Elizabeth didn’t know what to think or feel. An hour ago, hearing Xander say what he did had stung; she thought he knew her better than that, trusted her more than that, regardless of what was happening. Still, she was scared of losing his friendship and she begged his forgiveness for doing what she had to. Now that she was away, with her sister, she wasn’t entirely sure how to react.
Ziva was trying to figure out what Elizabeth was thinking. Her sister had had an introspective look ever since they left the library. Ziva had an idea what it might have been about, but she didn’t know for sure and was hoping Elizabeth would confide in her. Finally, she gave up, and asked. “Dime for them,” she told her sister, who snorted softly.
“It’s a penny, Ziva, but I don’t think these ones are even worth that, let alone a dime,” she said, frowning slightly. “I just can’t believe he said that,” she said slowly, trying to put her confused thoughts into words. “He claimed to love me, I thought he knew me, trusted me, even with everything that was going on. I can’t believe he said I might be a terrorist.”
Knowing how hard those words, that accusation, hit anyone from a land where losing childhood friends and family to terrorist attacks was not just a serious risk but really an inevitability, Ziva sighed.
“And here’s me, so desperate to keep his friendship that I fall all over myself apologizing for protecting them! I just…” she bit her lip, unsure what to say.
“It cuts deep,” she said, nodding slowly. “I…” she paused, then decided to go ahead. “Ari. Ari Haswari was our half-brother. He was meant to be a double agent inside Hamas; I was his handler. It turns out he was not a double agent, more like a triple. He killed NCIS Special Agent Caitlin Todd, and it was not until he confronted my new boss, Special Agent Gibbs, with the man’s own rifle, that I believed them about him.”
Buffy watched her sister as Ziva’s eyes filled with tears.
“You killed him,” she said, switching to Hebrew, knowing automatically that this wasn’t public knowledge.
“Yes,” Ziva replied in the same language.
“You cleaned the stain on our family’s honour.” Elizabeth wrapped her sister in a hug.
Ziva switched back to English and continued. “Yes. But that is not actually why I told you this. When it was happening, a lot of things were said; accusations made against me also. It hurt, and it took me time, but some of the people who made those accusations are now my best friends. The boy has a large mouth, but he was talking nonsense. I know it hurts; words hurt, regardless of what people say to the contrary. I just don’t want to see you throw away your friendship over a single thoughtless statement.”
“You’re right,” Elizabeth admitted. “Papa doesn’t know, does he? About Ari?” she clarified when Ziva looked at her. “Don’t worry, he won’t hear anything on the subject from me,” she added at Ziva’s expression.
“Do you want to spar?” asked Ziva, standing and stretching.
“Don’t blame me if I hurt you.” Buffy grinned teasingly at her sister, who had a feral glint in her eye as she looked back.
Tony stood on the back porch and watched the two sisters bounce each other all over the yard, occasionally wincing in sympathy. The two seemed evenly matched, Elizabeth standing up to her sister’s greater height, reach and experience and landing plenty of her own strikes.
Eventually, Ziva knocked Elizabeth’s feet out from under her, sending her flat onto her back. Elizabeth swept out with one leg, bringing Ziva down beside her, spinning over to pin her sister so that she couldn’t move. Ziva attempted various moves, but none worked. Giving up, she tapped out, slapping the ground with her left hand. Elizabeth rolled off and landed on her back beside her. She turned her head to look at her sister, who grinned at her.
“If you were not so much stronger than you should be, I could take you, but you are very skilled,” Ziva told her, standing and reaching down to pull her sister upright. Elizabeth winced slightly at the previously forgotten pain in her ribs, but smiled at Ziva.
“Thank you very much,” Buffy replied, bowing comically. Ziva laughed, as did Tony.
“Not bad execution on that line,” he said, grinning. “You didn’t totally butcher the King, so I guess your rather cliché choice can be overlooked.”
Buffy stuck her tongue out at him, startling another chuckle from Ziva. She suddenly yawned hugely, stretching.
“You need to eat and take your pills, then sleep for a while,” Ziva declared. “No, I do not actually care how what time it is, you are tired, are you not? And by your own admission you did not sleep well last night,” she said at the look Buffy gave her. “Come on, we will get something to eat.”
Buffy woke a couple of hours later and stretched. Her eyes landed on the creamy envelope that stuck out of the top of her purse where it had burst open, and she bit her lip. She reached out and, fingers trembling slightly, pulled it out of the bag.
She bit her lip, trying to make up her mind, then slowly opened the envelope. She pulled out several pages, and a cassette tape fell out of the middle. She flipped it over in her fingers; it was blank. She reached over to her desk, where her combined CD/Tape player sat, and put it on. As the first strains of music started to play, she bit back a sob.
She rolled back onto her bed, ‘You are My Sunshine’ echoing in her ears. Tears ran down her cheeks as she heard her mother singing or saying those words to her, so many times over the years. When she used to come and visit while still living in Tel Aviv, she had trouble sleeping because it was so quiet. Joyce would sing her to sleep, so many beautiful songs in her soft, lilting voice.
She swiped a hand over her eyes and lifted the letter, so carefully, as though it was fragile. Buffy,
If you’re reading this, it means I’m no longer with you. I want you to know that you truly were my sunshine, my hope in this world for it to become a better place because you lived in it.
I love you so much and am so proud of you, and I don’t want you to ever forget that. You are precious and valuable, don’t ever let anyone tell you any different.
I missed so much of your childhood. At the time it seemed like the right thing to do, but now…I wish I had been there for every second, to hear your first word, to kiss your scraped knees and bumped elbows, sing you back to sleep after your nightmares.
You are a beautiful young woman, Buffy, and while I can’t truly take the credit for making you that way, I am so very proud of you. I hope that you can forgive me for what I allowed, for not being there for you when a girl needs a mother.
I love you, Buffy.
The song had changed; now the strains of ‘Catch a Falling Star’ filled the room. Buffy turned to the third and final page, and found it was a picture, a charcoal sketch of her and her mother, taken from one of their photos when Buffy was about twelve. She was looking up at her mother, a wide-eyed, wondering expression on her face, while Joyce grinned mischievously.
Elizabeth carefully place the letter where it would be safe before she collapsed down onto the bed, shoulders shaking as she wept furiously. She pounded on her pillow with her fist, and down filled the air after her third strike.
Suddenly, a pair of strong arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly, a voice in her ear sang softly along with the cassette and a hand was stroking her hair.
Ziva had heard the music start upstairs, and slipped up to check on her sister. The door wasn’t completely closed, so she stood to one side and watched as Buffy had read Joyce’s letter. When she had put the letter aside and collapsed, Ziva moved forwards, avoiding her fists and wrapped her arms around her, holding her tightly and singing along to the music playing.
Buffy slept late the next day. She took a quick shower, then brushed her hair, pulling it back in a tight, high braid that showed her dark roots. She carefully put in her contacts, then applied some makeup. She put on a skirt and blouse and headed downstairs, eyes still slightly swollen from her tears the night before.
She had fallen asleep after spending hours talking to Ziva, about Joyce, about life in Sunnydale, LA and Tel Aviv. It had helped to remember so many of the good times, the things they had done together, and even while apart.
Ziva, in her turn, had told her stories from around the globe, including many extremely hilarious of the antics of her team at NCIS. She had also told her several stories about Ari, and the pranks the two of them used to play when he came to visit. The best ones were the ones they played on their father, and his reactions to them. It had been a good night, with laughter and tears in equal measure.
She entered the kitchen, stocking-covered feet almost completely silent. Tony was sitting at the table alone, crouched over a coffee cup. Elizabeth grinned, biting her lip, then snuck up behind him, waiting till the last second then grabbed his shoulders.
He jumped, just avoiding knocking his mug over as he whirled to face her.
“Good God, woman!” he cried, eyes wide as he slowly relaxed and released the grip he had on his weapon. “What is it with you and your sister and sneaking up on people?”
“Ummm…It’s fun watching them jump?” suggested Elizabeth, biting her lip to keep from laughing at him.
Tony sat back down with a sigh, picking up his coffee cup. “Ziva went to get some breakfast, I told her I didn’t want any more of that slop she made yesterday morning.”
Buffy rolled her eyes at him and poured herself a cup of coffee, pulling up a chair. “You have a problem with her porridge?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Hers in particular? No. Porridge in general? Yeah, I’m not a fan. Gooey, stodgy, hot and flavourless?” He shook his head, grimacing.
“To each his own,” Buffy said, taking a swig of the coffee, straight black. Tony winced at the thought, curling his lip.
They heard the front door open, and a minute later Ziva stepped into the kitchen, a pastry box in one hand.
“That will stun your growth,” she told Elizabeth, who stuck out her tongue while Tony snorted.
“Stunt her growth, Ziva,” Tony groaned, taking another draft of his own heavily creamed and sugared coffee. “She needs to learn some manners. Sneaking up behind people, dreadfully rude, don’cha’know.”
“You came up behind him without him hearing you?” Ziva asked, looking at Elizabeth with a grin.
“Maybe,” she replied, looking down into her coffee cup and biting her lip.
“Well done,” Ziva told her, setting the box in front of them and flipping the top off.
Buffy grabbed a jelly donut and took a huge bite out of it, sighing happily. Ziva turned from the table and poured a glass of water, then set it and the medicine bottles next to her sister’s hand.
“Thanks,” Buffy said distractedly, licking the remains of the donut off her fingers, Tony watching her, looking slightly traumatized at the sight of her eating the entire donut in about twenty seconds.
“And I thought watching McGee eat was bad. Where do you put it?” he asked, staring at her.
“I’m a teenager,” Buffy replied, shrugging. She took her pills quickly and grabbed a second jelly donut, just beating Tony to it, and giving him a Cheshire grin around her first mouthful.
Ziva watched the two of them interact, a slightly smile on her face.
“What time do we need to be at the funeral parlour?” asked Elizabeth, looking over to Ziva.
“The funeral starts at one,” her sister replied, and Buffy nodded. “Until then, I think we should start sorting through things here, so you know what you want to keep. We are going to need to head back to DC soon.”
Elizabeth nodded. She both did and didn’t want to stay in Sunnydale. She wanted to stay closer to her mother, although she knew that was irrational, and she wanted to stay near her friends. She also knew that Angel would have to stay, because he was meant to be redeeming himself by assisting the Slayer, but while some part of her mourned that fact, she knew that it was probably for the best anyway.
The part that wanted to leave wanted the confusion to end, wanted to be able to be herself and not hide behind a mask. She knew, really, that Buffy wasn’t just a mask, that she was very much a part of her personality, but she wanted to not have to hide things. She wanted to call herself Elizabeth David, to wear her Star of David, to go to a synagogue or eat kosher food without risking blowing her cover. She wanted to be proud of her heritage and show it to the world around her.
“Everything in my bedroom, and all of the photos and albums, for a start,” she said, standing from the table and moving towards the hall. “Some of mom’s stuff. There’s nothing at the gallery I want, except a couple of photos on mom’s desk, so we can pick those up sometime. Hank’s going to handle selling everything, yeah?”
“That’s right,” Ziva replied, nodding. “The money will go into a trust account until you finish school. As for as the furniture, we are going to need to find a bigger place, we will not really fit in my apartment, so maybe we can bring some of that with us.”
Elizabeth nodded distractedly as she knelt by a bookshelf, sorting through the contents.
After the funeral was over, they stood around in the room provided for the wake. There were only a few people there that Buffy didn’t know, some men and women who knew her mother from the gallery and other events. For the rest, it was just Giles, Willow, Xander, Tony, Ziva and herself. Funerals were too frequent in Sunnydale to draw people who didn’t really know the person.
Buffy was nibbling on a sandwich, making small talk with the funeral parlour director, a man whose life she had saved on more than one occasion. He soon excused himself, needing to get on to the next funeral.
Buffy watched the group, Ziva and Tony both standing back as well. Everyone made their way to her eventually, offering their condolences and ‘if there’s anything we can do’s’. Wanting to get away, she slipped out into the hall, heading for the ladies’ room.
She quickly used the facilities, and, after washing her hands, leaned down and splashed a little water on her cheeks, taking advantage of waterproof makeup to cool herself down. She heard the door open, and started to turn towards it when her head slammed down on the sink. Woozily, she started to stand, striking out wildly. She felt a sharp sting over her left shoulder blade, and an odd, light-headed rushing came over her. She felt her eyes closing of their own accord and couldn’t seem to stop them. The last thing she saw was the tiles rushing towards her face.