Chapter Two: What Rough Beast
Pistol in hand, Ziva descends the stairs. A whisp of smoke curls out of the muzzle of her gun. One step two steps three. Down into Sheol, the resting place where both the righteous and wicked dead sleep together in peace until Moschiach comes. Her half-brother lies in the shadow of Gibb's boat. Blood pools beneath his head. He had always called her "shochet"--the kosher butcher trained to make a clean cut. Or a clean shot. As every night when her dreams take her here, she mourns the brother she loved instead of the monster she listened to in those last moments.
Ululation. The terrifying cry Palestinian women issue in mourning. The girl kneels by Ari's corpse in thobe and mandil. Scarlet screams down a face covered by hands clasped over her eyes. The grief-cry drowns out the Mourner's Kaddish Ziva says every Day of Atonement for Ari--
Yit-gadol, yit-gadash, shmei rabah. It drowns out thought. Only pain and rage remain. The girl's hands fall away. What could have been attractive Arab features are twisted into something that sends Ziva trembling into the corner. Trapped as Gibbs was under Ari's aim. Ziva cannot raise her weapon. She cannot do anything except watch as the girl with her dead brother's eyes advances upon her. An Angel of Death over Egypt, and no lamb's blood by the door will turn her aside.
Ice. Ducky had once said that was all he had seen in Ari's eyes. Ziva had seen much more: humour, what she hopes was true love for her and Tali, compassion as he worked over the sick. Now all that she sees is ice, framed by the skull-mask painted in blood around them.
"I am coming."
Adrenaline rushed through Ziva when she snapped awake. It was sour and jarring, like the dregs of a cold coffeepot. Ziva clamped down on the instinct to fight or flee. An old reaction. One learned early on through her Aba's training and in the army. One hand was already under the pillow on the Smith and Wesson Model 60; a thumb rested on the hammer spur to prevent snagging and to cock it for a more accurate shot. Ziva categorized her surroundings in the space of a second. Not her own apartment. Not Tony's, or Gibbs'. Tasteful furniture, mouldings on the ceiling, light-washed paint on the walls. One of the rooms in the Slayer World Occult Response Directorate's house-cum-headquarters in Georgetown. Yes, she had accepted their offer to sleep over again.
No sign of any intruders. Human or otherwise.
Ziva was as safe as she ever was.
Unloading the revolver and cleaning cylinder and barrel did not help her relax. Cold water splashed in her face failed as well. Neither did the boiling-hot shower ease the knots from her muscles. A run, then? Several laps in a pool? Ziva knew exactly what would help. Strong hands almost obscenely good at massaging the worst out of tension-wracked muscles, accompanied by a playful "Zee-vah" in an ear. Pigtails and goth music and friendly chatter interrupted by the slurp of caffeinated soda through a straw. Teas sipped delicately beside polished steel tables. The burn of whiskey on lips and sawdust--
No. Not the last, tonight. And Abby was doubtless happily dozing in Mr. Giles' arms down the hall.
It is a terrible thing for a true daughter of Israel, to be so far away from her native soil with ghosts lurking in the shadows.
Ziva found them in the basement. The upper floors of SWORD's District Patrol house was decorated in the restrained, tasteful style she had seen in only the very best of England's hotels. The gray concrete walls and floor of the cellars were purely utilitarian. A washer and dryer large enough to deal with a varying population of superhuman women occupied one corner. The rest was dominated by exercise equipment constructed as if the Nautilus Corporation had been experimenting with girders and anchor chains. Rona grunted through a series of chin ups--"hundred ninety two hundred ninety three"--with close to a half-ton of weight attached to a body harness. Stripped to shorts and muscle-t, her body showed off the definition of a dedicated weight trainer. Vi flashed through a series of martial-arts combinations on a heavy bag. Her own physique was nothing compared to Rona's, yet the bag rocked hard with each blow.
Strange. What had began with accompanying Abby and Mr. Giles to the Cafe Nervosa or kayaking on the C&O canal had become invitations to dinner. Which had turned to avid admirations of the slayers' collection of edged weapons, then story-swapping that had been carefully edited on Ziva's part and what should have been exaggeration on their part. Until Ziva had seen the faint marks of left by a creature called a "Turok-Han" that still scarred Rona's skin despite years of rapid slayer healing. From there it had been fulfilling a request by a visiting Jewish slayer to light the candles for Shabbos, and helping Mr. Giles with the odd Hebrew translation, and volunteering to supervise sparring sessions. The latter remained popular in spite of Ziva's introduction of bear-strength capiscum spray and stun grenades into the training syllabus.
A jester inviting her over one summer for movie nights. Oh, how her Papa had warned her about letting down her guard.
"Two hundred!" Rona unbuckled the harness. She flexed her back. "Hey, Vi, check out these lats. Iron, baby, iron. I want to be in fine shape when we meet Ziv's boss' boss."
"Director Vance is married," Ziva said, hunting for a free weight she could heft without ripping her arm from its socket. "Happily."
"Doesn't mean I can't admire his rims from the sidewalk." Rona hefted a 300 pound barbell through several bicep-curl reps.
"Maybe I should try for some definition." Vi extended one slender arm. "If only I had something I could define."
"You were doing pretty well last night." Rona licked her lips. "'Yes, Agent McGee. You're so smart, Agent McGee. I'm bored out of my skull with your geek-talk but sliding my hand up to your pack--'"
"Shut up!" Vi yelped. "Don't you know who he is? Thom Gemcity! Deep Six is my favorite. I could be his groupie."
"No you cannot," Ziva said. "Rule Twelve applies to interns as well as employees."
"Must have really close minimum distance, the way you were around the scrub." The dumbell paused in mid-curl. "Hold on. I should've spotted it before. Abbs is Amy, right? Whoa, that means Tibbs is--"
"Something you do not discuss if you wish to live." Casually, Ziva set down her revolver on a nearby press bench. "For your information, Tony and I have never had sex under a waterfall while on the run from Iraqi Mukhbarrat agents. The part about never swiping Tibbs' Starbucks cup is accurate, also if you wish to live."
"Rule 23." Vi held up a notebook. "I wrote everything down last night."
"Teacher's pet. You're worse than Willow." Rona darted forward to kiss the redheaded slayer on the lips. "Say what, maybe we can accidentally meet Mr. Gemcity at the Sixty convention. See if the man enjoys some salt 'n pepper. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."
"Mmmm." Vi's eyelids fluttered. "Now you're teasing me."
"Me being in Baltimore, you going to Georgetown," Rona said, a companionable hand curving about Vi's hip, "we don't spend nearly enough time together. Another thing I have to thank Buffy for along with getting me nearly killed every year. Let's have the gay witch cast the big spell that calls up all the slayers. Must have been some leakage, because before that you'd never have been the flavor of my Kool-Aid."
"Oh yeah," Vi breathed.
Ziva decided it was time for a discreet withdrawal. She lingered for a brief moment on the stairs. There had been times when certain duties during missions had not been the great sacrifices for Israel that she had expected. And Rona really did have excellent lats. Ziva contemplated the precise level of shock on Tony's face if he "happened" to catch her and the interns in a compromising position. Quite possibly it would exceed his reaction of a month ago when Abby had come to work in a tweed secretarial outfit that had not at all been Career Girl Barbie. Poor man. He had been dodging Gibbs all day in between visits to the forensics lab to "help out".
Ziva idly worked out a scenario involving a hot tub and toplessness. Tony owed her for smacking on Rona last night.
The sunlit kitchen banished the final remnants of the dream from her mind. Over her life, Ziva had endured many a nightmare. This one was merely a horrible variation of one she had every so often. Although, it had been so...vivid. The slayers had talked of their own dreams. Violent memories of Chosen Ones from the past, and prophetic dreams that sent them scrambling to the grimoires in the third-floor library. It might be a good idea to ask Mr. Giles to consult some of his more accessible tomes of symbology. Just in case. G-d had sent visions to the Nevi'im, though she had never thought of herself as a likely Elijah. A trained officer of Mossad never discounted even the most unlikely source of intuitions.
Well. It was a lovely Sunday morning. There were the makings of crepes in the cupboard and fridge. And by the sounds coming from the basement--she politely closed that door--her friends might need to restore their energy. Mr. Giles and Abby as well, who Ziva had discovered rivaled her own expressiveness in bedroom gymnastics. Humming "Edelweiss", Ziva David gathered ingredients and a mixing bowl.
Time to banish the night's terrors.
Siham stood guard atop the castle's keep. A ritual instead of a necessity, as Eli understood it. The detachment of Jordanian Royal Guards was the king's guarantee of their safety. Yet, each evening the slayers of the Holy Land patrol drew lots on who would keep the night watch. His grand-daughter paced around the parapet with Turkish bow and a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder. Her saif hung at her waist. Around and around, she circled the tower. Her gaze never wavered from scanning the moonlit landscape outside the curtain walls.
Ziva had once done the same. Every summer, the Davids had left Haifa for two weeks to spend time at the kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley Eli's father had defended during Independence. Ari obliged him in a passive manner that Eli realized was his first rebellion. Talia loved working in the orchards and in the youth center. Ziva? She played "palmachnik"--patrolling the perimeter of the kibbutz with a crude wooden copy of the Mauser her grandfather had wielded in the war. Many a kibbutznik couple who had snuck into the orchards for a tryst ended up being "taken prisoner" at the point of a rudely-carved bayonet. Never had he been so proud.
Siham passed by him, standing in the center of the tower, without ever acknowledging his existence.
"Your name," he said in English, "is interesting. It means 'arrows'."
"My father did not name me that." Siham replied without deigning to face him. Like Ziva's, her English was perfect save for a hint of an accent. "I took it after I became sayadutoo. I was 'Noor' to him."
"Was it your mother's--" he said.
"Never speak of my mother!" Siham spat. "Murderer. She died with my grandmother in the attack on the clinic. My mother was a nurse there. Congratulations. You have killed everyone I ever loved. A victory for Zionism."
Such hate. Such rage.
"Because of you, my father hid me away." Always, her head turned aside from him. "Because of you, I saw my father only once a month if I was lucky. He never wanted you to find out about me, in case you would poison me as you did to him. Now I know why his name for you was Al-Nakba."
The Palestinian term for the disaster that befell them in 1948. "Cataclysm".
"Don't worry," she continued, stopping at the northwest corner. She stared out in the direction of the West Bank. "I obey the hidden hadith of the Prophet: 'she who is Called as Sayadutoo shall have no power in the House of Man. Her sword is for the afrit and the djinn'. You have nothing to fear from me. You are nothing to me. My father did not twist me into being his killer."
"And Zivah?" For one of the few times in his life, Eli David was pleading. "If the Qods Force trained you, then you must know she is an officer of Mossad who serves Israel."
"My father--" Her shoulders hitched. Once. "He told me about Talia and Ziva. How he loved them even though they were your real children when he was 'Hagar's son'. He respected my aunt even though he hated her father and her country."
Eli saw the stone at her feet darken.
"Do want to know the worst thing you ever did to me?" Siham's words were clear despite her falling tears. "The time I spent with my father can be measured in weeks. I never saw him again after the afrit attacked me in Nablus. I only had tape recordings he sent to me in Iran. Only Ziva can tell me what my father was like, as a man."
"I can tell you what I remember of him," Eli said, stepping to her.
"Touch me and I will kill you." A hiss. The edge of the scimitar glittered. "Nothing you can tell me matters. I only want to hear from someone who loved him. Go away. The only forgiveness I can give you is a prayer that you see Allah's truth and embrace Islam before qiyama comes."
Eli fled down to the courtyard. His Mossad bodyguards waited by a jeep in Jordanian military markings. At his signal, they left in a cloud of dust kicked up by the tires. Al-Nakba. Yes, it fit. For he had been a catastrophe to his children. A daughter dead because he had failed in his duty to stop the terrorists, his son a traitor who had outwitted Eli's supposedly subtle plans. His only living child had exiled herself far from home. Good G-d, what would Ziva think when Siham came to her? If she told her about what he had done to Hasmia?
If Ziva believed Siham, it might destroy any faith his only child had in him or Israel. A sniper. A bomb aboard Siham's flight. Poison. Anything. No. He couldn't. Too little time to arrange matters before Siham flew out of Amman tomorrow. There would be evidence and the obvious suspicion the Director of Mossad was involved. Worse, the assassination of a slayer allied to Iran might well spark retaliation that would dwarf the Al-Aqsa Intifada.
Ari had had his vengeance after all.