A/N: I know, I should be finishing the next chapter of ‘Smoke in the Wind’, but I got stuck trying to get the chapter the way I wanted it. I just finished watching ‘Cover Story’, so I decided to do some McGee-esque free writing. This is the result.
Ziva’s background interests me, mainly because we know so little of it. I keep getting confused between what is canon and what I’ve read in fanfic: like Ziva’s mother being Russian. Don’t shoot.
Disclaimer: NCIS characters are not mine – I would never have let them leave Ziva in Israel if they were! Neither are the random star facts or Hebrew translations. They come courtesy of Google, and I don’t know whose property that makes them. Meh. Not mine.
Little lights glimmer in the sky as she blinks awake slowly, unsure for a moment where she is. The smell of grass and warm wool and vanilla drifts over her with the warm night air, and then she remembers. ‘Let’s have our supper outside tonight, tateleh. Aba has important business to take care of.’
Busyness. She knows what that word means. It means closed doors and loud voices and rustling papers. It means ‘children should be seen and not heard’ and ‘can’t you keep her quiet, Nadiya?’.
Sometimes when busyness is over Aba walks funny, like he’s just learnt how, and he crash bang thumps through the small apartment. But they are in Haifa for the summer, and there is more room and so when Aba is there with them, he does not crash into walls or lamps or Ima’s face.
‘Wassat up there, Ima?’ the child murmurs sleepily, pressing her small warm body into her mother’s side. She is just shy of six, and though she knows that asking too many questions sometimes gets her sent to bed (‘children should be seen and not heard’), she is infinitely curious about the world.
‘They are stars, tateleh
,’ her mother says in her Haifa-voice, idly twirling her daughters dark curls around her fingers. Haifa voices are soft and round and delicious like having a sweet in your mouth, and underneath the words she hears ‘iloveyouiloveyou’.
Home voices are short and sharp and tired, they are ‘shhh’ and ‘wait a minute, Ziva’, and ‘Eli, you’re working late again
?’. Sometimes they are slurred and underneath the words she hears ‘whywhywhywhy’.
Ziva hates that voice the most, because it makes her think of the bird Hadar found hurt under the swings last winter. He kept it in a cage for a week and tried to make it talk like the bird in her book, but all it did was beat. beat. beat. against the bars, and when it got tired of that, it sat on the floor of the cage and shivered.
She wanted to open the door and warm it with her chubby little hands, but her legs were too short and her fingers clumsy so she sat on the floor each afternoon and sang to it until the day she went next door and it was gone.
Hadar said the bird felt better and so he set it free, but his eyes were sad and his mouth twitched like Ima’s when she talked to the mothers at preschool about her husbands’ ‘office job’. (‘I grew up in Rush-ya,’ she said when Ziva asked why she spoke differently than the other mothers at preschool, ‘I left my whole family behind when I met your father. Someday when you’re older, I’ll tell you my story.’)
At only five years old (an indignant little voice in her head: ‘Almost six, Ima!
’), Ziva has not yet learnt to guard her thoughts from careful watching eyes, and her turmoil is plain on her face for her mother to see. It makes Nadiya’s heart ache a little seeing an expression so serious on a young and tender face, and not for the first time she wonders what is going on inside her innocent mind.
Sometimes she is afraid to ask. She is well aware that Ziva notices things – about people, about the world – that no child her age should notice. Eli, when he is home to notice, is delighted with their daughter’s ability to pick up on emotions and manipulate situations to her advantage.
Her daughter is so like her father that sometimes it makes Nadiya think not of medical school, a happy marriage and grandchildren, but clandestine meetings in dark alleys, danger and the lingering scent of gunpowder and blood.
How quickly in this country a babe in arms can turn into a daughter who is armed, she thinks, and shivers at the thought. But they are in Haifa, and these dark city thoughts have no place here in the warm salty air.
‘How do they get there?’ her daughter asks, and for a minute Nadiya is confused by the question. Idealistic, stupidly proud fathers
, she thinks, but a tiny finger points up into the sky, and relief comes like a cool breeze on a hot summer day.
If it were any other child than her daughter asking, she would offer a simple explanation or a story, but she knows that Ziva probably won’t be satisfied with platitudes or fiction.
‘In the air all around us are gases,’ she explains gently, choosing her words carefully and smiling as the child begins to peer around her, searching for evidence of this.
‘You cannot see them, but they are there nonetheless. Sometimes, the gases mix with dust in a big cloud, and the cloud can stay as it is for many years, until something happens to stir up the cloud and make it…. angry.’
She can’t think of any other way to explain it that will be understood – how to explain the principles of physics, matter and gravity to a preschooler? – and the metaphor bothers her, but she pushes on.
‘The angry gases and dust start to circle around each other very quickly, and all the movement creates heat, like when you rub your hands together quickly.’ Wide brown eyes stare at her in wonder, then drop to her hands which move tentatively against each other, as though she could create a star to hold in her palms.
Nadiya watches silently for a moment, then wraps her own hands around her daughters’, stilling and warming the little fingers as she continues.
‘Everything else nearby in space feels that heat and either moves away quickly or gets drawn into the cloud. The light grows in a little cocoon like a butterfly, and eventually it gets large enough to shine on its own for everyone to see.’ Much like a daughter
, she thinks, as she presses a kiss to the widow’s peak on a tender forehead, and oh how your light will shine, my Zivalah.
Ziva shivers when her mother falls silent, and burrows closer under the blanket. The nights are slowly growing cooler, a sure sign that the summer is almost over and soon it will be time to return home again.
Ziva isn’t sure how she feels about that. She likes it here where she has her mother all to herself, and the days are filled with laughter and games and love.
She doesn’t even mind that her father has only been here four days of the nineteen they’ve spent in the little white house. He is a very ‘portent’ man and besides, he has special plans for her when they get back to the city – it is time to start her train-ning.
Ziva has never been on a train – they always travel in a big black car – and she wants to ask her mother what it’s like, but Aba told her it was their very special secret and she’s not to tell anybody.
Ziva is very good at secrets and wants to make her father proud, so she looks for pictures of trains in her books and when her mother asks what she is doing, she says they have been talking about trains at preschool.
She makes sure her mouth doesn’t twitch, and when she tells Aba about it he pats her on the head and tells her she is ‘dusted for great things’
. She lets that one go – she doesn’t want him to know she doesn’t understand his big words, and she knows what ‘great’ means and that’s enough.
Her mother’s heart is going beat. beat. beat. (a bit like Hadar’s bird, but less frantic) in her ear as they watch the night sky together, and listen to the sounds of ‘busyness’ filtering from the house. Rough voices and moving feet and laughter.
Something occurs to her and she wrinkles her nose as she always does when she’s thinking hard. ‘Do stars die, Ima?’
She doesn’t think it’s a hard question, but her mother’s heart speeds up and she’s quiet for so long Ziva isn’t sure if she said it aloud, except for the beatbeatbeat. Inside the house there is the sound of a door closing and cars starting. ‘Portent busyness’ must be over.
‘Eventually, the star burns up all of its gas and fades away, or it explodes in a shower of colour and light. The brighter the star, the shorter the life,’ Ima says softly, and what is that
in her voice?
‘There’s gas all round us though, yes?’ Ziva says thoughtfully, not quite understanding why this warrants such emotion from her mother. Ziva rather likes fireworks, and there are plenty of stars to spare. ‘I think it would take a long time for them to burn it all up.’
They are silent for a long time, daughter warm and crumpled and curled into her mother like a question as long fingers run through soft baby curls and tears trace the curve of a mother’s cheek.
Their Haifa days are coming to an end for another year, and though neither of them know it yet, this is the last year that Ziva will come to her mother for answers.
Next year, there will be two David daughters, and Nadiya will spend her nights coaxing a colicky Talia to sleep while Ziva lies on her back alone under the stars and practices all the things her father has taught her in their year of training (surprisingly, it has nothing to do with trains and so her careful research is wasted).
But for now, the child remains a child. ‘Like them stars. Pretty lil lights,’ she says in the whispery young voice that she reverts to in the moments when her world is blurred with the cotton-wool edges of approaching sleep, and in the space of a breath she slips into dreams as easily as the flicking of a light switch.
More than twenty-five years later, the daughter will lie curled like a question, beaten and broken and shorn, and think of warm Haifa nights and a mother’s tears, and realise what it was she heard in her mother’s voice. ‘The brighter the star, the shorter the life.’
It was the thought that someday, Ziva’s path would lead her to this very place, that for the past few months she has been burning through all the gases in her atmosphere and there is nothing left to keep her from fading.Beat. Beat. Beat.
Maybe it has been inevitable from the beginning, she thinks wearily, spitting out blood and raising her head so she can see out of the tiny window with her one good eye.
There is mocking laughter in the corridor as the door swings open and his boots approach slowly and menacingly, but she refuses to show her fear, and is past the point of caring how her story ends, as long as it ends soon.
He growls something in Hebrew and lands the first blow of the evening, a kick to her ribs so savage she sees stars, and at first the destruction of the memory hurts more than the blow. Then the pain sets in and she bites clear through her lip in her effort to keep quiet.beatbeatbeatbeat.
Ziva closes her eyes and she’s small and innocent again (and knows nothing of dark alleys and danger, gunpowder and blood), lying on the soft grass and watching the stars from the safety of her mother’s arms.
I was almost tempted not to bother posting this here, since it's technically a crossover site and there's not much interest in straight NCIS fics (or not that I can see). Prove me wrong?