And I hope when you think of me years down the line / You can't find one good thing to say. (The Mountain Goats, "No Children")
This is how it started: a little boy and a little girl and a world on its knees. Then one day, it isn't a game anymore.
They're at one of their father's parties when Ziva leans over and whispers, "I'm going to rip out your intestines and make you eat them."
Ari would like to see her try.
Where his hand is on her shoulder, arm wrapped around her, he begins to squeeze. Steadily, he tightens his grip for several minutes, until he can see the hint of a strain in her smile. There will be a bruise shaped like his hand around her arm, tomorrow.
This is how it has always been: she's bad and he's worse, until he's bad and she's worse.
How far can we go? What can't we do?
Ari is picking out tiny pieces of mirror embedded in the back of her hand.
"You're like a Spartan woman," he says.
"Fuck off," Ziva says.
"Why did you punch a mirror?"
"I said, 'Fuck off.'"
The tweezers he's using to pull the slivers from her knuckles dig into her flesh a little too sharply.
Ari says, "Spartan women had three duties."
Ziva asks him, "Do you love me?"
He says, "No," Because he doesn't. Ari doesn't love anyone, not even Ziva. Maybe especially not Ziva.
She smiles. "Good."
And when the palm of her hand is 'accidentally' thrust into his face when they're wrestling and his nose bleeds profusely, she holds a tissue to it but she also smiles at her own joke.
Ziva's goldfish is named Leonidas and sometimes she likes to place him on the shelf in her room so that he's eye-level and she can have meaningful conversations with him. Leonidas is a good listener. He just gapes at her, eyes wide, mouth opening and closing and he doesn't judge her.
One day Ziva comes home from school and Leonidas' bowl is shattered. The little bits of glass twinkle on the ground where the sunlight catches them, almost like they're winking at Ziva.
In Edinburgh, where Ari goes to school, Ziva visits him. They stretch out on the bed in his room as The Rolling Stones play "Paint It Black." Ziva knows the tune well, but not so much the words. Ari sings it quietly under his breath as they pass a cigarette back and forth.
Ziva takes her shirt off to show Ari the new injury that runs down her spine in an almost perfect line. Ari laughs, "It's a tiger stripe." And then, "It won't scar. Not badly, anyway."
The man Ari shares his flat with walks in without knocking. His eyes go wide, and then he flushes an unsightly magenta and stammers something.
Ari lets a slow rush of smoke out from between his lips and regards the man from underneath dark lashes. Ziva doesn't mistake the way Ari looks at him. She's seen that look before. Ari has an unfortunate habit of wanting things he'll never have.
Ari is a little too casual when he says, "This is Ziva."
Ziva all but licks her lips.
Her mother wants her to marry Schmuel, for—oh, a lot of reasons. She wants Ziva to marry him because he's a good Jewish Israeli boy from a good Jewish Israeli family and because he wants to be a doctor and because he wants ten children and because he wants to have those ten children with Ziva.
Ziva's mother is delighted. Ziva's father is getting stoned somewhere in Europe, but he would probably approve. Ziva is horrified.
Ari smirks and tells her: "The first duty of a virtuous Spartan woman was to give birth to strong Spartan warriors."
Ziva punches Ari. Schmuel marries a schoolteacher named Noa.
He dares her to jump off the roof at their Haifa summer home. She does. He gets a point because she sprains her left ankle. She gets a point because she jumped.
It's so damn hot in her room but they're all piled together on Ziva's bed. Tali is clinging to her on the right like she's five and not fifteen, and Ari's nearly on top of her on the left like he's two and not twenty, and her hair is sticking to her face.
"It's so hot," Tali whines quietly.
"Then get off of me," Ziva grumbles.
"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons," Ari says
"Ari," Ziva says, "Shut up." Then she pushes him off the bed.
The day after Tali dies Ziva moves out of her mother's house and into Ari's.
"You'll have to do your share," he says. Ziva sticks out her tongue.
"I'm not going to be here much," Ari adds. "The second duty of a Spartan woman was to manage the house while the men were at war."
Ziva writes a file about a woman named Caitlin Todd and when she passes it to Ari she smiles and says: "I dare you."
Ari says, "Stand in that anthill for two whole minutes."
Ziva shivers when he looks away, but she does it anyway. The ants crawl up her legs, biting as they go, but the worst part to Ziva is imagining all their little legs walking across her skin. She doesn't so much as blink for the two minutes, but one second after she starts screaming.
Ari picks her up and carries inside the house to the bathroom. He drops her in the bathtub and runs the water as cold as it can go.
(Ziva 203, Ari 204)
Ari sobs into the place where Ziva's neck meets her shoulders. His snot gets on her collar and she doesn't even notice because she's too busy rocking back and forth running her fingers over him to make sure he's still whole. She doesn't even know why he's crying except it sounds like the end of the world. Ari is a teenager curled into his little sister like he wants to disappear in her skin and she thinks she should find this heartbreaking or something but she doesn't.
She waits until he's quiet and still and she keeps her arms around him when she tells him he's pathetic.
She never does find out what happened. The way he walked into her room—she has an idea that she never asks.
Ari leans against the washing machine.
"There are things," Ari begins. His jaw clenches. "There are things that have been asked of me."
Ziva folds the t-shirts she takes out of the dryer and puts it into the basket. "What, someone came to you? Said: go here and do this, come back, go there and do this other thing for us."
"Then do it."
Ari's jaw line has a trace of stubble. It always surprises her that he needs to shave. She remembers when his face was smooth.
He says, "Ziva, I don't know if I can."
Ziva hands him his folded shirts and trousers and pats him on the cheek. His stubble feels like sand against her fingers.
The third, and most important, duty of a good Spartan woman was to remind her men of their duties.
"With your shield or on it, Ari."
Ziva's hair is getting in her eyes. They're at the beach, covered in salt and digging in the sand when she asks, "How do we know who wins?"
Ari tilts his head. "You mean the game?"
She nods. Ari shrugs, and squints at the sun drowning in the sea on the horizon. He tells her, "We'll just know who wins."
"People like us don't have happy endings," Ziva explains. "We don't get them. We don't deserve them."
He nods when she speaks, but he's not listening.
Ziva says, "Merde, it's cold."
Ari nods deliberately, and a yes, they're in Finland, what did she expect? expression.
She fixes him with a look. He says, "I'm agreeing with you."
She scoffs, and blows a stray bit of hair away from her face. Then she laughs and shakes her head, and looks away.
"One day, Ari," Ziva says, "You're going to want your happy ending, and you are not going to get it, because people like us—"
"Don't have happy endings."