Disclaimer: So I saw this contract for NCIS lying around one day ... turns out, it was a fake :(
Spoilers: None, but this is part of my How Far We've Come family series. In here, Lila is a teenager.
1) So ... this deals with religion. And when I say 'religion,' I mean religion, not faith. This fic does not deal with belief in God or a Higher Power at all, but rather the culture of a religion—its people, its practices, and its legacy. Because yes, this fic takes the stand that there is more to religion than belief, and there's your first warning. If you cannot accept that I discuss religion without discussing God, please don't read further!
2 )The second thing is that I use "Jewish" and "Israeli" to mean the same thing here—the culture of Jews in Israel. I am aware that Israel has more than Jews, and that Jews exist outside of Israel, but since Ziva is a Jewish Israeli migrant to America, that is just the general culture I'm referring to. I hope I don't offend anyone with that, but we don't tend to be that specific in real-life conversations, anyway; I call myself 'Chinese' all the time, and I'm not actually from China.
3) You should be aware that in the fic, there are some things that could be possibly construed as anti-Semitic, but I assure you that they aren't. Lila's a teenager; she says things. I have nothing against Jews or Judaism, and Lila 'says things' about Judaism only because her mother happens to be Jewish. If Ziva had been Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Taoist, an atheist, or a believer in animism, the general content of the fic would still be the same. The point of this fic is simply Lila's exploration of her identity.
And that's it! So this was hard to write, haha, I've never written a teenager before. I hope Lila isn't too unrealistic as one; I don't have any of my own, and it's been eight years since I was her age. So :P
Thanks to Anne for her helpful contribution of the names Brooklyn, Lacey, and Samantha!
Enjoy, please review at the end, and please don't flame me for anything I have already addressed in the Notes :)
He found Ziva settled on the low wooden bench of the picture window, her back resting against a red throw pillow and her head turned outwards, eyes resting on the large, drooping tree in their front yard. The fingers of one hand were picking at the nails of her other hand.
"Hey," he said, going up to her and nudging her legs with his forearm so that she would make space for him on the window seat. She drew up her legs without comment, her eyes never leaving the tree outside. He sat down.
"It should not be a big deal, right?" she asked after a minute of silence, because after fourteen years of marriage (or maybe even before all these years), explanation was no longer necessary. She knew what he wanted to talk to her about, and he knew what she'd meant by her question.
He shrugged. "It seems like a big deal to you."
"I know we agreed not to raise them religiously, to let them choose their own religion if they wanted one; but … I always thought she liked Chanukah." She lowered her head now, her voice dropping to a whisper.
Ziva made a noise that resembled a snort. "Is that why she came to me today and told me that she would rather not celebrate Chanukah because it was a childish and stupid holiday?"
"Did she say that?"
"I'll talk to her about it."
Ziva shook her head. "It's fine. I raised her not to be religious, and this is her choice. Besides, Chanukah is not even a big holiday for Jews. I just … it's our tradition: I celebrate it like I celebrate Christmas even though I'm not Christian. I thought it was a way of making memories, and…" She sighed and looked up, brushing her hair away from her face. "This is stupid. It is not like she's rejecting me as a mother … right?"
"Of course not." He reached out and took up her hands, trying to draw her into his lap; she shook her head, but shifted the minutest bit closer. "Ziva, she's never rejected you as her mother."
She huffed. "Sometimes I feel so foreign. Ben and Lila are more American than I will ever be, and … I have memories of a place that they will never know. Yes, we have taken them to Israel before, but they don't know what it's like to grow up there; to know blood and war and pomegranates from Jaffa and the idioms of a different culture. They understand you, Tony, but they will never … I tried so hard to make sure that they were aware of their heritage without having to feel like they had to be subjected to it. I know some things that are important to me will not and do not have to be equally as important to them, but … I only ever wanted them to know what Chanukah was like, even if I never celebrated it in Israel. I made accommodations. I tried to make things American; to make things fit this culture that they had to grow up in, without losing the essence of what those things were and what they meant. And it was hard. And it now seems like all this effort is for nothing, because … because…"
And he lost the fight then, pulling her into his arms before the first tear even left her eyes. He shushed her, rubbing her back as she tensed and her hands came up to cover her face; even after all these years, vulnerability didn't come easily to her. Comforting her came easier to him nowadays, though, and it wasn't long before he had her tucked safely into his embrace, her legs over his and her face buried into the curve of his neck.
"She does not like having a Jewish mother," she whispered, and his heart broke for her.
"That's not true," he said fiercely. "Lila loves who you are and what you represent; you know that, Zi. You know your Star of David is her favourite piece of jewellery that you own. And you know, like, half of the questions she and Ben bug you with have to do with Israel or Judaism."
Ziva lifted and dropped her hands helplessly. "What if she decided that she did not like my answers, Tony? She has not wanted to listen to my stories for months. What if my account of my culture, her heritage, is so bad that she has decided she does not want this part of her?"
"It's only a phase," he told her, even though he didn't really know whether it was true. "She's just trying to find her way. She'll get there eventually. She acknowledges you as part of her, and you represent everything Jewish to her. She's just … y'know, she'll find her way eventually."
She blinked back her tears. "What if her way … is a life that does not include me?"
The sound of the front door being unlocked interrupted their conversation; a mere few seconds later, the clear, barely accented voice of their thirteen-year-old daughter rang through the house. "Mom, Dad, I'm home!"
Tony looked down at his wife, silently asking for her permission; Ziva disentangled herself from him and settled beside him onto the window seat before nodding. "In here!" he called back, and she brushed at her face.
Lila appeared around the archway of the living room, a box in her hands as she approached them. "Brooklyn says hi, and her mum offers cookies." She started to hold the box out, but paused when she saw the expression on her mother's face. "Mom?"
Ziva stood and kissed her daughter's forehead. "Tell Brooklyn and her mother that I said 'thank you,'" she answered gently, retrieving the Tupperware box of cookies from Lila with one hand and stroking young girl's cheek with the other. "And you should invite Brooklyn over to dinner sometime, if you want. I will … I will make something."
He caught the slip in Ziva's expression before she turned and left for the kitchen, and judging by the look on Lila's face, the teenage girl had, too.
So he patted the seat (still warm from Ziva's previous occupancy) beside him, and his daughter accordingly folded herself into the nook in much the same posture that he'd first found Ziva in. Oftentimes, he found mother and daughter to be so similar that he didn't know where the former ended and the latter began—he only wished Ziva saw it, too.
"What's up with Mom?" Lila's voice was casual, but he could hear the undertone of worry in it. So much like her mother.
"Li, did you say to her that Chanukah was childish and stupid?"
Lila started, a mixture of guilt and defensiveness seeping into her expression. "Yes, but Mom didn't have to cry over that."
"I didn't mean to make her cry."
"I know, sweetheart."
His daughter shrugged. "Do you want me to go and apologize to her?"
Tony breathed out. "No. Not yet. Li, I want you to understand that … your mum, she comes from a different world."
"Yeah. And in Israel, they don't really even make a big deal out of celebrating Chanukah at all."
She blinked in surprise. "Then why does Mom make it such an elaborate … thing?"
"'Cause … it's part of your culture. And I think she tried to make accommodations for the fact that it's close to Christmas here, y'know, and you can just celebrate both at the same time. She tried to make it … Israeli American."
She picked at her nails and took a deep breath. "None of my friends celebrate Chanukah, Dad."
"You need a bigger group of friends," he quipped, and she gave him the stink-eye. "Seriously, though, you know just because your friends don't celebrate it, doesn't mean you can't, right?"
Lila rolled her eyes. "You and Mom have been talking to me about individuality since I was born. I know, Dad. But it's weird. My friends ask me why I celebrate Chanukah, and I don't know how to answer them."
"Tell them you have a mum from a different culture."
She snorted. "Like that's a reason. Everyone's from a different culture. You're Italian. Brooklyn's mum is from the South. Samantha's … well, Samantha's about as North American as she can get, but Lacey's whole family, including herself, is Canadian. But they just … Mom's just different. And I don't mean that in a bad way," she hastened to add, "it's just that I don't know if I want to be as different as her."
"You can still celebrate Chanukah and conform to your friends, y'know."
She sighed with frustration. "And then how am I supposed to express my individuality from you? Wear Goth clothing like Aunt Abby? Start up a wood workshop in the basement we don't have? Skip school and hide out in the bushes to smoke weed?"
"It's an example, Dad! I'm just saying, aren't you and Mom just forcing me to celebrate Chanukah like you do, now?"
Tony breathed out and closed his eyes. Patience. Gotta have a little patience. "Li," he tried again, "we're not going to ask you to celebrate Chanukah if you don't want to. But just … you asked me why your mum was crying, and I'm telling you. Not because you don't want to celebrate Chanukah anymore, but because she thinks you don't like this part of you anymore."
"I don't mind being Jewish," she admitted. "I just think I don't want to be so … obvious about it."
"That's fine. But you cannot say to your mother that you think Chanukah is childish and stupid. She worked very hard to make it something enjoyable and memorable for you."
Lila jutted out her bottom lip sullenly. "I never asked her to!"
"I know. But she did it because she loves you."
"I don't see what that has to do with anything, okay."
"If you thought something—probably not boy-related, I guess and hope—was really cool and made you happy, would you want to share it with me?"
"Yeah. I guess."
"And if I just brushed you off and said I didn't care what it was?"
Lila chewed on her lip, her eyes fixed into a disgruntled glare at his general vicinity as she pondered things over. "Fine, I get it," she replied in a flat voice. "It'd really bug me an' everything if you didn't like something that was a big deal to me."
"And are you just saying that 'cause you think it's what you think I'd like to hear?" Tony asked suspiciously, and her responding eye-roll was of epic proportions.
"You know, you're really annoying."
He stuck out his tongue. "What? I had to check!"
Lila pulled a face, and then sobered. "So should I apologize to Mom now?"
"You look for the answer, Li; you don't need me to help you with this anymore."
"Determine what I might've done wrong, decide if I did, blah and blah blah … Mom's crying."
"Again?" he asked, his eyes darting in the direction of the kitchen out of reflex.
"No, I mean earlier." She twisted her hands together. "I guess I need to go and … something. Y'know. Whatever. I'll be right back." She slid off her seat.
"Do you want me to wait for you?"
"You look for the answer, Dad," his teenage girl replied saucily as she marched away. "You don't need me to help you with this anymore."
He did wait for his daughter, but the conversation between Lila and Ziva had taken so long that he ended up only having the opportunity to speak with Lila at Ben's bedtime, when his wife had accompanied their little boy—who, at approaching twelve, still liked being tucked into bed—upstairs for a bedtime story. Knowing that fact, Lila had come down from her room to join Tony on the couch.
She was now keeping up the pretence of watching the movie on television, and he was letting her, because if her behaviour of increasingly becoming a hermit in her room was anything to go by, the times when she'd voluntarily initiate a father-daughter moment were fast becoming rare.
"I apologized to Mom," she finally said, her voice just as casual as it'd been in the afternoon.
"Oh." He matched her for casualness.
"And I told her I'd celebrate Chanukah."
"What did she say?"
"That I didn't have to do it on her account."
"Those weren't her words, but it was her meaning."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause that's always what Mom means." She paused, and out of the corner of his eye, Tony could see her scrunch up her face as if she were trying to figure out something. "Do you think Mom likes the stuff I used to make her?"
"You mean the cards and drawings and stuff?" He turned his head to look at her for the first time, confused by her query, but she kept her eyes on the television. "Of course."
"Sometimes I think it bugs her when people do stuff for her."
"She gets this look. Guilt, maybe."
"Nah, it's not guilt." Lila's gaze flicked to his momentarily. "She's just not used to people doing stuff for her."
"That's … sad. I mean, sometimes I feel funny when Brook or Lace do something nice for me, but it's all good. I do stuff for them, too."
"Well…" He frowned, wondering how he could possibly tell his teenage daughter about Ziva's less-than-happy childhood and early adulthood without accidentally traumatizing the girl. "Not a lot of people did nice things for her, y'know?"
"You'll have to ask your mum about that, but I'd like to think I do."
Lila thought about that. "She should get used to it," she whispered, her voice sad.
He reached out a hand to stroke her curly hair. "She does. Just a little bit less than the rest of us, that's all."
"Yeah?" he answered, surprised once more by the tone his daughter had taken on. Young and vulnerable—something he thought she hadn't willingly shown in quite a while.
"What would happen if I suddenly decided I didn't wanna celebrate Christmas or Chanukah anymore?"
"Nothing," he said firmly, and she looked at him. "Your mum and I will love you no matter what."
She picked at her fingernails. "Really?"
"Really. You could move to Mars, Li, and your mum and I would probably go around telling everyone what a wise decision that was."
That made the thirteen-year-old laugh and roll her eyes. "That's so lame."
"Hey! You watch the movies; you know Mars is totally cool."
"Okay, I'll stop, I'll stop." He held his hands up in defeat.
"Thank you." With a huff of annoyed relief, Lila returned to watching the movie.
And because he was watching her, he saw it—he saw the way her body relaxed the tiniest fraction, as if a weight had finally been lifted off her shoulders.