up the next morning, her arms feel fine.
That's right, another warm-n-fuzzy story about Gibbs and Ziva. ;)