Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS.
Spoilers: None too explicit; some to 7x01 "Truth or Consequences" implied, but that's all up to interpretation anyway. The whole thing is a gigantic spoiler to my fic "Strong," though, I suppose :P
Uh ... this is a sequel, obviously. It's not very readable if you haven't read "Strong" before, but in case you don't want to, then you should know that Lila was sexually harassed in the other fic, leading to a big argument between her and her mother, which led Tony to tell Lila that Ziva "got hurt when she (Ziva) was younger" but not be very specific, which gave Lila a nightmare—and this is the conversation that follows the nightmare. In takes place the middle of the night, of course. One thing to know is that her in this fic often refers to Lila; Ziva is known as "her mother" and its variations.
Also, very important: I rated this fic M because of an honest discussion of rape towards the end of the fic. It's not very long, but it's also one of the main parts of the fic, so ... well, if talking about rape doesn't squick you, then by all means proceed. If it does, this might not be the fic for you. There is nothing graphic, but I do kinda dive head-first into the discussion all the same.
Her mother was very good at purposely creating uncomfortable silences.
This was something that Lila, in her sixteen years of being on the Earth, often still pondered and analysed to bits and pieces and wished to be contrary—not because she wanted to avoid the awkwardness of the silence, but because it always seemed to make her talk about things she hadn't originally intended to share.
Now was one such moment, on the night that she had woken up to images of her mother—
"I don't want to think about it," she blurted out, and her mother looked caught off-guard.
"That was not what I was expecting you to say."
Lila shook her head and buried her face into a palm. "I can't stop thinking about it."
"Can't stop thinking about what?" her mum asked quietly.
"The nightmare. It was just horrible, and—"
"And it was just a nightmare."
Lila looked at her mother disbelievingly. "How could you say that?"
"Because I want you to know." The older woman reached across the kitchen table and scooped up Lila's hand. "That there are no bigger demons than those which you give yourself. It was just a nightmare, Lila, and I want you to remember that with all your might. Think about it whenever you are feeling uncomfortable—"
"That's stupid advice to give," Lila spat, and her mother let go of the hand and recoiled with an embarrassed look. "I just wanna forget! It's not gonna help me forget."
"You are not going to forget," her mother answered with a sigh, "not so soon after the nightmare."
"Thanks, Mom," Lila said sarcastically, throwing her chair back and standing up. Disregarding the cup of chamomile tea that her mother had made her, Lila was about to stomp out of the kitchen and go back to bed (or die trying) when her mum caught both of her hands.
"I am speaking the truth, Lila."
"You have never liked me sugar-coating the truth," her mum continued. "Unlike Ben."
"Sometimes I'd like to be protected, too," Lila whispered bitterly, and she could see through the corner of her eyes her mother's shoulders fall.
"I am trying."
"Well, try harder. I saw him touch you, Mom!" she yelled, feeling her emotions suddenly spin out of control. A sob wrecked her reluctant body, and she found herself pressed hard into her mother's arms even as tears spilt burning hot down her cheeks. "He was gonna hurt you. They were gonna hurt you, and I couldn't stop it. I wanted to but I was so scared. I tried, ima!"
"I know. I believe you," her mum shushed her, and Lila almost choked on the lump in her throat as she drew in a ragged breath. Her mum whispered, "I believe you would've done anything you could to protect me. But it was just a nightmare, and I am perfectly safe. Standing right here—with you."
"I'm such a pervert," Lila hiccupped. "Having nightmares about this."
"No, you are human. And you … needed a way to process what you had heard from your father, I suppose," her mother said gently.
"I don't want to know. But I want to know, and I don't know why," Lila whimpered, her heart wrenched into two halves. It was horrible.
She was horrible, for wondering what had happened to her mother. It was vile, disgusting, the way she thought about it—sexual harassment was something that her mother should never have to discuss with her, no matter their respective experiences with it. She was a teenager who should be able to handle her own problems; she shouldn't be looking for her mother to relate to her … right?
Selfish, her mind hissed at her. Always looking for someone to understand.
But now her mum was pulling her even closer and pressing a kiss into her hair, and it was only when Lila looked up that she realized, with a start, that her mum was crying.
"I am going to tell you because I love you," her mum said, voice quavering, and Lila's heart fell. "But you must remember that it all happened years ago—almost twenty years ago—and that it will never happen again as long as your father is here. Not to me or to you."
"Twenty years ago, there was a group of men."
"A group?" Lila echoed, nauseated.
"I used to work as the Mossad liaison for NCIS, as you know, and they needed some information I had," her mother proceeded, not addressing the pointless remark.
"Mom," Lila cried—
—And the heaving came unexpectedly. The teenage girl clamped a hand over her mouth as she retched, hoping to control her involuntary reactions, but it was futile; she could feel her heart race as the world narrowed down to herself and her mother, and the truth that pulsed ugly between them and rubbed her skin entirely raw. And then the bile rose up her throat in the end, and—
She barely made it to the toilet in time. As she bent over and threw up, she registered the presence of her mother entering the bathroom and coming up behind her. A warm, work-worn hand gathered up the hair at her shoulders, holding it firm against her nape; Lila felt shame twist her gut. Here her mother was, having just told her about what must have been one of the worst experiences in life, and yet the concern was all for her—the lame excuse for a daughter who should not have opened her mouth in the first place.
She thought she could taste the salt of tears on her tongue now, too.
A good half an hour later (or so it felt), things had finally settled down.
Lila sat on the edge of the bathtub, tucked inside her mum's embrace; the vomit had been flushed away, her mouth rinsed, her tears dried, and her emotions drained. Her mum hadn't moved in a while. Lila wondered what was going through the older woman's mind.
Eventually, her mum spoke. "I'm sorry." Lila raised her head, about to ask what the apology was for, when her mum continued, "I thought it might help you to hear the truth, but I suppose that did not help at all. And for that, I am sorry."
Lila cringed at the misplaced guilt. "No," she whispered, lowering her head. "It was my fault."
"I wanted to know, and yet I couldn't handle the truth—do you hate me?"
"I love you so much it hurts, nesicha," her mum replied, and Lila's vision blurred against her will.
"I shouldn't have asked you," she choked out.
"You asked me because you needed the sense of closure. You needed to know that things did not really happen the way they had in your nightmare."
"But I knew logically that they could not have happened that way," Lila protested.
"Yes, but you needed … the definite version, I suppose." Her mother sighed heavily and lifted the arm from around Lila's shoulders. "I know that this version is no easier to accept than your nightmare, but the important thing is that I got out. And that is all that you should cling on to, nesicha. I got out. I married your father. I had you and Ben. I've been having the time of my life."
"Yes. You are one of the best things that has ever happened to me, Lila. These days, I think about you and Ben and what you both have accomplished, and the things that happened to me years ago seem so far away."
"And I freakin' made you relive it," Lila muttered.
"You did not make me relive anything," her mum answered firmly. "I chose of my free will to tell you because you were not coping well with not knowing."
"Well, then I should've coped better!"
"And that is what I am here for, is it not?" the older woman retorted, and Lila snapped her mouth shut. "You need to stop blaming yourself for this. You did not plan the nightmare. You did not plan to get scared. You did not plan to throw up, and you did not force the answers out of me—all you wanted was to know about your mother's past. There is no sin in that."
"Well, I shouldn't want to know about this!"
"Why?" her mum challenged. Lila pursed her lips and averted her eyes, humiliation at her wrongful curiosity running once again through her.
Her mother breathed out deeply again.
"There is a sort of stigma attached to rape," the older woman began, and Lila felt her breath catch in her throat. "Most people do not talk about it. Loved ones do not know where to begin asking about this, and … even I struggle to tell you after two decades. But I refuse to expect you to come to me about this without my extending the same courtesy to you. And I am not saying that I hope the same fate ever befalls you, but I am not going to leave you with the sense that rape cannot be talked about. I will not teach you that it is shameful or forbidden to talk about rape. Because it is what it is—rape happens, and I will have failed you terribly as a mother if I impart to you the message that a survivor of rape has to hide himself or herself."
Lila stared at her mother, the woman whom she'd thought she knew after sixteen years of shared accommodations and blood relations.
It turned out that she'd known next to nothing about her mother, though. She hadn't known prior to that day that her mother had been hurt. She hadn't known about how until an hour before.
And she hadn't known until moments ago that her mother was such a magnificent woman so capable of being so blunt and honest and … safe. At the end of the day, knowing where the person who lay closest to her heart stood was just comforting, and Lila already felt a lot less lonely. "So, you don't think I was wrong to have asked you?" she questioned.
"No," her mum reassured her. "I think you needed to heal, and if I have given you the means to then I am glad. And while we are at it, I am glad you trusted me enough to share with me what that boy at your summer job did."
Lila felt her face burn. "It was nothing compared to you."
"If it scared you, then it was something," her mother answered. "Never devalue your feelings, Lila—that goes hand-in-hand with not blaming yourself for sexual harassment."
Lila bit her lip and nodded, feeling tears burn the back of her eyelids again. "I love you, ima," she whispered, and she could tell by the stunned silence that it had been far too long since she had said the phrase to either parent.
"Gam ani ohevet otach, yaldah sheli," came the warm reply, and Lila felt something roll down her cheek, after all. "Now, do you want more chamomile tea or do you want to go to bed? I'm pretty sure that the cup sitting on the kitchen table has gotten cold by now."
And Lila could only laugh and curl into her mother's arms, gratefully accepting the kiss the older woman placed high on her forehead.
Gam ani ohevet otach, yaldah sheli—I love you too, my girl.