Disclaimer: Ooh, you know what? :D The other day ... never mind.
Spoilers: Mild 7x01 "Truth or Consequences"; there are more spoilers to the numerous interpretations there are of that episode in the archives than the actual episode itself, lol.
Setting: This is part of my family series, with Lila and Ben. Lila is a sixteen-year-old here.
1) The sections in italics take place in the past.
2) There are a lot of interpretations and heavy themes here, including the topic of sexual harassment and the allusion to rape. The T rating is for that. This fic may not be suitable for young readers (not because it's graphic, but because it's ... well ... complicated in general, and I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression).
3) This fic is long. I just had to mention that, lol. it's the longest one-shot I've ever written, I think.
4) This may be the last one-shot I write for two weeks or so, even though I'll still be updating "Glimpse" because it's pre-written. This is due to homework :( my dissertation, which I'm nowhere near to finishing, to be specific :P
Enjoy! Oh, and even though I use "fighting" and "self-defence" interchangeably here for convenience purposes, they usually refer to two very different things. Don't confuse them :P
P.S. To TapesAndRecords's readers: Kiera would like me to inform you that her laptop is unfortunately deprived of WiFi, and therefore she cannot update :( but she will be back as soon as possible!
He heard the argument from the kitchen.
Ziva had been asking their daughter to continue with the self-defence training, and their daughter had refused, protesting Ziva's insistence and "demandingness," finally refusing to train anymore and stomping up the stairs to her room.
He gave it a few minutes before he slipped into the living room and found Ziva kneeling in the middle on the training mat, staring firmly at the ground. She looked so small—with the furniture pushed up against the walls and her figure hunched up like that; alone and miserable. His heart gave an odd pang as he sat beside her and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her into his lap.
"I'm all sweaty," she whispered, even though she didn't really make an effort to move away.
"I know." He kissed her hair. "I don't care. We could just shower together later."
She laughed and brushed furiously at her eyes. "I'm going to destroy our daughter," she choked out.
"No, you're not," he answered firmly.
She lifted a hand and dropped it. "I've known for days that she was going to yell at me. I pushed her too hard, too soon."
He rubbed her cheek softly. "Remember we talked about why you were doing this?"
Her chest heaved. "Because I could not bear to let anyone else do it. But right now I feel like I'm turning into my father."
"You're different from your father."
"How am I different? I am pushing her just as hard as he pushed me."
"I know." He tugged her closer and kissed her cheek. "But I also know you'd never let her struggle alone if she needed you, and that's why you're doing this in the first place."
He'd never forget the day he walked into the house and found Ziva seated at the dining table, her back towards him and her face in her hands. Worried, he had approached the table, dropping the grocery bags onto it and asking her what was wrong; she had patted the chair beside her without lifting her head, waiting for him to sit down.
"I managed to get Lila to tell me why she quit her summer job," she answered mournfully through her hands. "Finally."
"Why did she?" he asked, concerned by Ziva's distress.
She shook her head slowly. "You are going to be so mad at me when I tell you what I did."
"What did you do?"
"I told her I would teach her to fight."
He paused. "What?"
"I told you —"
"Ziva, why would you even say that? What happened on that job?"
She dropped her hands. "Someone tried to touch her."
"Sit down!" Ziva snapped, and he realized with a start that he'd stood up without noticing it. "I do not need you storming upstairs and asking her what happened. Sit down."
He sat, but he wasn't about to comply so easily. "Give me one good reason that I shouldn't be asking her for the bastard's name right now so that I can gut him," he gritted out. "Is it Jaxon?"
"One good reason?" Her eyes flashed to his. "How about that he never actually touched your daughter because she kneed him before he could? Or that she is still a teenage girl who wants to keep her dignity? And no, of course it is not Jaxon. She was not even working with him."
"How can you be so calm?" He glared at her angrily. "Don't you care?"
"Of course I care. That's why I'm going to teach her to fight!" She slammed her fist against the table and muttered, "And I almost wish I could gut him myself."
He breathed out. "Damnit, Zi, I don't know what to do."
"He is just a boy." She breathed out as well. "And he did not actually do anything. Promise me that you will not go and hunt him down."
"How could you—"
"I know you. And I know you would not stop defending our children until your death. But…" She sighed and shook her head. "She needs you to care. Not to get angry and take revenge."
"Damnit," he swore again, suddenly feeling like he had to punch something. "Fine."
"But we have to do something."
She lifted her eyes to his, sadly and wearily. "I know. That's why I'm going to teach her Krav Maga."
The air was heavy in its silence, even though Ziva's sadness had abated somewhat.
She sat sideways with her shoulders slumped and her head lowered, still in his embrace; he sat with one arm around her back and another stroking her thigh until her breathing calmed down.
She broke the quiet. "You are going to ask me again, are you not?"
He rubbed the skin on the inside of her knee. "You know I have to ask you."
"I know." She pressed her face into his shirt momentarily before continuing. "I am … not sure if this is the smartest idea. If doing this will be worth all the arguments we could potentially be having. But I am her mother. I am supposed to take care of her. I cannot be around her 24/7, so this is the only way…"
"It's not, and you know that."
"Tony, I have the skills." She looked up at him. "How can I, in good conscience, send my daughter to be taught by someone else when I can teach her by myself and make sure, by myself, that she knows everything she needs to know?"
"Zi…" He stroked her knee. "It's just like teachers sending their children to school anyway. It's not different."
"This is life or death here." Her eyes suddenly filled. "I don't know what I would do if someone hurt my baby because I didn't teach her what she should've known…"
"Okay, okay." He tucked her head into the crook of his neck as the hold she had on her tears suddenly broke, and shushed her as sobs racked her body. "It's okay, Zi. It'll be okay."
"You really want to do this?" he asked, watching as she slipped into a tank top for bed.
"We have no choice."
"What?" she snapped.
"You've been tense all day, and I think Ben and Lila both noticed at dinner. Except, Lila knows why."
"I cannot do anything about that."
"Talk to me."
She sighed, pulling on a pair of shorts before going to sit at the foot of the bed, back straight, knees to her chest, and arms loose around her legs. "I am worried."
"Today, I'm saying that Lila needs to learn how to defend herself. Tomorrow … I will be saying that she needs to attack in order to defend."
"Oh, I know where this is going."
Her nostrils flared. "Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me that when I told you I was going to teach her how to fight, the first thing that came to your mind was not that I was turning her into what I had been to my father."
"Actually, the first thing that came to mind was exactly what I said—'what the hell happened on that job'."
She gave a grim smile. "You did not say 'hell.'"
"What does it matter?" he asked, frustrated. "Do you think I woulda married a woman whom I thought was gonna turn our children into soldiers?"
She flinched at that. "Was what I was really so bad?"
"No." He breathed out and rubbed his face with both hands. "I'm sorry, Zi. But look, you're not gonna hurt out children. Firstly, I wouldn't let you do that. And secondly … you're not your dad."
She bit her lip and looked down at the bedspread. "Would you take them and leave like my mother did my father?"
"Never." He crawled out from under the blankets to her, sitting back on his heels and cupping her face with his hands. "No divorce, Ziva, remember? Never."
She sucked in a shaky breath of air. "When she was born," Ziva began, "I thought we would have all the time in the world. She was just a baby, and I could protect her and keep her by me. And now she is sixteen and somehow, all these years, I have neglected to teach her one of the most important skills a woman, a person, could have. That was a boy, who did not touch her because she kneed him very hard and knew how to get away. But it could have been worse. It could have been her supervisor, or a robber, or just a m-man … it could have been worse."
"I know," he acknowledged, suppressing a repulsed shudder at the thought of 'worse.'
She sniffled and patted his hand on her cheek, her not-quite-dry eyes lifting to meet his. "Am I wrong? To want to teach her how to fight?"
"No," he answered firmly, and he believed it.
She nodded, her chin trembling. "Promise me you will never let me hurt them."
He leant in and pressed a kiss to her forehead, right where her brows furrowed. "I promise."
She nodded again, tearful even though a tiny smile wavered at the edges of her lips. "I am counting on you to have my back."
"Hey, Zi?" He stroked her hair, curling the end of a single lock around his index finger.
She wiped her eyes, having stopped crying a while back. "Hmm?"
"Remember when you said you counted on me to have your back?" She stiffened. "Well, I think you should let someone else teach her Krav Maga."
"Am I going too—"
"Not at all," he interrupted, quelling her worries before she could voice them. "You're not going too far. But … this is killing you; I know it. You're worried, and you look like you're gonna cry after every session, and you hate pushing her like your father pushed you, but you think you have to do it because it's the only way." He tugged lightly on her hair. "I think this is gonna destroy you before it destroys her."
"I have to protect her."
"I know. But she needs you to be her mother, not her trainer. Yell at her when she comes home too late. Tell her off if she does something dangerous. Ground her if she sneaks off without our permission. But don't … push her like that, because honestly, Zi, she needs you. She needs to know she can still come home and have you spoil her rotten because you haven't lost her and yourself to your fears."
Ziva clapped a hand to her mouth, blinking rapidly. "I don't want to lose her."
"Then you need to let her go a little bit," he whispered against her head. "Just a tiny, very little bit, because I don't think I could let her go too far, either. But we could get her the best in DC. Stalk him to make sure he taught her every single thing he was qualified to. Make him qualify for new things to teach her." That made her laugh, even if with tears in her voice. "Okay?"
It was a long time before she finally wiped her nose and nodded. "Okay."
For more than two weeks, Ziva pushed their daughter as hard as she could.
Training was three hours a day on weekdays and five hours a day on weekends; Tony often felt himself break into a sweat just by looking at them. What Lila had to do for training was by no means easy, and it was no wonder that the girl's already short fuse was growing increasingly shorter. Impatience and defensiveness were rapidly becoming constant companions at the dinner table, and even if Lila had initially agreed to the training, Tony guessed that she was frightened by Ziva's sudden change—even he was somewhat alarmed, and he seen the worst of it when Ziva had thrown him to concrete ground centuries ago. Ziva did not do 'tough' in moderation.
To say he was worried would be an understatement.
Lila was in a perpetual state of distress and exhaustion. Ben was in a perpetual state of confusion. Tony was in a perpetual state of being torn, between duty to wife and duty to daughter (and duty to son, even), because he had no idea how he could possibly merge the roles in this case. Ziva's nightmares had come back with a vengeance; at least on four separate nights did he wake up to her murmuring tortured pleas in her sleep, her fearful gasps not fading until he tucked her into his arms and held her there for the rest of the night.
He couldn't understand.
It was a simple touch that never happened.
Except it wasn't just a simple touch that had never happened, because of what Ziva had been through. And because they had never been uncomplicated. And because, even after all these years, they were still deathly terrified of what things would come to if they lost control of the world around them. There were no predictabilities in raising a child, but still … they had to give it their best shot.
It took him until the end of the second week to hit upon the answer so obvious in its simplicity that he almost headslapped himself for not having thought of it earlier. Find a self-defence class for Lila, duh.
But it wasn't that straightforward. If he knew Ziva, then he knew Ziva's reasons for wanting to train Lila herself; yet, he had to try. He brought it up while he and Ziva were preparing dinner one night. With a rather pinched look on her face, she had told him that she'd thought of it way before they'd ever started the training lessons (of course she had). And then she had proceeded to tell him why she'd dismissed that idea.
He hadn't been able to argue with her reasons, really.
He just wanted Lila safe, too.
Still, watching the fabric of his family getting a little looser and frayed, he knew that three hours of training per weekday and five hours of training per weekend were too much. Things couldn't continue indefinitely. Their family had been shaken by an event (one that, admittedly, probably wouldn't have affected most families the way it had theirs), sure, but their foundation was still strong. They could still return to the way they were—if he took action.
Hearing, from the kitchen, Lila yell at her mother, he knew the moment was then. He had to step in.
Knocking on Lila's door was a bit of a flashback to the days when he still worked with Abby.
There was a lot of loud music, its beats pounding through the floorboards, and Lila had switched the pinks and whites of her childhood bedroom for the reds and whites of a more mature world. Oh, well. At least there was no black.
He waited until Lila had turned off her stereo and opened her door. The teenage girl stood there staring at him, a hint of sadness in her eyes. "Mom sent you, didn't she?" she asked without preamble.
He raised his eyebrows at her. "What makes you think that?"
"You rarely come to my room without wanting to talk to me about Mom or something like that."
"Well, I doubt a teenage girl would want me to gate-crash her haven."
Lila scrunched up her nose. "Awful phrasing, but you have a point." She waved a hand at the general area of her room. "Welcome to my 'haven.' Sorry, it's a little messy."
He had to suppress a chuckle at that. 'Messy' was an understatement. He went in and stood around, feeling out of sorts, until she cleared her books off her desk chair and drew it up to the bed, gesturing for him to sit before settling cross-legged onto the bed herself. He sat in the chair, watching her until she grew twitchy.
She sighed. "You want an apology from me."
"Not really. I want an explanation."
"Are you on Mom's side on this?"
"You made her cry, Lila. Again."
"And you think she didn't make me cry?" Lila grabbed her pillow from the head of her bed subconsciously, wrapping her arms around it and fiddling agitatedly with the material. "I feel like she's mad at me for … what I told her."
"How do you know? You aren't there when she trains me. You don't know what it feels like."
"What does it feel like?"
She bit her bottom lip. "Dad, I'm sorry I told her," Lila answered, her voice suddenly shaky. "I didn't mean to upset her. I mean, she was asking, and I just had to tell someone, and I … I'm sorry I told her."
"Li." Tony got up and went to sit on the bed beside her, drawing her into his arms; for the second time that day, he found himself comforting an emotional female. "She's not mad at you; I promise that. She's just scared."
"Why?" Lila asked plaintively. "I wasn't hurt!"
"I know, but you know how she gets…" He paused.
And, in the time of his contemplation, watched his daughter nudge him aside, rub her face, and finally cross over to her desk for a box of tissues when she determined that her mere hands were not enough to dry her tears.
She looked so little. One could argue that she was far too young to hear such things.
But he knew she wasn't; not really. He'd investigated enough cases and come across enough victims to know that the danger for sexual harassment (and, horrifyingly, more) was simply a part of female life; even if he ached and yearned to protect Lila forever, her innocence could not remain wholly unsullied if she wished to grow up. She had to know.
So, he made up his mind for the second time.
"Listen. Come here." She obeyed, sitting down in the chair opposite him in all her sniffling glory. "Look, I think you're big enough, so I'm going to tell you something … your mum, she got hurt when she was younger."
Her eyes grew large. "Hurt?"
He nodded … and gave her the G-Rated version of things, because Ziva was her mother, after all. "Like you nearly were. And that's why she overreacts, y'know?"
Lila chewed on her lip, swallowing once, twice. "How bad was it?" she finally asked in a whisper. "It's a big overreaction."
He should've known that his daughter would've been too smart to just accept what he'd said. "It's not something you want to think about," he replied eventually, shaking his head. "But that's why she overreacts. She just wants to look out for you."
Lila shifted in her chair. "I don't like fighting."
"I know," he answered gently. "And we could probably go a little easier on you. But the truth is that … you're going out there without any self-defence skills, and we're worried about you. We can't keep you glued to our hi—"
"I'm fine!" the sixteen-year-old protested vehemently. "Look, it only happened once, and the guy didn't touch me; I kneed him."
"Your mum gave me the understanding that he'd been verbally harassing you for weeks."
She made a noise of disgust. "I can't believe she told you in the first place."
"Lila, propriety about telling me or not, he nearly hurt you. That makes us worry about you."
"You keep saying that." She crossed her arms. "I don't … I don't want to know that anyone could hurt me."
He frowned. "You have the solution to that."
"Fighting is not the solution. Self-defence is not a solution; it's a defence!"
"It could help keep you safe."
She fidgeted once more before huffing. "But I don't like this. I feel like I've lost my family. It's like, 'Mom' or 'Safety.' There's no middle ground. I don't want it. I want Mom back, Dad."
"I talked to her about that," Tony said quickly, trying to placate his agitated daughter. "Li … if we got you a self-defence instructor, someone outside the family … would that be a suitable compromise?"
"Would Mom still be training me?"
He shook his head. "No. She'd just be your mum."
Lila hesitated. "I could try it."
He held out his pinkie finger. "Promise me you will?"
A minute passed before she looped her little finger around his. "I promise." And then she bit her lip. "Dad, did you know? When it happened."
He dropped his hand and lowered his head, realizing that in hindsight, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to tell her, after all. "No. I wasn't with your mum at the time."
"Did she tell you later?"
"Yeah. After you and Ben were born, in fact. But I suspected, I guess."
"And you still stayed with her, even though you suspected? " The girl sounded so taken aback that he looked up, wondering if the matter was a different issue altogether.
"What's this third degree about?"
She wriggled a bit. "Well, I mean, he didn't touch me … but it still bugged me, and I was … scared, and I wanted to tell Jaxon. But I didn't know what Jaxon would think."
"What did you expect Jaxon would think?"
"I don't know. But I didn't want him to … think things … when he looked at me."
"Lila, he wouldn't have thought anything."
"How do you know?"
Tony pondered how to answer that. "Well, knowing what I knew about your mother was … hard. But I loved her, and that was all that mattered."
"Well, what if it doesn't matter to Jaxon?"
"Then he's not worth your time." Lila lifted her hands incredulously, so he elaborated, "Li, as much as I'd like to pretend that you'd tell me and your mother about everything under the sun forever, I know it's not possible—and I'm not talking about something like this, because with something like this, you should always tell us. But maybe, with some things, you'd prefer to tell Jaxon or Brook. And if that's the case, you need to know that you'd be able to trust them. You know?"
She nodded. "Well, you won't ever get what you can trust them with if you don't share anything with them," he continued. "Look, if Jaxon splits, I have a big tub of ice-cream in the fridge and you mum probably has some big stick somewhere that she'd like to use on whoever hurts you." She gave a small giggle. "But if he doesn't split, then a year later, no matter how things go between you two, you'll know that you've made the right choice in sticking with him all this time."
Lila stared at him with wide eyes. "That's … surprisingly insightful."
"I have my moments." He shrugged. "All I'm saying is, you don't want a guy who'd only like you if things went the way he thought they were supposed to."
"I guess so."
"And for the record, I adore your mother. Beyond your belief." Lila wrinkled her nose with faked disgust, and he laughed and nudged his head towards the door. "C'mon. Let's go tell her what we've decided."
Tony had thought long and hard about admitting to Lila that he knew what had happened.
But it had turned out, barely three days into the training, that he really needn't have worried about it because she'd known instinctively, anyway. That was the way she was—strangely perceptive. He'd walked in on one of her and Ziva's training lessons, and she'd taken one look from him to her mother and shrieked hysterically, "You told him?"
It had been the first time she'd actually managed to knock her mother to the ground in the middle of a sparring session, albeit with anger rather than skill.
He'd taken it upon himself to head to her room later that night, coaxing her, wheedling her, and explaining to her, before she'd grudgingly admitted to seeing a tiny bit of sense in her mother's having told him about everything.
It had been three days before she smiled at her mother again, though—and the smile had soon disappeared.
Having told Lila a bit about what had occurred with Ziva made him wonder if the same thing would happen. The teenage girl hadn't uttered a single word, when they went to inform Ziva of their decision, about what he had mentioned to Lila, but still….
It would probably have been prudent to have informed Ziva beforehand.
Yet—even though it was an overused excuse—no one had ever accused him of being prudent.
He and Ziva both were fully awake before the bedroom door had even opened halfway in the middle of the night.
These days, their bedroom door didn't tend to admit frightened children hoping for them to send away the Bogeyman and other monsters, after all.
It was therefore surreal, to say the least, to hear sixteen-year-old Lila call for her mother in a young and scared voice. Ziva was up in a flash, though.
"Lila? What's wrong?"
"I'm … um…"
There was a long pause during which Tony, his face turned away from them both, pretended to sleep. He wondered, though, if they'd left the room after all—so silent was the night.
And then, "Dad um … he told me … never mind."
"Lila." There was a shift in the mattress, as if Ziva was getting up. When she spoke again, her voice sounded much further away from him. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
"I had a nightmare." Lila's words came out in an almost-incoherent rush. "Dad told me what had happened with you, and it—the nightmare wasn't pretty, and the guy was back…"
The night tapered into silence once more, and then Ziva sighed. "Oh, sweetheart. I'm sorry your father told you."
"No, he was just trying to make things better…"
"Mmm. Come here." Pause. "Do you want to talk?"
"Are you—are you mad?"
"No, I am not angry. But I do think we need to talk about some things."
Lila's voice came out wavering in the next sentence. "I'm sorry I pushed you down. I know you were just trying to help me. I just … didn't like that Dad knew…"
"I know. And I'm sorry I did not ask for your permission before telling him." He understood, from the lilt in Ziva's voice, that she knew he was awake, and that he was going to have some explaining to do in the morning. Not in that moment, though. "Will you forgive me?"
"Yes, ima." The latter word came out as a sob. "I'll always forgive you."
"Thank you." Ziva's voice, too, was quavering a little. "Come on, sweetheart. I will get us some tea, yes? Tomorrow is a Sunday, and we can talk for however long you need us to."
A sniffle. "Okay."
There was another pause, and Ziva's voice was softer when she spoke again. "And we will be okay, hmm? Do not worry, nesicha. Let's get out of here before your father wakes up. He can be grumpy if he does not get his beauty sleep."
He turned to face the door as it shut tight, the faintest sounds of Lila's choked laughter drifting through.
He had to smile, even though Ziva would most likely be annoyed with him when he awoke. He knew they were, by no means, 'okay' yet. But they would be.
They still had a strong foundation.