DISCLAIMER: NCIS and its characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. The Kingdom and its characters belong to Relativity Media and Universal Pictures. Barring mention of Yigal Allon, Meir Dagan, Erwin Rommel, George Shultz, and Mivtza REGEL ETZ/Operation WOODEN LEG, all characters and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any further resemblance to real events and actual individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Names, events, and opinions expressed are either property of Belisarius Productions, CBS-Paramount, Relativity Media, and Universal Pictures, or are products of the writer's imagination; neither are to be construed as real. The views and actions contained herein should not be interpreted as representative of the policies (official or otherwise), activities (official or otherwise), or personnel of any department or agency of any governmental body based in the US, UK, Israel, or any other country. The actual headquarters of NCIS has moved to a shiny new home. In the interests of maintaining a boundary between fact and fiction (and in employing the dramatic license that goes with the divide), in my stories those headquarters are still located aboard the Washington Navy Yard. The song Ahavat Ne'urai is by Shalom Chanoch. Part of the lyrics appear both in transliterated Hebrew and in free translation. The song Ahavat Chayai is by Erez Lev Ari. The first line appears both in transliterated Hebrew and in free translation.
MANY THANKS to: 'Old Soldier' MGySgt LR for conversations that have helped me to portray Gibbs as a "90s vintage" Scout Sniper (and also a real grunt)– Suffer Patiently and Patiently Suffer. Pat D. for help with US domestic and foreign policies. Doc S for Psych Advice. The Jellybaby for several things, not least making me laugh. Jet-setters V and A for suggesting Yelapa. SPECIAL THANKS to mayIreadtoday, aka the Bestest Proofreader in the World, and also my very good friend who is never afraid to criticize, and thereby help me to improve my work. And to Hagar, for help with hashing out Ziva's family background; access to research texts; unwittingly suggesting an awesome scene switch of the Now It Works variety. Last, but never least, DEEPEST THANKS go to my superb Editor law_nerd, whose love and support were indispensable while I struggled with this story. My A is more than half the reason why this piece is here, and she did a damn fine editing job, too.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Per usual... Con-crit is welcome, and thanks in advance. Nota Bene: Part of this story briefly examines multicultural Israeli attitudes, past and present, to sensitive subjects. Please consult the Addendum before emailing with "Say whut?!" responses. Israel is a Very Complicated Place, and non-Israeli readers of this story might now understand why I criticize the NCIS writers for oversimplifying and inventing their own, Americanized definition of 'Israeli.' This story will make more sense if you read Kidon and Between Hammer and Anvil first. However, it isn't necessary to watch The Kingdom before reading this story.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To needledinkrsa[at]gmail.com

By needled_ink1975


Washington D.C.

At some point since she'd been shot, Ziva had lost all patience with most things that she considered 'girly.' Those 'girly' things just took too much time.

She still wore makeup but these days if it took longer than about five minutes to apply, she termed it too much. In any case, she preferred a minimalist look when it came to makeup. These days not being able to wash-dry-run meant that washing and drying her hair took a certain amount of careful planning, else she ended up pissed off at herself for being late. If she didn't know that she looked... odd with short hair, she'd have had her long fall cut to a length more easily managed (and if she cut her hair Jen would probably mourn its loss, a fact of which Ziva was well-aware).

Ziva didn't consider skirts 'girly' at all, but in this area her injured leg dictated in a more direct manner. Even though she was finally rid of the hated cane, her physiotherapist had said 'No!' to any shoe with a heel over one inch, for a full year post-op. With that in mind, Ziva had, with almost evil joy, placed several pairs of heels in a bag destined for Goodwill. Heels weren't 'girly'; they were, however, devices of fiendish torture. A bullet through her thigh had given her an excellent excuse to never willingly wear heels again. With the heels gone, she'd sorted through her wardrobe and had kept only the casual kind of summer skirt or dress that looked okay when paired with flat sandals. She'd found new homes for every other skirt or dress in her wardrobe (some now resided in Jen's closets).

Good riddance, it seemed, to 'girly' stuff.

However, the future held all sorts of possibilities. There was always a chance that she'd end up made up to the nines, wearing heels and a small sexy dress, but that would be a professional situation, one of those where Ziva would leave her Star of David at home and don the appearance and personality of Someone Else, someone other than Ziva David. In short, the necessary 'girly' evils of those future occasions didn't count.

For those who'd known her for two or three years, but didn't know her well, it seemed that getting shot had caused Ziva to change a lot more than her wardrobe. Those closer to her knew that it was the other way around: Ziva wasn't changing so much as she was allowing more of herself to come to the fore.

The pain in her 'Israeli leg' (as she insisted on calling it) kept reminding her of who she was, and who she was not. Other reminders lay in having a lover who spoke Hebrew, and her PA Todd, regularly encouraged her to help him improve his Hebrew. Gibbs, Tony, McGee, Abby, and Ducky had a varied but definite grasp on certain words and phrases, enabling her to pepper her English with Hebrew without having to translate, and if she did translate it served to add a new word or phrase to their vocabularies. And there was also her job. As a full-time liaison officer, she made umpteen phone calls and wrote scores of emails to Israelis throughout her work week. Language alone was bringing Ziva home to herself, even while she remained in the States.

But none of this was easy. Coming home to herself involved acknowledging just how many adjustments she'd made to fit in here. Those who knew her well were simply welcoming (or regretting) what they thought of as a more relaxed Ziva. Only Jen had been privy to 'Ziva at one-hundred percent,' as she put it, for the better part of three years, because Jen had been the only person Ziva had trusted enough. Now it wasn't about trust.

"When I am fit enough for fieldwork, this liaison job will revert back to part-time," Ziva told Jen one night. "But I am not going to 'revert back.' I cannot. Israel is my home and it always will be, but if I am to be happy here with you then I am going to be myself, even outside of this house. I am going to be direct and speak my mind. I am going to call people by their first names, unless I hate them—"

"Notable exceptions being Gibbs and McGee," Jen said.

"Using their last names is a habit I cannot seem to break," Ziva agreed. "As I was saying... I must wear suits at work, but if I am not at work then I am going to wear clothes that are comfortable, and not what other people would expect me to wear."

"There'll be objections," Jen pointed out. "Especially to the first names bit."

"So far I have had the most problems with people who do not wear uniforms. You would think it would be the opposite, but no. I have found that if I address the military people by their ranks and they notice that I call other people, like Jimmy and Robert, by their first names, those military people want to know why I am, quote, 'not being friendly.'"

"It's probably a refreshing change for some of them. They get 'General' and 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' out of habit, not necessarily out of respect. But that's the military types. You have to occasionally deal with politicians—"

"I hate most politicians," Ziva said. "I always use 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' for them. And then people like SECNAV Holder and Senator Crowley tell anyone listening to mind their own business if I get funny looks for calling those two Ben and Lauren."

Jen snorted a laugh. She remembered a recent incident where Sen. Lauren Crowley had told a Republican congressman, who'd eavesdropped on a private conversation in which Ziva had addressed Crowley by her first name, that no, Ziva was not a 'special snowflake.' Crowley said that the only person acting like a special snowflake was the Republican congressman practically throwing a fit. That had, of course, prompted the man to throw a second fit, and he had to have his say: he'd heard all about Ziva's 'special snowflake' habit of calling important people by their first names. A third fit had rapidly followed the second when Ziva had refused to translate what she'd said to him in Hebrew. Just as well. She'd said that he should grow up. He was nearing sixty. It would not have gone down well.

However, it was that reference to 'special snowflakes' that worried Jen. A good many people were going to apply that 'special snowflake' label to Ziva, but Jen knew better. Ziva was not, in any way, asking for or expecting special treatment or consideration. She submitted professionally to her superiors, usually without question. If ever she did question the orders or suggestions of people like Robert Grace, the SECNAV, CIA Director James Marden, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she engaged those people in direct conversation. The end result was either a solution arrived at in short order, or the identification of a list of issues in need of resolution. In both instances, progress was made. Ziva's approach stemmed from the idea that dealing with any problem or question immediately and head-on was the best way to get things done properly and efficiently. 'Efficient' was the word most commonly used to describe Ziva, professionally, but people who called her efficient often failed to link that trait to her general use of first names instead of ranks or titles. Ziva's philosophy was simple, but it hardly ever occurred to Americans that small things, like doing away with titles and making eye-contact, brought a higher aspect of personal commitment to whichever task. Ziva's personal commitment was the root of her level of efficiency.

"Maybe you should start out with an explanation," Jen suggested. "I mean, if you know that you'll be dealing with whomever repeatedly for a set period, you always say, 'May I call you So'n'so?' Right?"

"Yes," Ziva said. "So you are saying that maybe I should explain first, then ask?"

"I think you might end up with fewer people growling No."

Ziva didn't have much time to think about Jen's idea. The very next day she ended up meeting with someone she admired, but that she sincerely hoped she wouldn't have to work with too often.

As a member of a team of expert analysts working for the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff), Ziva had been instrumental in identifying eleven terrorist training camps along the Chinese border as a clear and present threat. The next step involved deciding what to do about those camps. The NSC (National Security Council) had been briefed, because inevitably the next step would involve the Secretary of State approaching her Chinese counterpart directly.

Ordinarily, a State Department official would be required to talk to the Chinese ambassador to the US, but this issue demanded that several regular liaison steps be skipped. This was made easier in one way: the Chinese Foreign Minister was in the US already, on a state visit.

"At least I don't have to fly to China," the SECSTATE said. "But Foreign Minister Chen is leaving in just two days... Let's go take a seat so you can get on with it, please."

James Marden and Ziva followed the SECSTATE to a small conference table. Ziva was going to give Marden hell when this meeting was over. He'd asked her to collate and summarize all their available intel, and she'd known that she'd be briefing the NSC, but he hadn't told her who would be getting that document wallet full of collated intel. He also hadn't told her that she'd be giving an in-person in-depth briefing to the SECSTATE. And if Marden dared to remind her that several entry-grade analysts occasionally briefed people as high up as the President, Ziva was going to introduce him to a special level of hell, one that started out something like this: But they are told first, you bastard! and went on to make guesses at his ancestry that involved matings between a variety of poisonous animals.

As she sat down, Ziva cleared her throat and hoped that her face wasn't too red.

"You're hoping for a joint op, James?" the SECSTATE asked.

"Yes, ma'am. It's the cleanest way forward, but the Chinese may tell us no."

"Agreed. The odds are stacked against a positive answer. Now. If I have to suggest to Foreign Minister Chen that our countries work together on this, I definitely need more than that abbreviated briefing you two and Lauren Crowley gave the NSC."

"That's why we're here," Marden said.

"Good. So line up the ducks." The SECSTATE looked Ziva in the eye. "Start at the top."

"At first there were three camps, and three was already a number to take note of," Ziva said.

"That was why we put men on the ground as soon as we could," Marden said.

"You've had 'men on the ground' for four years, and during that time three camps became eleven."

"Yes, ma'am," Marden said.

"Why wasn't the NSC informed when three became four?"

"It was and still is impossible to get close to the camps," Ziva said. "We are almost certain that some of the men in those camps are Muslim—"

"Almost certain?" the SECSTATE said. "That sounds like a presumption to me."

"I am not one of those crazy kitzonim," Ziva chuckled.

"Zionist extremists," Marden filled in.

"Uh-huh. I figured. Go on, Officer David."

"I would not have mentioned their religion at all, except that we have noticed an interesting division in the camps."

Ziva opened a file and took out photographs that showed several men praying. In the background or foreground of all the pictures, other men stood around smoking; a closeup of one showed an iPod in his hand and bud-type headphones in his ears; in one photograph a man was walking a large dog on a leash. Ziva tapped that photo with a pen.

"You will notice that he is keeping his distance from the men who are praying, and they are most certainly Muslim. But dogs are considered unclean by devout Muslims. The dog's handler is either not as devout as the men praying—"

"Even if he couldn't quote the Qur'an line-and-verse, he'd still be praying," the SECSTATE said.

"Correct, which means that he and other dog handlers are not Muslim. That dog and several others at each camp, are the reason why our men cannot get close. That means that even after four years we still do not know what this group calls themselves."

"But we do know that they have an inside line in the Chinese military machine," Marden said. "They know the flight-paths of Chinese helicopter border patrol units. Our men have seen two camps packed up and moved within ninety minutes. The goats, Ziva?"

She produced several photos of small herds of goats being driven behind trains of donkeys bearing packed tents and other camp gear.

"They go for about five-hundred meters, like that. Then they stop following the donkey train, and they drive the goats back, and around and around where the camp was, masking all signs on the ground. And in the end, this..." Ziva produced a long range shot of a goatherd waving at a military helicopter. "This is all that those airborne patrols see."

"By then the donkey train is three or four kilometers away," Marden added. "The herders and the goats eventually catch up."

"They are careful to camp in hilly areas," Ziva said. "So when they are on-the-move and they hear a helicopter, it is easy to quickly lead a donkey train around the side of a hill. And the use of that tactic means that I can tell you where at least some of them are from: Northern Afghanistan."

The SECSTATE picked up various photos one-by-one and looked at them carefully. Eventually she looked Ziva in the eye.

"Northern Afghanistan?"


"You're certain they're a problem?"

Ziva took out several more photographs.

"In this sequence I think you can figure out what is going on."

"That's a bomb vest, or a mockup of a bomb vest," the SECSTATE said.

"Correct, and so we know that suicide bombings are part of their plan, whatever it is. And these are pictures that are not very clear, but why would several men be standing on one side of a folding table, and only one man on the other?"

"Instruction of some sort."

"Yes. And then this is a very clear picture, taken the next day. Same table, same men, and what does that look like?"

"If I was an idiot, I'd say blocks of Play-Doh and an alarm clock. C-4?"

"Explosives, yes. But it gets worse..."

Ziva laid out more photos that needed no comment. They showed men taking target practice with a variety of automatic and semiautomatic weapons. There was also a photo of someone lying prone with a state-of-the-art sniper system; next to him was a man with a pair of binoculars and an open book on his knee.

"That book is a spotter's log," Marden explained. "It contains formulae that make it easier to calculate distance, windage, bullet-drop—the whole nine."

"This picture alone means that that word 'problem' is too small," Ziva said, her tone grave, her expression worried. "These camps are an evident threat."

"Now I'm convinced," the SECSTATE said. "And what are we probably dealing with– ex Taliban?"

"This level of organization?" Ziva said. "Some Taliban, yes, and possibly some ETIM jihadi."

"ETIM is ringing only vague bells."

"Eastern Turkestan Independence Movement," Marden said.

"The bells are loud and clear now. They're the ones who allied themselves to Al Quaeda, and threatened to attack our embassy in Bishkek?"

"Yes. They also took responsibility for the Kunming bus bombing," Ziva said.

"But instead of using thirty-year-old Russian grenades and machetes, they're training with plastic explosives and modern weapon systems," Marden said.

"Which, if we have correctly identified these people, is definitely of concern," Ziva said. "And besides regular ETIM jihadi, I would say that general separatist Uyghur involvement is also a very strong possibility. But my instincts say that we cannot limit involvement only to those three groups."

"'Taliban,' 'ETIM,' and 'separatist Uyghur' are the ace up my sleeve. They're what the Chinese will not like to hear, so that's what I'll tell them... They also won't like the fact that we've had spies in their backyard for four years."

"But our men have had no contact at all with Chinese nationals," Marden said. "Better yet, our four men have had no contact with each other, but they all say the same thing: these people probably won't strike in China."

"Explain that."

"Their numbers," Ziva said. "If numbers have changed, that has been an increase, and never a decrease in the number of people and camps. They are working on something big."

"Now, it may be that the something big will go down in China," Marden said. "We cannot rule that out. We can however say that if their target is not China, after four years of prep, their target is really big. That's something in Europe, or North America."

"Okay, that's the second ace up my sleeve. Can I push for another ace, or at least a face card?"

"Four years is the total span of the operation," Ziva said. "But our men have been there for a total of only twenty-one months."

"That's my face card. What's the reason for the stop-start observation?"

"Blame the weather," Marden said. "They're at the edge of the Takla Makan Desert, but it's still murder in winter, and at that latitude winter lasts nearly a full six months. So our people—none of whom could risk using even a pup tent—pulled out whenever it became too cold."

"And when they went back..." Ziva said. "Bear in mind that our men tracked those camps and approached their observation posts on foot. Not even horses or mules could be risked."

"Too easy to notice a man on a horse. And Madam Secretary, it's becoming too cold again. We've had freelancers on this, ma'am. We had to make it a volunteer-only operation."

"I'm not a fan of the spy game, as you well know, James, but this time round I don't care how much those men were paid, it's worth it: I'll take my hat off to them. You pass that on. You also tell at least two of them to get the hell out of China."

"Three," Marden said. "We'll leave the best. If the Chinese decide to lone-gun it, he'll get collection orders. He'll grab someone from a camp and make him talk."

"I heard that, and I also didn't," the SECSTATE said. "I hope to God he gets out alive... I take it you've prepared a package for me?"

"Yes," Ziva said.

She lifted a thick plastic document wallet from a chair and placed it on the table. The SECSTATE arched an eyebrow at it.

"That looks like reading material for a month."

"Most of it is photographs, satellite images, and maps," Ziva said. "I prepared the written summaries myself. They number less than twenty pages."

"I like her," the SECSTATE told Marden.

"Yet another name added to the fan club," Marden chortled.

"Tishtok ata," Ziva muttered, her face reddening.

"She told me to shut up," Marden supplied, his grin positively piratical.

"Uh-huh. I gathered," the SECSTATE chuckled.

Later, on the way to Marden's car, Ziva cussed him thoroughly in several languages. Marden's only response was unrepentant laughter, and Ziva ended up cussing herself, because she might've guessed at that response.

"The Fox. Dammit, but I always forget that they call you that."

"I'll make you a deal," Marden said seriously. "You trust me, and I will always tell you who we're going to talk to."

"I do trust you," Ziva protested. She didn't invite just anyone into her home.

"You don't trust me enough to agree that you were the best person to brief the SECSTATE. You would've told me no."

"You could have told her everything yourself, alone," Ziva said.

"Ziva, I'm sixty-two," Marden said. "When last I was in the field, I was double-dealing with the KGB. That was thirty-four years ago. How old are you?"

"I turned thirty-four last week."

"Right. And the SECSTATE has viewed a dossier on you. She knows that you've dealt directly with people like the men in those eleven camps. She needed to hear that word 'threat' from you, my friend, not from me."

"You could have made that argument earlier," Ziva pointed out.

"Seeing is believing. But in that meeting you made it all happen, and that is religion. Tell me I'm wrong."

"Okay, okay... But I hate all this... politicking and desk job stuff."

"Don't rush that leg," Marden said. "Take me as an example. I permanently damaged my back at age thirty, and I've been desk-bound ever since, because I didn't listen to my doctors. Do not rush it."

"I will be careful," Ziva said seriously.

A few days after Jen had suggested that she should 'start out with an explanation,' Ziva had occasion to try out that idea. She also had to wonder who'd decided that her life should become so busy.

The SECSTATE's meeting with Foreign Minister Chen had ended with the man boarding a plane a day early. He had said that the matter couldn't wait, and that, in light of highly probable Taliban, ETIM, and Uyghur involvement, he was sure that certain facts would be overlooked. The Chinese government blamed the Taliban for a thriving opium market in China, and they were constantly at odds with ETIM and groups of separatist Uyghur. Within twenty-four hours of his return home, Foreign Minister Chen had contacted the SECSTATE. His government had decided that, as the Americans had 'kindly' discovered those terrorist training camps within China's borders, it might be worthwhile to mount joint intelligence-gathering operations against the camps.

But that wasn't as simple a business as both parties shaking hands and getting on with the proposed job.

Joint military and/or intelligence operations between two or more countries require the identification of several baseline security protocols (basically: we can do this, but they may not do that, and we can both do this). These are collected into a single protocol, and each country presents their protocols for comparison. The joint operations then proceed, or are abandoned, depending on whether compromises can be reached.

The person Ziva was about to meet was a congressman who headed a special subcommittee working with both the JCS and the NSC. Their joint focus was to draw up the US collected security protocol to be presented to their Chinese counterparts. Ziva was going to have to deal with Congressman Galloway two days a week for as many as three weeks, but perhaps less. She was already well-acquainted with his counterpart on the NSC, as well as the Chairman of the JCS, neither of whom were present at this meeting.

"Officer David—Did I pronounce that correctly?" he said, offering his hand.

"Yes," she said, shaking his hand. "And my name is Ziva, please."

"Titles are fine," Galloway said curtly.

Perfect, Ziva thought.

"If I may, I would like to tell you why titles are terrible," she said with a disarming smile.

Galloway laughed, surprised. Her tone had been nothing short of respectful.

"Okay, but we don't have much time here."

"This never takes long," Ziva said. "Only five words: titles do not inspire responsibility."

Galloway rubbed at his chin for a moment before putting out his hand a second time.

"Ziva, my name's Alex."

Ziva shook his hand again and took the seat he gestured to.

Ziva's office door was open but, as he always did, FBI Director Grace knocked before entering. She held up a hand, not looking away from a monitor while she finished a sentence in an email to a Mossad branch head. This email was a day overdue, but the right people at Glilot knew that her regular schedule had recently been trashed, and replaced with one that was literally twice as busy.

Eventually she swiveled her chair around and gave Grace a smile and an inquiring look.

"How was your meeting with Galloway?"

"Alex is a pro, thank goodness."

"First name basis, and he got a compliment: good meeting."

"Yeah," Ziva said. She gave Grace a suspicious look. "I can always tell when you are trying not to smile. What now?"

He wordlessly handed over a letter. While she read he rubbed an amused grin off his face, the fourth time he'd done so since reading that letter.

"Is... Henry Felton the Republican old fart who threw a tantrum because I called Senator Crowley by her first name?"

"He doesn't say anything about that, but yeah, it's him."

"Aah," Ziva said. She gave back the letter and her smile turned mischievous. "So, Robert. How are you going to deal with my, quote, 'blatant disrespect' for so-called 'betters and superiors'?"

"I think I'll write you up for a raise," Grace said.

"I do not think that that is what Felton had in mind."

"Right. And he'll probably decide to do something stupid, like come here in person to yell at me."

"The other day I saw something online that might be a perfect birthday gift for you," Ziva drawled. "It is a giant wooden spoon, and painted on the handle there is this: 'For the World's Biggest Shit-stirrer.'"

"I could put that on a wall in my den," Grace chortled.

"Hmph. Be careful, okay?" Ziva said. "Find out who Felton knows, what influence he has. You will feel really bad if he happens to know someone with enough influence to get me sent back to Israel."

"My bubble just got burst," Grace muttered. "Ziva, there's no way I'm going to indulge Felton here. He's making a mountain out of a molehill, and he's meddling where he's got no right."

"I agree, and I am not suggesting that you indulge him. Call Victor in Legal and ask his advice on how to say to Felton what you have you just said to me, without causing Felton's pride to get even more knotted... And I am sorry for this. I will remember it and be a little more diplomatic next time."

"I'd like to see you manage that if Lauren Crowley's involved again," Grace drawled. "She'd be just as amused as I would to get one of those giant spoons. And you know what's funny?"

"Tell me."

"The last person I'd ever give one of those spoons to, is you," Grace said.

Grace took the letter back and walked out, and Ziva got back to her work.

That night she told Jen about the situation, and related Grace's comment regarding the spoon.

"He's right," Jen said. "The only time you're inclined towards setting the cat amongst the pigeons is when that would cause a suspect or a mark to make a mistake. That's very different to this first names thing."

"But this is America, and maybe I must—"

"No," Jen said firmly. "Don't even think about changing tack now. People like Felton will see that as a victory, but besides that, Ziva, your approach is the right one. 'When in Rome' only applies when you're there for a short visit. If you have to stay longer, the figurative Romans should expect to find themselves learning about another culture. If they don't, that's their problem, one born of arrogance. This country is notorious for pushing its culture on everyone. It's only fair that you push back and create a little breathing room for yourself. It's not like you're expecting anyone else to join you in that space."

"True," Ziva said. "I do not scoff when other people stick to titles and ranks. I do not even hint that others should try my approach... In the letter Felton suggested that my behavior would perhaps breed general dissension."

"Oh, bullshit," Jen muttered. "You worked for NCIS for three years and people like Tim—who is my friend—still call me Director during office hours. That's something I've never insisted on. Several agents call me Jen, and others just don't, and either way is fine by me."

"Yeah, but you spent those three years in Israel."

"Which is where the fine-by-me attitude comes from, yes, but my point is that if your approach is the kind to encourage dissension, that influence would be strongly and broadly felt by now at NCIS, and it's not."

Ziva looked at Jen thoughtfully for a moment before picking up her phone. She called Robert Grace. He said that he hadn't finalized his reply to Felton yet, and she detailed Jen's example.

"Perfect..." Grace said, and Ziva could hear the scratching of a pen on paper. "I was going to say that if he was right, I'd be addressed as Rob by your PA and every other analyst and agent you work with."

"That is also a good example," Ziva said. "Anyway, as I said to you earlier, I am going to apply some discretion in future. Hopefully this will be the last time you have to diplomatically respond to a politician throwing a tantrum."

"Ziva, I end up writing responses like that three and four times a week, and usually you have nothing to do with them. Have a good evening."

"You, too."

Ziva hung up and found Jen glaring at her.

"Ma?" What?

"I just said that you shouldn't change tack," Jen said.

"Applying a bit of discretion is not changing tack," Ziva said. "I mean, already I assess and analyze and decide if it is worth it to suggest to someone that titles are a bad idea. If I will only have to deal with someone for a couple of hours and no more, then I just leave it as is, call them 'Ma'am' or 'Sir' or whatever. It is when I have to work with people repeatedly that I say, 'Hey, titles are not my thing.' But I do not say that if my instincts say that this person will react like Felton did."

"Nosy bastard..." Jen muttered. "If Felton hadn't barged into that conversation in the first place, Rob Grace wouldn't be writing that letter."

Ziva didn't argue with that.

Grace had finalized the letter by ten a.m the next day. He called Ziva into his office to read it, that instead of taking it to her. Ziva's mention of discretion last night had caused him to rethink a few things. There were two other people in this building who knew about Felton's letter, one being his PA who also knew that Grace had laughed about it before taking the letter to Ziva. If word of that got back to Felton, he might have a go at making real trouble for Ziva.

Grace's response was carefully worded, and basically said to Felton 'Mind your own' without being offensive. It wasn't at all friendly, but it was polite.

"If he says so much as 'Hello' to you from now on," Grace said. "I wanna know about it."

"Of course," Ziva said. "But we should not have cause to meet again. He is not involved in anything related to defense, intelligence, or law enforcement. As Jen said last night, he barged in on my conversation with Lauren."

"Wait. I thought he was talking to Crowley—"

"No. Lauren and I had a meeting with someone in the Attorney General's office, and afterwards we were talking outside, while she waited for her car. Felton was standing there, also waiting for a car. He greeted Lauren and she said hi, but went back to talking to me. Next thing he is saying 'Excuse me!' and he starts his little tantrum."

"This—" Grace gestured with his reply to Felton's letter. "—is the wrong response to what you've just told me."

"Yes, but it is a perfect reply to his letter," Ziva said pointedly. "That letter does not refer directly to the incident I described, does it?"

"Fucking politicians..." Grace muttered, only half under his breath.

"He did not describe what happened that day, for a reason: it puts him in the wrong."


Grace took a memo sheet and wrote something on it, taking care to be neat and precise. He handed the sheet to Ziva:

I know the details you omitted from your letter. I believe you to be an intelligent individual, one who will agree with me when I say that this matter is closed. –Robert Grace

Ziva handed the sheet back with a nod. Grace paper-clipped it to the letter and placed both in an envelope that had 'Private & Confidential' stamped on it in red ink.

Ziva had an idea that they wouldn't hear back from Felton.

Jen yawned and scowled at the clock on her desk: three-twenty a.m. She yawned again and answered the secure line.


"Umm, if I say I'm on the other side of the world?"

"Aah. I'll go get her."

"Thanks, and sorry for waking you up."

"No problem."

Despite the horrendous hour, Jen managed a jog up the stairs and down the hall. The man on the phone was a friend of Ziva's, and he was also the last US freelance operative on the ground in China.

"Ziva, wake up. That's Freddy on the secure line."

"Fuck..." Ziva said, while scrambling out of bed.

"Don't even try to run," Jen muttered, getting back into bed.

"I could not, even if I wanted to, and I do not."

Knowing that she might be on the phone for a while, Ziva pulled on a robe. She made her way downstairs, and hoped that the carefully-paced walk would serve in lieu of the stretches she usually did before attempting to walk any further than their en-suite bathroom. She eventually parked herself in the chair at Jen's desk.

"Sorry. I cannot walk fast."

"Been less than two minutes since your gal answered the phone. Don't sweat it," Freddy Bergen said. He got straight down to business. "The Fox told me a few things earlier. I wouldn't hope too hard on those discussions tomorrow."

"Me neither," Ziva said. Her every instinct told her that if the Chinese did not back out of the joint operation talks tomorrow, they would by Monday. "It is not an issue of trust."

"Yeah, they trust us just fine, but they're not interested in having to explain shit to us. And they'll have to explain, if they go in all guns blazing, after both sides have conducted a nice civilized intel collection op."

"Mmm. I have been there before. We just refused to explain."

"Uh-huh, but you guys have got more at stake, in that friggin' postage stamp-sized country. This country? They could let this whole province go and not feel it a bit. Thing is, like I keep saying, the people I've been watching aren't interested in the politics here. They've learned that striking at home just gets them whacked... They lined up another few and shot 'em last week, a little way outside the city nearest me."

"Yes, I know," Ziva muttered. Eli had sent her a secure email detailing the state-ordered execution of seven Uyghur militants. "What was strange about it was that it was not made public."

"But what'll happen here, and in ten other places, will be," Bergen said, certain. "They'll smear it all over the fuckin' news, cos they've got guns and bombs in those camps."

"Guns and bombs are pretty good justification," Ziva had to say. "Still, I wish that our problem was not being solved this way."

"Yeah... Anyhow, I'm just calling to say that I'll be getting a call as soon we know how those discussions pan out. The way I see it, that's probably tomorrow."

"Probably. Be careful, okay?"

"I got a plan, but yeah, I'll do my best. I'll be calling you directly afterwards."

"Okay," Ziva said.

There was a click and silence, until the disconnect tone beeped monotonously. Ziva put the phone down, and remained at the desk for a while, thinking about a man whom she'd met face-to-face just seven times in the eight years that she'd known him. She couldn't remember the number of letters they'd written to each other; couldn't remember the number of times that they'd talked on the phone. Very few of those calls had been like this one.

When she'd moved to the States, and Bergen had found out that she was living in D.C., he'd sent her the replacement number for a key to the apartment he kept here. At the time she hadn't known where he was, and the joke was that when the job was done she could use that key, open up and air his place, and take everything she needed to cook him a meal at home.

Now she knew where he was, where he'd been even when she'd used the replacement number to get that key cut. Given the risks Bergen would soon take, Ziva dared not think about cooking that meal, no matter how much she wanted to.

The week from hell just had to include a physiotherapy session. As was her habit, Ziva hardly said a word while being put through range-of-motion tests. Paul, her physiotherapist, knew that she didn't like to talk during sessions, and kept his questions to the bare minimum. He didn't have to ask what hurt and when: he could see it plainly on her face. He had no new exercises to give her this week, which meant that the session ended early.

"Stressful week?" Paul asked.

"You could say that," she drawled, pulling formal trousers over bike shorts.

"How bad?"

"Where do I start? This week decided it must be Israeli: it began on Sunday. I had to brief the NSC, and then I walked into another room and realized that now I am going to be briefing the SECSTATE—"

"Whoa..." Paul chuckled.

"You do not know the half of the 'whoa.' I swore in six languages at the Boss Who Does Not Pay Me. Monday and Tuesday were the usual kind of Washington crazy, but with extra: all the paperwork resulting from the meetings and briefings on Sunday. On Wednesday I got a call to say I must go talk with the Joint Chiefs again, and I also met with someone new, because now I am the consulting analyst for a special subcommittee. Todd is my PA, who got his own PA as of Thursday, and Todd, New PA, and me are all three trying to decide if everyone except us was mainlining speed on Thursday. Today has been quieter, but not by much. Oh. And did I forget to say that the Boss Who Does Pay Me had to deal with a tantrum-throwing politician on my behalf? There was that, too."

"If you didn't have a sense of humor..."

"A sense of humor has got nothing to do with it," Ziva said. "It is just... Gam zeh ya'avor—This, too, shall pass... and hopefully soon. So you can tell I had a stressful week– how?"

"The strap muscles in your neck are showing more definition, but you haven't lost any weight."

Ziva cracked her neck and ignored Paul's scowl. She had to get to a meeting with the JCS, definitely the last of the day, and hopefully the last of this crazy week, but if she was forced to be honest, she wasn't pinning much hope on that. If she wasn't in a rush she'd talk Paul into giving her neck and shoulders an ultrasound massage.

"I suppose it's useless telling you to try and reduce the stress," Paul said.

"I could reduce some of it by being less myself and more American—"

"And that would just cause a different kind of stress."

"Right. When is our next appointment?"

"Just before you go away for Thanksgiving should be fine, as long as you keep doing your stretches and exercises, and Jen keeps up with the massage."

"But of course," Ziva said with a cheeky grin. "That is a precursor to other, much more pleasant activities."

"And that's also a great stress-reliever," Paul chuckled. "If I only had adult patients, I'd get a sign made that says: Please Have More Sex."

Ziva snorted a laugh. She could just imagine Jen's expression if she went home and said, 'Paul says we must have more sex.' She put her grin away before getting into her car.

"You're early," Todd said and put his laptop on the backseat. "You needn't have rushed. The JCS canceled the meeting, so I guess we get to go home early."

"Be'emet?" Ziva asked. Really?

"I know how you feel. Doesn't seem real to me either, but yeah, really."

"No complaints here," Ziva said firmly, buckling her safety belt. "Were you given a reason?"

"The Chinese backed out of the joint op idea. They've asked for whatever intel we're prepared to hand over, and they'll add their own before they move on the camps."

"Fuck," Ziva muttered, frowning. "If they bother to interrogate anyone in those camps, it is not likely that they will share the information they get."

"You don't think they'll interrogate anyone, do you?" Todd asked, backing out of the parking space.

"No," Ziva said, remembering her conversation with Bergen last night. "I think they have abandoned any intention of collecting intel first. Instead they will just coordinate simultaneous airstrikes against all eleven camps, and they will have infantry on the ground, waiting to move in for cleanup. They will not bother with prisoners. But they will make big announcements, public announcements about what they did. After that? It is not likely that foreign terrorist groups will embed camps within China's borders again."

"But if they wipe out those camps it might set China up as a target– attacks from whichever group the camps belong to."

"I would say the chance of that is about one-in-ten," Ziva said, while texting a message to Jen. "Having all eleven camps wiped out in one night... Embarrassing, and also very damaging to morale. We must also consider that those camps house most, if not all of the group's 'soldiers.' If that is the case, then who will mount a revenge attack?"

"Fair enough. Still, it would be really nice to find out who they are," Todd said.

"We still have one man on the ground," Ziva said, trying not to worry about Bergen. "If he can, he will grab someone. But we were hoping that we would not need him to do that."

"If the Chinese are gonna bomb those places... I hope he gets out in one piece."

"He has gotten out of worse situations."

"Worse? Jesus, what's worse than that?"

"I was sent to kill him once," Ziva said dryly.

"So he's really well-trained, huh?" Todd mumbled.

"And also a very good person. If he was here, he would have said what I did just now, about worse situations."

"You spooks and military people have got really whack senses of humor."

"We have to cope somehow," Ziva said quietly.

And Jen knew how to help Ziva cope. She came home with rented DVDs, the only distraction—other than work—that Ziva could tolerate while playing the waiting game. Ziva didn't have to call James Marden to know that Bergen had been sent those grab orders. He had to move before the Chinese did, and his aim would be to snatch one of the terrorists, drag him a safe distance from the camp, and make him talk. Ziva checked her watch yet again.

"What's the time there?" Jen asked.

"About noon," Ziva said. Bergen was probably already on the move from his own tiny camp. "We should not hear anything before eight a.m our time tomorrow. And he will call me, not Jimmy."

"Will you be able to sleep?"

"After two or three movies, one after the other? Yeah, probably."

"Well, if you can't sleep," Jen said. "Please forgive me for fading out on you."

"Tsk! Nothing to forgive."

They were both asleep at around six a.m, when the phone rang in the study. Jen started awake.

"Secure line," she muttered.

"Yes," Ziva said, already out of bed. She looked at the alarm clock and worked out the time in China: just after midnight. Under her breath she muttered, "Too early. Dammit, Freddy..."

Jen watched Ziva leave the room, and when the doorway was empty she shut her eyes. It had been situations like this one that had caused her to become an atheist. She'd been a good Irish Catholic girl once, but that upbringing hadn't stood up to several situations just like this, where she'd prayed, but bad things had happened anyway. Jen didn't bother with prayer anymore. She just tried to stay positive, and gave it all up for a few moments to simple hope.

Downstairs Ziva already knew it was bad beyond help. She'd known that as soon as she'd picked up the phone, and Bergen had called her by name. She was currently in the middle of writing the report he was dictating via satellite phone. He was running. Every now and then he stopped and panted out more information.

"That's it," he said at last. "You got it all."

"Get out of there, Freddy," Ziva said urgently.

"Nah, sweetheart. I'm done. They got those dogs after me."


"Hold on just a little bit for me. Write this down..."

Ziva rubbed tears out of her eyes and scribbled down four email addresses and their passwords.

"I'm the only person who sent mail to those addresses, nineteen mails total. You won't have any problems decoding the stuff in those emails. I sent my safety deposit details to the four-eight-seven address. My will's in that box. The key is in the broken clock on the dresser in my bedroom, in the D.C. apartment. You still got the key?"

"I have the key, and I have this all written down," Ziva said. She swallowed hard before saying, "Do not let them get you, Freddy."

"Won't. Gonna hang up and make a call to nowhere: that number's the one that'll make this phone go boom. It'll be quick. You tell Jimmy from me, no hard feelings."

"I will," Ziva said, and she could hear dogs baying now, somewhere in the distance. She steeled herself and said what he needed to hear: "Do it now. Hang the fuck up."

The line went silent immediately, until the disconnect tone started up. Ziva dropped the phone on its cradle and covered her face with her hands.

"Yitgadal ve'yitkadash shmeh rabah..."

In the study doorway, Jen whispered Kaddish, too, even though she didn't believe in God. Bergen was Jewish. Saying the Mourner's Kaddish was respectful. It was also as close as she dared come to Ziva right now. When Ziva's mumbles ceased and the sobs welled up, Jen crept away to the kitchen.

She set up the drip machine and left it. She went upstairs to set out clothes for Ziva to wear. It wasn't fair that she had to go out while torn with grief, but Jen wouldn't say anything of the sort. Not much later she didn't say anything at all, while Ziva wept in the shower. Jen combed and dried her hair and bound it back in a severe braid when asked to. Jen's first words were regarding an empty tissue box, and by then Ziva had left the house.

Only then did Jen cry. She called Empathy a bitch, and she wept for Ziva.

Ziva was dry-eyed and stoic when she spoke first with CIA Director James Marden, and later gave a formal report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She also formally requested to be distanced from any operations that would arise from the intelligence gathered by Bergen.

"Due respect," said the Vice Chairman. He was newly appointed; his predecessor had resigned suddenly due to ill health. "If there's a conflict of interest, you need to state that in writing."

Ziva looked around the table. The rest of the Chiefs were looking at the Vice Chairman like he was something from another planet. She might have laughed, but that would have sent her into sobs next.

"Do you really want it in writing that I practically ordered my friend to kill himself?" Ziva said quietly.

The Vice Chairman was about to respond, but the Chairman cleared his throat and shook his head.

"I'll walk you out," said the Chief of Naval Operations.

"Thanks, Peter, but stay. If anyone is too nice to me now, I will have to go and rob the nearest Kleenex factory. Again. I think Jen is still picking up tissues."

"Somewhere, Freddy's laughing at that joke, even though it's corny," Marden said, but his smile was tight and he didn't make eye-contact with anyone. "There's a driver for you, Ziva, and the lawyer you asked for. By now those emails have been decoded."

"Thanks, Jimmy."

Ziva walked to a door, and the Vice Chairman was about to be a gentleman and stand, but he looked around and copied his colleagues instead. None of them had gotten up. The door closed and the Chairman reached for his coffee mug.

"The goddamn Chinese could have asked us if we still had anyone on the ground," he muttered.

"Wasn't the Chinese who got him, Joe," said the Commandant of the Marines. "They haven't moved yet."

"So it was this... Shamshir group?"

"Why would they have had dogs?" the Vice Chairman asked. "They're Muslims."

"Wasn't only Muslims in that camp, and they needed dogs as something of an alarm system."

"The dogs were the reason why Bergen hadn't been able to get close. He probably grabbed someone who'd left camp to take a leak."

"And then the bastards in camp figured one of their pals was missing..."

"So do we tell the Chinese about Bergen, Jimmy?" the Chairman asked.

"No. He was a deniable asset," Marden said woodenly. "You will all receive orders, before you leave this room, to say that Freddy—that Bergen never existed."

"I take it Officer David has those orders already?" the Vice Chairman asked.

"No, not yet," Marden almost whispered. "She's gone out to hand Bergen's estate over to the lawyer I mentioned. Tomorrow is soon enough to issue those orders to her."

Technically, Marden's consideration was a gross breach of security, but not a man at that table would turn him in for it.

Across town at Bergen's apartment, Ziva donned two pairs of surgical gloves and employed that key. She found the broken clock without trouble. She found the safety deposit key taped under the clock's dead batteries. Ziva put the clock back in place, and was careful not to touch anything else, even though the two pairs of gloves were nigh guaranteed not to leave glove prints. She gave both the apartment key and the box key to the lawyer, along with Bergen's bank details.

"You only contact me if I am mentioned in the will," she told the lawyer.

"Yes, ma'am. I contact you through Director Marden?"

"No. Call my office at the Hoover Building; my PA's cell number is on the answering machine. But I do not think you will have to contact me. Thank you, and goodbye."

She walked away. He followed but didn't try to catch her up, and as she'd guessed, he didn't have to call her.

Jen stood looking out a kitchen window, waiting. The day was grey and cold, the sky threatened rain, and the only brightness lay in gold and red leaves that decorated the back lawn. She always delayed in raking them up, but it was about time to do that, because she could see only small patches of faded green through the leaves.

Jen didn't move when she heard Ziva come in, and eventually a pair of arms slipped around her waist, and hugged tight, pulling her back. She let herself soften into Ziva's body, and turned her head to rub her temple softly against Ziva's cheek.

"He had no family. Essentially, I was 'family,'" Ziva whispered.

Jen turned in Ziva's arms and hugged her neck. She knew better than to say anything, least of all 'I'm sorry,' even though she was.

"It does not help to know the risks," Ziva mumbled.

"Never helps, no," Jen said and gently kissed Ziva's ear. "But we accept them anyway."

"Have to. Must accept them. Someone has to do this work, even though it kills the best of us."

Jen's reply was a small nod, one that Ziva could feel. Jen pushed away her fear, and filled that space with the here-and-now: Ziva was right here, now, her heart beating against Jen's right breast, arms tight around her waist. This was Ziva's way, too, Jen knew. To think of the future, to think of the real possibilities of loss, was to open the door to depression. Instead they stayed grounded in the present.

"No-one told me anything, but I am going to get orders of absolute denial soon."

"I'm sorry," Jen said.

It was right to say that now. She could apologize for the heartless application of red tape. Apologizing for Bergen's death, for Ziva's grief, was not right; apologizing for sacrifices made willingly and honestly was never right. It was dishonorable.

"I want to take you upstairs," Ziva murmured against skin, nuzzling at Jen's neck. "I want you to help me forget, just for a while. I have to cry more, but I cannot get there by myself."

Jen's answer was a kiss, brief but deep, before she took Ziva's hand and led her away.

Ziva was alone at home a week later. Jen was at a conference in Cincinnati, and this soon after Bergen's death Ziva did not want to be alone. Gibbs didn't know anything about Bergen, but over the last week he'd guessed that something bad had happened. He'd guessed as well that Ziva was bound by orders, meaning that even if he asked she wouldn't be able to say a thing. When she called him, instead of asking about what had happened, Gibbs did the best he could, and said he'd be around.

He took a bag up to one of Jen's guestrooms and headed back to the kitchen, where Ziva was cooking. He liked simple food, most of the time, and that's what he was getting tonight.

All the ingredients for a Greek salad were laid out, and Gibbs tackled that himself, mostly because this put him first in line to steal a cube or two of feta cheese. Ziva had two pans going at once. It wasn't Chanukah, but there were potato latkes in one pan; aged porterhouse steaks were sizzling in the other.

"You want me to change the music?" Ziva asked.

At background volume, Gibbs had to focus on the tune to realize that it wasn't anything he knew. It also wasn't unpleasant.

"It's okay. What is it?"

"A mix up of all Jen's Israeli favorites. This one is 'Tapuchim uTmarim' – 'Apples and Dates,' by Rami Kleinstein. It is about a girl who loves someone who does not love her."

"Kinda depressing... but the tune doesn't sound that way."

"Because he is saying that she deserves better and she can get better, in the same way that she goes to the market and gets herself some apples and dates."

"It's not always that easy," Gibbs said around an olive.

"Of course not," Ziva said, her expression wry. "And then there was me: I could have had those 'apples and dates' for more than a year before I got the clue. You say the same about that, so you will think this is funny: my mother-in-law fondly calls me 'Miz Clueless.'"

"Funny, yeah," Gibbs said, grinning. "But does Ellen know you call her your mother-in-law?"

"Mmm," Ziva said with a nod and a small smile. "She likes it. But really, chamoti—my mother-in-law, that is who she is."

"Pretty much," Gibbs agreed. He changed tack slightly, and without knowing that he was steering into a squall: "Going home at the end of the year, right?"


"Your folks gonna be pleased to see you and Jenny?"

"Eli and Uncle No'am, and my other uncles, yes. My mother? I do not think so, and because of that, I am not taking Jen within five kilometers of her."

"She's a big girl," Gibbs said while setting the table.

When Ziva made no response, he looked up. Ziva's expression was one he knew, the same one she showed to suspects while questioning them. He had to fix that or this evening was not going to be fun.

"So your mom's a match for Jenny in a bad mood? That's... impressive."

Ziva laughed briefly and placed the steaks on plates, which she carried to the table. The latkes were already there, and Gibbs was tossing the salad. Ziva fetched another couple of beers and sat down.

"You are going to make me talk about my mother? That is Ingrid Heller's job... Be'tei'avon."

"What's that? Like, 'bon appetit?'"

"Yes. Be-tei-avon."


"Tov, ve'todah," Ziva said. Good, and thanks.

"Hmph," said Gibbs around a mouthful. He was not going to say anything about the other day, when he nearly said 'todah' to Jen instead of 'thanks.' He took a swig of beer, and said, "And no, I'm not gonna make you talk about anything. But you're usually real happy to go home. Doesn't seem that way now."

"There is the conflict," Ziva said. "I really want to go home; I need some time there. But I will have to see my mother."

"You absolutely have to see her?"

"If I do not..." Ziva snorted a short, humorless laugh. "If I do not, even my father will... chide me. A very Jewish thing. Honor thy father and mother is the Fifth Commandment, but it may as well be the Second, and more so in Israel than anywhere else... And this time I will be at home off-the-job."

"Right. Last time you were there to grill that Chadad guy."

"Yeah, and my mother does not know about that," Ziva said. Her mother didn't know a lot, and part of that had to do with Rivka not wanting to know. The rest was officially withheld from her. Ziva really didn't want to talk about this, but she buckled down to it anyway. "My mother has not responded to any of my emails since I told her that Jen and I are together."

"She's homophobic?"

"Very far from it," Ziva said. "She actively encouraged my first relationship with a woman."

Ziva shrugged and made a point of focusing on her meal. There was no sense in ruining her appetite or inviting indigestion. Gibbs took the hint, and they ate in companionable silence. But when they cleaned up the kitchen together, Ziva started talking again without prompting.

"While we were eating I was thinking that sometimes I am not very intelligent," Ziva said. "That other woman, when I was twenty-three. I think my mother only liked her because she was not in the intelligence community."

"Other partners?" Gibbs asked while drying a dish.

"Men, both of them in the intel community."

"She hated 'em, did she?"

"Yeah," Ziva said and she had to laugh. "As I said, sometimes I am a bit dense."

"Aren't we all... So your mom's main problem with Jen is... What?"

"She is equating her with my father," Ziva muttered.

"Your mom clearly has issues," Gibbs drawled.

"She will say that I am one of those issues," Ziva said.

When Ziva changed the subject, Gibbs went with it. She really did want to learn more about hockey, and seeing as there was a game on, he explained the rules. The game ate a chunk of the evening, and he was yawning by the time it was over. Heading off to bed was as easy as saying goodnight, which he did. But he woke several times that night, with the faint creak of floorboards that told him that Ziva was awake again, and pacing.

In the morning Gibbs made sure that Ziva was occupied with making breakfast, and he called Jen's cell.


"If your girlfriend slept two hours last night, it was a lot," Gibbs said quietly.

"I knew I should've canceled this thing..." Jen muttered. "I'll leave today instead of tomorrow. Stay with her, please?"

"Sure. You know she's just about in knots over going home?"

"That's not the chief issue," Jen said. "There was an incident, and she had to... encourage self-termination. She probably had nightmares last night. I'll be home by four p.m... And Jethro, thanks."

"No problem," he said and hung up.

In the kitchen he found Ziva dealing with more than breakfast. She'd clearly gone shopping before he woke up. Gibbs didn't even try to make sense of various ingredients dotted around the kitchen.

"When the going gets tough, the tough get cooking?"

"Something like that."

"So what am I gonna learn to cook today?" Gibbs asked.

"You want to stay?" Ziva said, surprised. "I thought you had that thing with some guys from work."

"Canceled. Someone else also canceled: Jenny will be home around four. She knows you. Next time she offers to stay at home, let her, cos she's not asking to suit herself."

"I woke you up, huh?" Ziva mumbled, her tone apologetic.

"Few times..." Gibbs poured himself some coffee, and made up his mind: Fuck those orders. "Jenny said something about a self-termination. I been there. Pure hell... Didn't know you were running anyone."

"I was not," Ziva said. "Not officially, anyway."


"Absolutely deniable."

"Freelancer," Gibbs said knowingly. "Friend?"

Ziva nodded, and startled when the toaster popped. She muttered cusses under her breath, embarrassed, even though Gibbs knew that the symptoms of hypervigilance are something beyond anyone's control. That heightened startle-response came and went, with no pattern. This wasn't a proper case of PTSD, but it was close. She put a slice of toast on a plate and started to butter it.

"Fucking hard," Ziva said quietly. "Not being permitted to grieve. Having to pretend like nothing is wrong."

"This thing went down when?"

"Last weekend."

That explained Ziva's new habit of lunch with Jen at NCIS every day of the last week. Gibbs didn't ask any more questions. He knew as much as he needed to know, enough to work with, where 'work' equated to offering the right kind of support. She wanted to cook, so he helped out with that, and let her suggest whichever topic of discussion. Whenever she fell silent, he let it alone. Sometime after noon, when he noticed that she was staring into a pot of sauce instead of stirring it, he took over without comment.

Ziva fetched Gibbs a beer, but she poured herself a glass of fruit juice.

"I had to test him once. Short version, he passed. He could have hated me for what I did to him. Instead he said to me, 'That is the game, sweetheart.'"

"Sounds like the right kinda guy to play that game."

"He was," Ziva said softly. "You always remember the really good ones, the ones who can be offered half the money in the world, and if what they are asked to do is wrong, they will choose death instead. And then this game kills the best of us... He was going to retire after that job."

"Life's a goddamn bitch," Gibbs muttered. "But the job? Done?"

"Yeah," Ziva said and shot Gibbs a very real smile. "Of course. He was the best. He got us the intel we really needed. He did not die for nothing."

Gibbs picked up his beer bottle and clinked it against her glass.

"To your pal, wherever he is."

"Hopefully someplace nice."

Ziva put her glass down and went back to the range. She nudged Gibbs out of the way, but caught his sleeve and held him still to place a kiss on his cheek.


"You'd be doing the same for me," Gibbs said.

"Yes, I would," Ziva agreed.

"Why do I get the idea you haven't really talked to Jenny?"

"I have," Ziva said. "I have talked and I have cried—My God, I cannot remember when last I cried so much..."

"But?" Gibbs pushed, but his tone was gentle.

"It is like... Like Yuval Daron would say, 'the old soldier thing,'" Ziva said. "There is some of that between Jen and I, some overlap of experience. But between you and me? You tell me."

"Bigger overlap. Way bigger," Gibbs said.

"Mmm. So I have talked to Jen, but not in the same way. With her, I talk and I end up crying. The crying is necessary, but so is this, between you and me."

"A little room to be less emotional? Like that?"

"Yes," Ziva said wryly. "I might be tough as nails most of the time, but give me just a small excuse, when things are hard, and I will be anything but tough, even if it would be better for me to find this little rational space."

"Wow. She's human," Gibbs ragged.

Ziva swatted his shoulder and told him to make himself useful by moving the huge pot of spaghetti sauce to the back of the range. Like other things they'd cooked today, that sauce was going to be divvied up and frozen, but nothing was cool enough yet for transfer to containers or Ziploc bags. Gibbs caught Ziva's glance up at the kitchen clock.

"I'm gonna get told to take a hike when she gets home, huh?"

"That depends," Ziva said, deadpan. "If she comes in and starts taking my clothes off—"

"I'll declare that the end of the world is nigh," Gibbs stated.

"Either that or, as Todd would say, the sky is falling," Ziva giggled.

Gibbs didn't stay long after Jen eventually got home. It might even have been said that he hightailed it out of that house. Ziva took note, but Jen missed it, which was understandable because she hadn't spent most of the last twenty-four hours with him. And Ziva didn't get a chance to say anything about that. A hug and a kiss had turned into a whole lot more in very little time.

"Are you sure that you are fifty?" Ziva drawled after several hours.

"And menopausal, too. Yes, I'm sure," Jen chortled.

"So where was this libido of yours for three years before I kissed you?"

"Elsewhere, behaving itself... or saving itself for future activation. I can't quite decide which."

"You make it sound like a space shuttle on a launch countdown."

"A countdown would suggest that I knew with certainty that there would indeed be a 'launch date.' I knew no such thing." Jen levered herself up onto an elbow and propped her chin on her palm. She smiled into Ziva's eyes, and said, "I can tell you, with certainty, that I love you."

"Ohevet otach," Ziva answered quietly. Love you.

She ran the backs of her fingers over Jen's cheek, and rubbed the pad of her thumb softly over her cheekbone, and allowed gravity to help her hand lower, to the place where Jen's neck became her shoulder. There it rested, with Ziva's thumb sitting lightly on a collarbone.

"You're wearing that Is-this-real? expression again," Jen noted, smiling.

"Yes, still," Ziva said. "Because I cannot help thinking about how many times you and I have lain and talked like this... All that has changed, really, is no clothes, a lot of pleasure, and more love. And is that so much of a change?"

"No. Neither of us has changed. We're still the same."

"And so this is the same relationship, the same friendship... just with... more," Ziva said. After a pause: "If someone asks, I will not be able to explain this, in any language."

"Just say that you love me, and I love you. It's enough," Jen said.

"Ve'zeh yiyeh kal," Ziva chuckled. And that'll be easy.

"The truth sometimes is... And speaking of that," Jen said. "How're you feeling now, about Freddy?"

"I had some 'old soldier' time with Gibbs," Ziva said easily, relaxed. "It was good, so I'm... dealing better now."

"I'll remember that."

"You need not have said as much. You always remember the useful intel," Ziva said.

"And forget whichever ingredients I'm supposed to bring home for dinner," Jen drawled. "How much cooking did you two do today?"

"Just a tiny bit," Ziva said with a little half-shrug and a grin. Remembering something, she switched topic. "Gibbs left in a hurry."

"I vaguely recall his haste. When you called me yesterday afternoon you said that he had plans for today."

"He canceled... It is hard to tell when there is more company here with us than only him. He relaxes more when Tony or McGee or both of them are here."

"Now that you mention it..." Jen shifted and fit herself into Ziva's side. "So what do you think? He's jealous?"

"No. Just... uncomfortable. I will have to get him to talk sometime."

"You may have to put a gun to his head," Jen drawled.

"Give him more credit than that," Ziva said, but her tone was gentle.

"Maybe you won't need the gun, but it won't be easy," Jen said. "And these days I give him more credit than I ever thought possible."

It didn't hurt anymore, but what Gibbs had once said to her had been bad enough that Jen would never repeat those words to Ziva. Jen was strangely protective of Ziva's relationship with Gibbs, and she'd never forgive herself for doing, saying, or repeating anything that might hurt it. She hoped that Gibbs knew that, and wouldn't do anything silly, like 'confess' that very old conversation to Ziva.


Gibbs only glanced into the room, at the bed, and used the outer edge of his pinky finger high up on the edge of the door to pull it mostly closed.

"Get all these people out of here," he said to a Baltimore PD officer.

"Yes, sir. Okay folks, if you don't have a badge, move along. Let's go."

The small crowd of staff and a couple of hotel guests obediently moved out of the hall. Gibbs held back the hotel manager, the man who'd called NCIS directly instead of calling BPD. Gibbs had made that call and had gotten several officers to secure the scene. He'd told a detective that no-one should enter the room, and that order had been obeyed.

"So," Gibbs said to the manager. "Gleason was retired, but you knew she was Navy. How?"

"I always say that the Navy set me up for life. I cashed out in Ninety-four, signed up with the Reserves. I was wearing a Navy pin on my lapel, and Miz Gleason asked me about it. She told me she was an Oh-five, but she retired like a year back, and specifically requested that I not use her rank."

"Commander Gleason is not around to argue with me, and even if she was, she wouldn't," Gibbs muttered while pulling on Nitrile gloves. "Thanks for your time. I might need to speak to you again."

"Okay. I'll be downstairs."

Gibbs watched the manager walk away for a while before turning to Tony and McGee. Probationary Agent Danielle Everett was Ziva's latest 'replacement.' She was someone that Gibbs really didn't like. Unlike McGee and Tony she was standing by impatiently. She kept trying to look through the gap between the door and frame. That helped Gibbs to make up his mind.

"I'll wait for Ducky. One of you will stay with me. The other two can head back."

"Outa here. I'm behind on my reports," Tony said and shouldered a bag. "If all of us stayed... That room's so small that we'd be walking into each other all the time."

"Yeah," McGee agreed. Even though he didn't want to, he said, "I'll stay."

"I can stay," Everett said just a little too eagerly.

"No way, Probie," Tony said. "This kind of case needs a lot more experience than you've got. C'mon. We've got four other cases at the desk-work stage."

Tony gave Everett a nudge and ignored her sulky expression. Gibbs moved toward the door only when Tony and Everett were standing near an elevator.

"I don't like her, Boss," McGee said.

"You didn't like the other one either," Gibbs drawled.

"Alice just got on my nerves. Danielle really rubs me the wrong way."

"Yeah. Me, too," Gibbs said and pushed the door open. "Try not to touch anything while you're taking pictures."

Easier said than done. That room was really small. When McGee set up a ladder at the foot of the bed, to get elevated shots, Gibbs had to stand in the doorway. He took a look at the door then, knocked on it, and checked the frame.

"Got one of those no rattle rubber strips in the frame."

"That'd kill rattles, and keep noise in or out, too," McGee said, trying not to think about what he was photographing. "The door?"

"Solid, not the cheap kind with plywood or hardboard over a frame."

Gibbs helped to get the ladder out into the hall and went back inside, where he gave the victim his undivided attention. The late Commander Brenda Gleason was nude, lying face-down, tied hand and foot to the bed. A pillow covered her head.

"We aren't actually sure it's her," McGee said quietly.

"Given the size of the bloodstain, that pillow is hiding a lot of damage. My guess is the perp used a high caliber handgun. We probably won't be able to make a positive ID until we get dental records."

"Guess I'd better move the pillow."

"Wait," Gibbs said. "Hair and fiber collection needs to happen before that pillow is shifted. We'll do some of that, then work on lifting prints."

When Ducky arrived he took one look at the scene and sent Palmer back to their vehicle to fetch the Handy Vac, a small cordless vacuum cleaner with a sterile filter.

"Have you collected anything yet?" Ducky asked.

"Only what the Luma-Lite showed up," McGee said. "Got some pubic hairs. Not hers."

"Aah," Ducky said, glancing at the body again. "They're not blond?"

"Dark," McGee muttered.

"Semen?" Ducky asked.

"The Luma-Lite didn't hit on anything," Gibbs said. "We've printed everything except the bed, and her. Remember to keep those knots whole, Duck."

"I'll make sure to cut the rope well away from the knots, yes," Ducky said. He bent at the waist for a closer look at the knot on an ankle ligature. "But I don't think these are going to tell us anything, unfortunately. Very common-or-garden. But not the rope... Cotton. That might help us catch your tormentor, my dear."

The pillow had been moved by now. As Gibbs had guessed, a large caliber round had made a mess of Gleason's face on its way out. Ducky bent and got a better look at the gag in her mouth. It was constructed of a six-inch long piece of regular broom handle, with a piece of rope tied permanently to a groove cut in one end. The rope went round the back of Gleason's neck, and was tied to the other end of the shaft of wood.

"A stick gag. Well, well... And what do you make of that, Jethro?"

"Easier to put in and take out than a rag or tape gag."

"Quite," Ducky said.

Several hours later, back at NCIS HQ, the first person Gibbs and McGee ran into was Will O'Connell. He was NCIS's equivalent of a police desk sergeant or duty officer, the person who decided who worked which case. O'Connell's title was Case Supervisor, but he was usually referred to as the 'case boss.'

"Gibbs. The Gleason case has gotta go to Lockner and his team."

"Why?" McGee asked before Gibbs could say anything.

"You guys are already working four cases. Lockner just wrapped two, which means that he and his team are all freed up."

McGee saw that logic, but one look at Gibbs told him that it was time to go elsewhere.

"I'll go turn in this evidence."

Gibbs paid McGee no mind, and glared at O'Connell.

"Don't even go there," O'Connell said. "The case is going to Lockner and that's final. I'll remind you about that mandatory leave, too."

"Shit," Gibbs muttered.

"Yeah. In three days, you're gonna have to break for those seven days anyway," O'Connell said and walked off. He tossed over his shoulder: "Feel free to tell Lockner what you expect of him."

"It's not about me," Gibbs said.

If O'Connell heard Gibbs he didn't let on, and Gibbs had to admit that the guy knew how to handle people. He permitted debate but never allowed argument, and he also knew when to chase people and when to let them move at their own pace. At all times O'Connell knew the progress level of every case on the books, and generally he allocated cases correctly. Lockner was a damn good agent, but at present he had two rookies on his team, and that did not please Gibbs in the slightest. He decided to mention this to Jen.

"I don't like the two rookies problem either, but as you say, Lockner's top drawer," Jen said, looking at Gibbs with interest. "You don't usually go over O'Connell's head. Something's bugging you about this case."

"The perp used a stick gag, quick release knot on one side. My gut's saying that Ducky's gonna find physical evidence to say that that gag was applied and removed repeatedly."

"He wanted her to talk every now and then."

"Yeah," Gibbs said and parked on the edge of Jen's desk. "Made a call on the way back from the scene. Gleason worked Naval Intel."

"When I get back after Thanksgiving," Jen said. "I'll take a look at Lockner's progress. I'll overrule O'Connell if necessary."

Gibbs straightened up and gave Jen a nod before walking out.


Her eyes still closed, Jen sleepily felt around in the bed next to her, and her expression became grumpy. The sounds of conversation and some utensil or other rattling against a pot or pan told her that Ziva was in the kitchen, talking with Ellen, Jen's mom. And this was Ellen's vacation home, a small and secluded beachfront house.

Ellen and Ziva got along like a house on fire. Jen rolled onto her back and stretched, smiling at her mother's laughter. Over that laughter came a rapid clicking of claws on hardwood floors, and Jen was soon joined on the bed by Jack, a rather unoriginally named tricolor Jack Russel terrier. In her opinion he should have been called Pirate, because he had a round black patch over his left eye. Ellen hadn't thought of that. She hadn't actually wanted a dog, but she hadn't been about to drive past the pup running down a lonely road where he'd most certainly been dumped. A year later, and Ellen and Jack were inseparable. Jen was pleased about that. She rubbed the young dog's ears and smiled when he licked her chin.

"I suppose I'd better get up," Jen said to Jack.

He wriggled tighter into the space between her upper arm and body, as if to say, Not yet, but to no avail. Jen eased him away and sat up. He promptly arrived in her lap. She indulged him and petted him a little longer, doing her best not to get angry about his past. How anyone could've just dropped him out of a car and driven off...

"I help to put people like that in jail, Jack. Sometimes it's a very satisfying occupation."

Jack cocked his head to one side and wagged his stumpy tail, and when Jen got out of bed he followed her into the bathroom. Later he followed her into the kitchen.

"Boker, yafah," Ziva said, smiling. Morning, beautiful.

"Flattery..." Jen drawled. She'd done no more than brush her teeth and throw on a robe. Her hair was a mess and she didn't care. "Happy Thanksgiving."

"Seems like 'Grumpy Thanksgiving,'" Ellen chortled.

"I woke up alone, until the dog decided to visit... Please don't tell me there's a turkey in that oven."

"It is a duck," Ziva said.

"When I went shopping yesterday," Ellen said. "I thought, There's only three of us, and a turkey made no sense."

"Telling me," Jen said and kissed Ziva briefly. She kissed her mom's cheek on the way to the coffee pot. "Tomorrow I demand a lie-in."

"It's nearly ten a.m," Ellen pointed out. "That's nearly one p.m back East."

"Oh," Jen mumbled.

"This is what you get for nearly killing yourself with work," Ziva muttered.

"That's what it took to get these four days off," Jen retorted.

"Seven days," Ziva said, her tone light, airy, oh-so-innocent.

"What did you do?"

Ziva pretended great interest in a cornbread recipe, and Ellen looked from that picture to the one at the breakfast table. Her daughter had forgotten both the newspaper and her coffee and was glaring at Ziva.

"Hello?" Jen said impatiently.

"Three days extra, unpaid of course, but it is not like you will miss the money," Ziva said, still reading that recipe. "Ben Holder says that if he sees you back in D.C. early, he will make you take six days extra for the December break, instead of only three extra. And he means it."

"Not that it would surprise me at all," Jen drawled. "But are you saying that the SECNAV is in cahoots with you?"

"No, I am in cahoots with him. He called me," Ziva said. She put down the recipe book and looked Jen in the eye. "And the SECNAV also said that he is going to try again to get the budget increased so that he can hire a resident assistant director to lighten your load, but he said that I should not put too much hope in that... You slept for most of the flight here. You slept for ten hours straight last night. You could go back to bed right now and sleep longer, yes?"

"Okay, I get your point," Jen muttered.


Ziva returned her attention to the recipe book, and muttered something under her breath.

"What was that?" Jen asked.

"I said..." Ziva set the book aside again. Looking up reminded her of where she was: Ellen's kitchen, with Ellen standing right there. She might've spoken Hebrew, but she couldn't bring herself to be that rude. "I will tell you later. But it was related to what I said on Monday."

"Monday was a very long day," Jen said.

"Late on Monday, just before Monday became Tuesday, what did I say?"

"Oh. That," Jen chuckled. "I don't mind if Mom hears that."

"What did you say?" Ellen asked.

"Better that we make love in the morning, because by the time she gets home she is too tired," Ziva said.

"That's not funny," Ellen told Jen sternly.

"And you think I don't know that?" Jen said irritably. "I'd love it if my job were nine-to-five. I'd really rather not make operational decisions regarding eighteen new terrorist threats ID'd by MTAC in less than one goddamn month. I'd like it if my signature and initials weren't required on every damn case file to cross my desk. I'd much rather that I didn't have to deal with ignorant politicians seemingly hell-bent on making my job harder. But that's the way it is, and no, none of it is funny, especially when all of it interferes with my sex life... I'm going to soak in a tub."

She got up and stalked out of the kitchen, leaving her mom to stare at the space she'd left. Ellen turned to Ziva eventually.

"Why isn't there a resident deputy director?"

"Assistant director," Ziva corrected. "MTAC is to blame. It should be separately budgeted but is not, and it eats up more than two thirds, nearly three quarters of the total NCIS budget, which is generally considered to be very generous for such a small agency. But politicians forget how expensive it is to identify and track down terrorists. And they forget that the director, assistant directors, and investigators at NCIS HQ and at each branch are all civilians, while everyone in MTAC, except for Jen, takes a military salary—"

"Those salaries aren't taken out of the NCIS budget?"

"No, they are taken from various military budgets, which will tell you that MTAC is a very, very expensive asset. Where civilian employees are concerned, NCIS cannot really compete with the salaries offered by other agencies, and that situation will be even worse if Jen rearranges the budget to hire a resident assistant director."

"Hold on," Ellen said, putting down her coffee mug. "Jen's the one who decides how to spread the budget?"

"Not in a general sense, but she was told by the previous SECNAV, and has been told since by other politicians, that if she wants an assistant director she will have to fit that person into the existing budget."

"I'd quit," Ellen said.

"Really? So if you had a hard month at work you would sell your gallery?"

"No, but—"

"It is the same, Ellen," Ziva insisted. "Jen loves her job as much as you love the art gallery. Believe me, it goes beyond her sense of duty, which is in some ways stronger than mine. It is only love for her work that keeps her in that office."

"Okay," Ellen mumbled.

"It is not always like this. Identifying eighteen active high-level terrorist threats in one month? That is a few short of what they find in one year. Usually Jen is home by seven p.m—"

"And I'm dragging her upstairs by nine," Jen said. She marched to the breakfast table, retrieved her reading glasses, and walked away again. She tossed over her shoulder: "And we don't make love in the morning because she's on the treadmill by five-thirty."

"Just wait till this leg is all better," Ziva called after Jen.

"And then you'll be out running by five," Jen hollered back.

Ziva opened her mouth to argue, but shrugged and shut up instead, because Jen was not wrong.

Ellen decided to shut up now, too, but she couldn't keep an amused expression off her face. Never mind kisses and this recent mention of sex, Ellen thought that not much at all had changed between Jen and Ziva, but perhaps that was because she'd secretly thought of them as a couple for more than a year by now. She just hoped that, having gotten the clue at last, Ziva wouldn't regret it. After grieving her late husband, Ellen had said to a friend that she'd decided not to 'inflict herself' on another poor man. When Ellen was in a mood, she kept well-clear of everyone except Jack, and Jen was the mirror of her mother in nature, if not in looks. Then again Ziva was... well, Ziva.

"If you weren't you I'd say, in a gentler way, that you've bitten off more than you can chew," Ellen dared to say.

Ziva wanted to say that she neither bit nor chewed but was rather inclined towards nibbling. Rapid second thoughts reminded her that Jen definitely would not appreciate her mother knowing about that.

"It is not so different," Ziva said instead, managing somehow to keep a straight face.

"You spend more time with each other now," Ellen pointed out.

"She is still Jen, and I am still me, and we know each other. I do not try to 'fix' it if she is grouchy like this– she needs to feel angry, like everyone else. And when I am in a bad mood, she leaves me with it, too. It is easy to respect each other."

Ellen made up her mind then to put away presumptions, and to pay more attention to what was right in front of her.

Later, after Jen had had her soak in the bathtub, she arrived back in the kitchen wearing a faint smile, faint but genuine.

"So we have three extra days?" Jen said to Ziva. "But Mom's flying back to LA on Monday."

"You two can stay here," Ellen offered.

"Or," Ziva said, while checking on the duck. "We can charter a plane and go down to Puerta Vallarta, and get a water taxi to Yelapa. Gibbs says that Mike Franks will not mind."

"Don't say no," Ellen chuckled. "Jen, the weather there at this time of year is decidedly tropical."

She pointed through a picture window to emphasize the contrast. Outside shrubs were being buffeted by a stiff Pacific breeze that was also whipping up small sand devils on the beach, and beyond that the waves were angry storm-green rollers. The horizon was occupied by a heavy bank of steel-grey cloud. Jen looked at all of that and thought back to her hope of catching a slight tan. That wouldn't be happening here.

"Okay. We'll go to Yelapa... Mike has a boat, right?"

"Yeah. We can go fishing," Ziva said.

"I've sailed, piloted, and/or paddled most everything that floats," Jen said. "But I've never been fishing in my life. How do you know anything at all about fishing?"

"Surf fishing is Eli's thing to do when he has time for fun, but not enough time to go all the way to the South to spend time with the horses. He used to take me and Tali fishing when we were kids. I have not been fishing from a boat, and I want to try that."

"I'll give it a try, too, and if it's not my thing I can still be a good deckhand... and catch a tan."

"Just remember that red hair and don't burn," Ellen fussed.

"Yes, Mom," Jen drawled, amused.

It was really brought home to Jen that she needed this vacation when she woke from a nap on a couch, with her head in Ziva's lap, and somehow five hours had disappeared. Ziva had said her say yesterday and didn't add anything else. One look from Ellen was enough to say a lot more, but she also didn't hammer the point verbally. Instead she continued her conversation with Ziva while Jen headed into the kitchen to find a snack. She settled for something small, a handful of peanuts, because dinnertime was not far off. At her feet, Jack wagged his tail and looked at her expectantly.

"Just one," Jen said and gave him a peanut. "And no more."

Jack munched the peanut and did his best starved pup impression.

"Uh-uh, don't you guilt me out."

Jack wagged his tail vigorously and Jen rolled her eyes, tossing another peanut that he caught in a snap. He managed to wheedle another five peanuts out of that handful.

"I'm such a sucker, and you're a manipulative little bastard."

Jack panted happily and skipped in a circle. Jen didn't comment on that. Her return to the living room found Ziva pacing while talking. Barely a limp, mostly because she had to avoid limping, but it was there, as was a certain tightness on Ziva's face. Her thigh was sore, and having Jen's head on her lap for five hours probably had something to do with that.

"You should've woken me up."

"She tried," Ellen piped up.

"And you said, 'No. Go away,'" Ziva chortled. "I could not go anywhere, and I did not to try to wake you up again."

"Hmph," said Jen and flopped on a couch. "Five hours is taking the body pillow concept a little too far."

"The only one complaining is you."

"And your thigh," Jen said wryly.

"It 'complains' all the time, so what is new?"

"But it's been 'complaining' less, right?" Ellen asked.

"It is sore all the time, but the pain is less, yes," Ziva said, clearly pleased. "The most pain comes from the bullet wound area. The muscle graft donor site is almost healed, it hardly ever hurts now. After warming up I can walk for almost two kilometers before this thigh starts to hurt properly."

"But the biggest bonus is no cane," Jen said. "Even I was starting to hate the damn thing."

"Mostly because I complained about it so much," Ziva noted.

"True," Jen drawled.

"You know that you two bicker like people who've been married for twenty-five years?" Ellen said, amused.

"We seem to be experts at sounding like married people," Ziva said with a broad grin. "We sounded this way even two years ago."

"Longer," Jen said. "Ducky recently confessed that he started wondering about us just six months after you joined NCIS. When I asked why, he said, 'Tone of voice, more than whatever you two said.'"

"Abby said something similar," Ziva said, and sat beside Jen. "She said that we sounded comfortable."

"I'll go with that," Ellen agreed. "And it's just more pronounced now."

She switched topic and asked Ziva a question about work, and Jen was content to sit back and listen to their conversation, which wasn't anything new. Ziva and Ellen had first met a little over two years ago, and they'd liked each other at first meeting. Since then they'd never been short of things to talk about, to the point where Jen just being an audience had become something of a habit. The two people she loved most getting along? Jen loved that, and was very grateful for it, more so because she knew that her mother wasn't the easiest person to get along with. Then again, neither was Ziva, or Jen herself, for that matter. However, between the three of them there was an unspoken acknowledgment of the strong personalities of each, and that was their chief basis of respect.

Ellen and Jen had been almost constantly at odds with each other until Jen was about fifteen, and had realized that nearly every argument they'd had up to that point had actually been something like an agreement, but one spoken in two different languages. All the traits she least liked in her mother were those she liked best about herself. The difference lay in expression, only, and when Jen stumbled over that fact she set out to find the middle road between them. It hadn't taken much effort, because Ellen had responded in kind. They still clashed these days, but mostly over unimportant things where it was possible to agree to disagree (or just never talk about whatever again). If they happened to clash over something more important, they reverted to discussing it in writing, rather than taking the risk that their similar fiery tempers would flash over and start a proper fight.

Ellen and Jen knew each other really well, and while listening to their conversation this evening, Jen thought that Ellen and Ziva were heading down that same road of knowing each other well.

Later, when Ziva had gone to bed (because, as she said, she hadn't had a five-hour nap), Jen asked for the first time what Ellen thought of this relationship.

"You can't tell?" Ellen chuckled. "Jennifer, last year I sat on your porch swing and encouraged you to drop a hint in the lap of Miz Clueless. And I believe that my sentiment, when you called to announce that she'd gotten a clue at last, was, 'Finally!' Honey, I generally don't encourage that of which I disapprove."

"I know, but..." Jen paused and chose her words. "Mom, you've not said outright—"

"Aah," Ellen said, and her expression was apologetic. "It's really that different, isn't it?"

"There were two women during college, and another one during my second stint with the FBI ten years ago, but I never allowed myself to fall in love with any of them, and those were all closeted relationships. This relationship with Ziva is something of a luxury that I've earned, in a professional sense. If I wasn't currently Director of NCIS, the truth is that I'd probably have to give up the idea of attaining that office. That's what I mean by 'luxury.' Same-sex relationships aren't even nearly an acceptable thing in Federal and military circles. They're only just tolerated in the former instance, and while they will be acceptable on paper, soon, in the latter instance, it will take perhaps decades for military people to shrug about a same-sex relationship. But I am Director, and for damn good reason, and I'm unbelievably fortunate in having proved that before Ziva and I fell in love."

"I see that, and I also see why you didn't tell me about the other women," Ellen said. "Without the kind of example you've presented now, I might not have understood why you kept yourself at an emotional distance from those other women."

"On the money..." Jen muttered. "And so yes, it's really different, in many complicated ways, not least the need for a constant awareness of the fact that some people smile and offer congratulations, even while thinking up ways to use my relationship with Ziva against me. That breeds a lot of doubt, in general, which unfortunately tends to percolate into layers of my life far removed from the professional. So while I know that you love me and that you like Ziva a helluva lot, as I mentioned, you haven't said outright that you approve."

"Well, I do," Ellen stated. "I think you two fit like jigsaw pieces, and to me, that's what's most important. And I remember liking Stewart Wiccomb but thinking—"

"That he was oh-so-boring?" Jen chuckled wryly.

"That, too. But I was going to say that you two didn't have a whole lot in common, and where you didn't match up... There were these very noticeable chasms, and I thought, How in hell are they going to bridge those gaps? With you and Ziva, I see bridges over small gaps, and I don't see many of those gaps."

"There are a few awfully wide gaps, Mom," Jen said quietly, thinking of Ziva's somewhat permanent silences regarding her career with the Mossad. "But you couldn't possibly know about those, and trust me when I say that they're the kind best spanned by a drawbridge. Everyone needs their space, sometimes, and I respect completely Ziva's keeping those drawbridges raised, and shutting out even me. Then again, she tells me what she doesn't want to talk about. That's still communication, and a way of helping me to respect those drawbridges."

"But that's also why it works," Ellen said. "I have no doubt that she'd accord you the same respect. Thing is, with Stewart I saw the kind of gaps that really needed to be bridged."

"Tell me about it..." Jen drawled, and after a pause she murmured, "She's all I could possibly want."

"They say that fortune favors the brave," Ellen said. "I say it pays double favors to those both brave and patient. You didn't get that patience from me or your father."

"Success is the result of ambition tempered with patience," Jen said, smirking. "That's the tale of my entire career. In a way I taught myself to be patient."

Ellen agreed with a nod, thinking that Jen had an unquestionable right to boast about that.

"I think I should learn Hebrew," Ellen announced.

This in response to whatever Jen had said, and Ziva's unmistakeable 'Say what?' reaction. Ellen had no need of a translation of 'Ma pitom?'

"Please do not learn that Hebrew," Ziva groaned. "She sounds like a teenager."

"On purpose," Jen giggled.

"She sounds just like her father now," Ellen told Ziva. To Jen: "What did you say?"

"Ani meta alayich," Jen said, directly to Ziva.

"Ugh..." Ziva groaned again, her face red.

"So what does it mean?" Ellen demanded.

"'I die on you,'" Ziva muttered. "Kind of like 'You're to die for.'"

"And so you are," Jen insisted.

"Bat kama at? Shesh-esreh?" Ziva said, exasperated. How old are you? Sixteen?

"No, but sixteen years would be the gap between us, and thanks to your influence, my current behavior is all your fault. Brat."

"Right now she's definitely her father's smart-ass daughter," Ellen chortled.

Ziva found herself thinking that she resembled neither of her parents closely, for which she was grateful, but she had to wonder how that had happened. She was a mixture of this trait and that, seemingly cherry-picked from several relatives, and then there were bits of her character that weren't matched in anyone else in her family. This partially explained why she'd had trouble fitting in there when she was younger. Maturity hadn't helped that situation much at all; whenever she managed to fit in that came as a result of effort. She was fortunate in, and grateful for the fact that several of her relatives seemed to believe that that kind of effort was a two-way street.

"Oops," Jen said, rather puzzled over Ziva's expression. She jumped to the most likely conclusion: "Did I push things a little too far?"

"Huh? Oh. No-no," Ziva said. "Just... Just thinking that I am not much like either of my parents. It is no mystery why Ellen and I get along so well: you are just like her... You and Eli like each other. Why?"

"I like him, too," Ellen chipped in. "But I doubt he turns that sweet charm on Jen."

"Mmm. He values his life," Ziva drawled. To Jen: "Right?"

"Definitely seems that way," Jen chuckled. She sipped at her scotch before saying, "Eli and I share a professional appreciation for all the hard work on the way to the big office. We also know what it's like to be put in a position where our decisions can place people in the line of fire."

"He had to learn to care about that," Ziva said flatly.

"Yes, and he did learn," Jen said. "You made him learn, and you did that several months before Eli and I ever had a personal conversation. My love, there's no way in hell that I could call Eli a friend if he hadn't learned that lesson... And now we occasionally call each other for advice."

Ziva nodded, her smile faint, but seemingly relaxed. It hid her thoughts, and worries, but they didn't concern Eli. She and Eli were making their peace, bit by bit, and barring some enormous unforgivable mistake on either of their parts, it seemed to Ziva that one day they'd find that peace.

Her worries mostly revolved around her mother's ominous silence over the last few months. When Rivka David had nothing to say, it was for one reason only: she was saving up every word for a yelling match.

Yelapa, Mexico

Mike Franks counted himself lucky to own a small house at the southern edge of this tiny town that seemed to want to have nothing to do with the Twenty-first Century. In Yelapa there were cobbled streets, but no cars, nor any other kind of motorized transport. Instead burros did the heavy hauling, if any. The only way to reach the town was by water taxi from Puerta Vallarta. To the west, the Pacific spread into vastness, and to the east, at the town's back, there was dense jungle. The place remained green and the water stayed warm year-round. At this end of the long curving beach that water was deep enough to accommodate Franks' sailboat.

If tourists wandered down towards Franks' end of the beach they ended up meeting with one of five signs that said, in several languages: PRIVATE KEEP OUT. To date he'd had to chase only one tourist. According to Ziva, this was because Franks' borderline-ramshackle clapboard house didn't look especially inviting. Franks and Gibbs had grinned at her in a way that said 'Exactly!' after which she and Jen had been shown inside. It was plain, but there was nothing ramshackle about the interior of Franks' home.

They'd all spent most of yesterday out on the boat. Jen was at home aboard any watercraft, from kayaks to aircraft carriers. She'd given fishing a try and hadn't found it to her liking, but she'd proved an excellent deckhand, not least because she was the deckhand who fetched beers for whoever wanted them. Ziva had liked the fishing just fine, and had been happy to catch and release all but her last two yellowtail jacks. Those, with Franks and Gibbs's fish, had become dinner and also today's breakfast.

Gibbs had lost the round robin coin-toss, which had landed him with dish duty. When he eventually came out of the house onto the porch, he nearly said, 'Get a room!'

He'd invited Ziva and Jen down here, but he hadn't stopped to think first.

It didn't get much more complicated than this: one of them was his ex, and the other had saved his life. He approved of their relationship, and he hadn't expected them to behave like they hardly knew each other. At the same time he hadn't expected Jen and Ziva to be that relaxed, for a value of 'relaxed' that included hugs and physical contact in general (while wearing shorts and bikini tops), and currently a rather long kiss that was as far from chaste as they all were from D.C.

Gibbs loudly cleared his throat. No result.

"Do you two mind?"

"It worked," Jen said. "Desperate times..."

"Probie, I didn't teach you to be that gullible," Franks drawled.

Gibbs scowled at Franks and was about to retort, but Ziva linked her arm into his and half-frogmarched him in the direction of the surf.

"Best it gets talked out before you three head back to El Norte tomorrow," Franks said.

"MmmHmm," Jen agreed.

She pushed her sunglasses up on top of her head, and stepped under the shade of Franks' porch, where she took a seat and reached for the end of a half-inch thick rope. Franks was splicing a thimble (a kind of steel eyelet) into the other end. Jen started wrapping rope carefully around her palm.

"I'm presuming you'd like a monkey's fist at the end of this line," Jen said.

"Always forget you're a Navy gal. I can't never tie that damn knot. Thanks."

"I'm also presuming you've got a ball of some kind lying around."

"Got a heavy rubber one that some dog lost..."

Franks went inside and fetched the solid rubber ball, about the size of a baseball. Jen reassessed the knot, and started from scratch, taking four turns around her palm instead of three. Franks sat down again and watched Jen's handiwork. When she'd constructed a 'cage' of rope, she worked the ball into the middle of it, and started to methodically work the rope tight around the ball, which would be completely enclosed when she was done. It would look good, but the ball-weighted knot would make it easy to toss this rope to someone on a jetty.

Franks eventually remembered his own splice job.

"They ain't started talking yet," he noted, looking a way down the beach.

"Those two do most of their talking in silence," Jen said quietly. "Between them a lot of things go without saying, but this time..."

"Jethro told me that she shot her own brother," Franks said, weaving another strand of rope in and out with the help of a marlin spike. "That so?"

"In that kind of situation, you would've done the same," Jen said, looking him in the eye.

"Yep. Reckon I woulda," Franks agreed, and said no more.

Gibbs and Ziva ended up about a half-mile down the beach, and what had started out as something of a forced march had turned, eventually, into a stroll. It was early yet, just gone eight a.m, and they'd be rowing the beached dinghy out to Franks' sailboat at around nine. Ziva looked back over her shoulder at the boat that bobbed on a gentle swell, and was safely moored to a chain rode that was permanently fixed to a large chunk of coral in deep water. The rode's buoy was currently acting as a perch for a pelican. Yesterday that pelican had made a real nuisance of itself, begging scraps when they'd scaled and gutted their fish.

"The bird is back."

"I told ya not to feed it," Gibbs said.

"He cleaned up all the guts and fish heads, so that is like saying that I 'feed' the garbage can at home."


"Yes," Ziva said. "Twice over, sort of. That kiss was my idea. You know her. Tell me how she is feeling now."

"Uncomfortable... She didn't used to be shy," Gibbs noted.

"She is not shy. 'Private' and 'shy' do not mean the same thing. We had to get you to the point where you would talk to me, and Jen agreed that a kiss would work."

"Yeah. She never used to be shy, but she was also never that... demonstrative."

"As I said, the kiss was my idea," Ziva said. After a pause, "C'mon. Talk to me, please."

"I'm not reneging," Gibbs said firmly. "I said you two match up, and you do."


"Can I beg off with the dumb male excuse?" Gibbs drawled.

Ziva laughed and shook her head. Gibbs bent and picked up a pebble, and sent it skipping over smoother water beyond small breakers.

"Wind better pick up or we'll be riding the donkey out past the point."

"Riding... what?" Ziva said, frowning in confusion.

"Riding the donkey. Using the boat's engine instead of the sails."

"Oh, okay. But we are not out here for a nautical vocabulary lesson."

Gibbs skipped another stone, really put his shoulder into it. His lips were pressed into a thin line.

"I'm not jealous," Gibbs stated, but quietly, not-at-all defensively.

"Yes, I know," Ziva said. "Why are we having this conversation only now?"

"Since you moved in with Jen, whenever you and me have had time alone, it's either been kinda rushed, or we had more important stuff to talk about. Like that self-termination business."

"True," Ziva said. "So just say it, huh?"

"Any reason why you haven't moved all your stuff outa your apartment?"

"McGee's sister is going to move in there. I do not need the furniture. Also, when necessary, Sarah will spend a couple of nights on McGee's couch, because I will need to use that apartment. Sometimes it is not a good idea for operational planning to be handled at the embassy, or back in Israel, and at times I will have to deal with people that Jen should not meet. You see?"

"The apartment's a convenience," Gibbs said, nodding.

"So the apartment made you worried that I was not serious about Jen?"

"That's some of it."

Ziva rolled her eyes. Even with Jen's warning that it wouldn't be easy, she hadn't expected this reticence in Gibbs. Reticence and resistance. This business was like pulling teeth.

"Look, you usually do not spare my feelings, ever, and why?"

"Because ya hate it," Gibbs drawled.

"Nu?" Ziva encouraged. Well?

"It's stupid..." Gibbs picked up another pebble, and this time just hurled it hard and far. "Dunno why it's bugging me now, suddenly."

"Gibbs, for fuck's sake, please just spit it out," Ziva muttered.

"Y'know, you're cussing more," Gibbs just had to say.

"Because a bastard shot a hole in my leg, and it is a very Israeli leg that reminds me painfully that I am not an American. So fuck it, yes, I am swearing more, being more myself, and you know, I can swear much worse in Arabic and Russian. And if you do not spit it out right now, I am going to start calling you by some of those words."

"You might call me some of 'em anyhow," Gibbs almost growled.

"Ohhh..." Ziva mumbled. "You are not sparing my feelings. You are angry with yourself?"

"Dumb pride..."

"Ouch," Ziva said, and she didn't need it spelled or spat out now. She helped Gibbs out instead: "A girl got the woman you lost?"

"And why should that fuckin' matter?" Gibbs muttered, his expression a mixture of confusion and anger. "Me and Jenny split more than fifteen years ago... You're practically goddamn made for each other. And I care about ya, both you and Jenny, and you match up where I never even started to fit—"

"Stop-stop-stop..." Ziva said.

She put a hand on Gibbs's wrist to keep him from chucking another pebble, and used that grip to turn him. Her free hand took off her sunglasses. She squinted a little in the bright sunshine, but met his eyes, and when he made to turn his head and look away, she used a fingertip against the side of his stubbly chin to keep him face-front.

"Your pride is hurt because you know what others are saying and thinking. I think that that is reasonable."

"The hell it is," Gibbs snapped. "It's stupid. I haven't felt like this since I was a teenager."

"Wrong. You ended up feeling the same when you got injured in Desert Storm. That is why you left NCIS after you nearly got blown up on that ship. You did not want to stick around and put up with the same kind of judgmental looks from everyone: 'Is he fit enough for duty?' Think about it. It is the same. They are judging you in the same way: 'He did not make the grade with Jennifer Shepard.' But it is worse now because they are drawing a comparison, between you and me. They will never be so stupid to say it to your face, or mine, but you and I know what they are thinking."

"And what they think shouldn't matter," Gibbs insisted.

"But that is what you need to hear from me, not yourself," Ziva said. "Nothing has changed, Gibbs. You are my backup, and I am still yours. You care about her, right?"

"I just said so," Gibbs said, nodding.

"And who better than me to love her?"

"I just said that, too."

"Yeah, but change the context," Ziva said, smiling. "I am not just a woman. Not to you."

"Backup," Gibbs said, a smile edging onto his face. "Comes down to the wire, and a man's backup's opinion is the only one that matters."

"And what is my opinion?"

"That the rest of the world can go fuck themselves?" Gibbs chortled.

"Nachon," Ziva stated. Correct.

Gibbs bent and picked up another pebble. This time he skipped it for the hell of it and took some boyish pride in nine hops.

"Gotta admit," he said eventually. "I thought Jenny would be more standoffish, 'specially around me. I'm getting to know her all over again. Or maybe starting over."

"I think you both made some silly assumptions about each other. I know as fact that Jen thought you would never change, would never see her as anything more than overly ambitious and power-hungry. And you thought that just because she did not miss you, she also did not care about you... Yes?"

"Don't the two usually go hand-in-hand?" Gibbs said, frowning.

"No," Ziva said with a short, humorless laugh. "I do not miss my mother, at all, but I still love her. And Jen taught herself not to miss you, but she has never stopped caring about you."

"She wouldn't tell me that," Gibbs said, absolutely certain. "She'll say now that she cares, sure, but she won't backdate that and say she didn't stop caring."

"She has her pride," Ziva said wryly. "She also puts up with the fact that in areas like this, if you ask, I will tell you the truth and not spare her pride."

"Heartless," Gibbs kidded.

"Yes, I am terrible," Ziva said with a wicked smile that eventually softened. She said quietly, "I love her so much."

"You say that like it's a big surprise," Gibbs said. "Is that just part of being clueless for so long?"

"Chetzi-chetzi—half-and-half. Half the clueless thing, and half disbelief that I am feeling this much, for anyone."

"Oh c'mon," Gibbs scoffed, and seriously. "You? You're an all-or-nothing girl, Ziva."

"Correction: I have always wanted to be an all-or-nothing girl, where love is concerned. All, with no limits, is not possible when the person you love wants you to be someone else. So love becomes limited, and eventually what could have been 'All' turns into 'Nothing.'"

Sometimes Ziva was so selflessly honest that it left Gibbs floored; now was one of those times. Ziva looked away from his slightly stunned expression.

"She just wants me to be me, nothing more and nothing less. That? No-one but Jen."

"And you love her the same way," Gibbs said, picking up another pebble, remembering with stark, almost brutal clarity the words he'd said to Jen so many years ago. He'd wanted her to be different. He drew his hand back past his hip, twisting, and used the wound-up torque in his body to hurl the pebble out as far as he could. "Like I said just now, I didn't even start to fit."

"You know, maybe even I would not have 'fit' when she was younger and turning her intelligence and knowledge-base into a rocket-ship that took her higher and higher. It is easier for me because now she feels like she can relax a bit and settle down."

"You sound kinda relieved," Gibbs noted, not a little surprised.

"I am, because Jen was not ready for this kind of love when she was younger," Ziva stated the simple truth. She also decided that she'd said enough. The rest of the conversation would be none of her business. "Talk to Jen later?"

"Tonight," Gibbs agreed.

But he ended up with time while they were on the boat, during the sail back to shore. Ziva was taking her turn at the wheel, with Franks as coach.

On his way over to Jen, Gibbs paused to haul on a rope with one hand, while cranking a turn on a coffee-grinder windlass. That trimmed the mainsail and put an end to its slight luffing. Just forward of the mast he checked on the Bermuda foresail but it didn't require any attention. He joined Jen in the bow, where he matched her: legs under the railing and dangling over the side, and arms folded over the railing. With a good breeze almost dead astern, the boat was making an easy seven knots. Their feet were often splashed by the bow wave.

"Ziva's a green hand, but quick– learning her ropes fast... Maybe I should keep that boat I'm working on now. Finish her up, rent a mooring for her somewhere close, and you, me, and Ziva can take her out when we got time."

"The rest of 'the gang' wouldn't be invited?" Jen asked.

"Ducky, sure. Abby, if she wants to, but it's not her thing. Tony and McGee? Uh-uh," Gibbs said. "McGee's a real lubber, gets seasick on an escalator. And DiNozzo would work on his tan and not a lot else."

"This is true," Jen chuckled. Eventually she cleared her throat, and said, "I'm sorry we made you uncomfortable."

"I think you were a lot more uncomfortable than I was."

"As I said, desperate times. I know you. If Ziva had just asked—"

"Woulda brushed her off," Gibbs said with a nod. He looked up from the water, towards land that was still just a smudge on the horizon. "Did she fill in the blanks?"

"Yes, while we ate lunch up here, and you and Mike were talking sports." Jen paused and thought twice before saying, "It's funny how some fools are thinking she's filled your spot, because sometimes I feel like I've taken her away from you."

"If you'd resigned and she'd stayed... Nah, Jenny. I agree with Fornell, and Ziva. Vance woulda had Ziva packing her bags."

"I know. But still... Jethro, if you want to, I'd like you to visit more often."

"I'll end up talking cases with her," Gibbs said, thinking about the Gleason case.

"When Tim and Tony, and even Ducky and Abby visit, the latest case is usually what they talk about. Why should you be the odd guy out? And you have to know that the McReedy-Green investigation was an exception rather than an example of the rule. Long story short, even though she ends up talking to the JCS regularly, Ziva is bored. Talk cases, by all means."

"Director Grace won't mind that?"

"Rob? Please..." Jen laughed. "He's a man who cares that whichever job is done, and beyond that, he doesn't interfere. Ziva more than delivers as Liaison, and what she does after hours is all her own business."

"You wouldn't like me lending an after-hours hand to the Bureau," Gibbs said.

"You don't have a desk job," Jen countered.

"Point," Gibbs said. He'd needed this vacation more than he'd realized. Thinking of that he said, "We're getting old."

"Speak for yourself. I've got an Israeli brat keeping me young."

"No comment," Gibbs said with a grin.

Washington D.C.

As she'd promised Gibbs, during her first day back from vacation, Jen called Gerry Lockner into her office. She asked him how he was doing with the Gleason case.

"Struggling," Lockner admitted, rubbing at the back of his thick neck. Natural bodybuilding was his hobby, and he owned the unofficial title of Most Buff NCIS Agent. "I got two rookies with their minds blown: people do that to each other? One of 'em threw up after looking at the scene photos... Not that I blame either of them."

"Me neither," Jen said. "But there's more to it than just rookie issues, right?"

"No signs of a struggle, so it's possible that the perp knew her. That's as far as we've gotten, and we worked this thing right through Thanksgiving. We got no prints. The pubic hairs picked up are definitely male, but there's no DNA match in any US database, and for all I know, they may have been planted. There's also no match to that MO, to the way she was killed... Jen, I'm thinking there's a link back to Gleason's career. If that's so then I got bigger problems with those rookies: I got two useless bodies cos there's no way Naval Intel will clear them up as high as needed. I'll be happy giving this case back to Gibbs, but he's got a rookie on his team, too."

"That rookie is ex ONI. Everett wanted a career change. My point is, she's cleared already."

"Then give this case back to Gibbs."

"That sounded like an order, Special Agent Lockner," Jen said, amused.

"That's cos it was, Director Shepard," Lockner said with a grin, one that was distinctly relieved.

"How would you like to liaise with your old NCIS colleagues?"

"If the kind of 'liaising' you are referring to involves taking over a case, forget it. Find someone else."

"This is just a bigger budget angle," Grace said. "I don't doubt that Gibbs and his colleagues are capable. But we really should have this one."

"So call Jen and argue your point with her," Ziva said, annoyed. "Or better yet, tell whichever of our agents to try and work with Jen's people. While I was with NCIS, there was only one jointly investigated case. Every single fucking case this agency took over completely from NCIS, was one that could have been jointly investigated. But no. The Almighty Bureau must have all the glory."

"That's uncalled for," Grace muttered angrily.

"No, it is not," Ziva insisted. "Ask yourself now if this case could be jointly investigated, and when you have called Jen and organized that, ask someone to pull just the last ten former NCIS cases. Take a look at them. I never expect apologies, Robert, but speaking as someone who had two cases snatched away by this agency, an apology would be nice for once."

Ziva returned her attention to her work. That was dismissal enough. Grace walked out, and it was his very human intention to prove Ziva wrong. However, he ended up calling Jen and requesting permission for two of his agents to drop round and discuss the case currently on the NCIS books. He spared himself half the time and potential embarrassment by pulling only the last five former NCIS cases. Robert Grace was a man of personal principles. Ziva had given him an out, but he couldn't give himself one.

"I had no idea it was that bad," he said as he walked into her office. "I'm sorry."

"You cannot know everything. Shut the door, please."

Grace did so, and parked his lanky frame on the couch to the left of Ziva's desk. Ziva moved a large pile of files out of the way so that she could see him.

"Two is always better than one," Ziva said. "Joint investigations result in twice the number of people than usual working on the same case. That is double the intelligence; double the man-hours; the chances that the case will be closed are doubled, too. In case the memo was missed, that is why I am here in this country."

"Having more people work on this particular case might be a liability," Grace said.

"You want to keep it low-profile?"

"As little press attention as possible. Seems Gibbs has got the opposite idea."

Ziva laughed hard, and left Grace to frown in confusion for a while.

"Gibbs hates the press," Ziva said eventually.

"He's had the case for the better part of a week. This thing hit the papers this morning, in a very big way."

"I am telling you, Gibbs had nothing to do with that," Ziva said and pressed a speaker phone button as soon as she'd dialed a number. To Grace: "It has to be a murder. Victim's name?"

"Rape-and-murder," Grace muttered. "Commander Brenda Gleason, USN, retired."

Ziva's hand faltered; she eventually continued to write. Gibbs was taking a long time to pick up, and just as well: Ziva needed a little time to pick up a few emotional pieces. Gleason had been a Naval Intel operative. Ziva had worked with her once, about two years before she'd signed on with NCIS.

"I knew her. And it does not matter that she retired. NCIS should be handling the investigation, because of her career," Ziva said to Grace. She hung up on the unanswered call to Gibbs, and called Jen instead, which call was picked up fast. Ziva said immediately: "Business call, with company."

"Hi," Jen said.

"Mmm. The Gleason case. Gibbs is not answering his phone."

"He took out the network card. He's waiting for a new number."

"How did the press get hold of this?"

"I've got Gavin Thomassi working on that. ONI is flipping out."

Ziva could imagine that the CIO (Chief Information Officer) for the Office of Naval Intelligence was having ten fits per minute. Gleason had worked on several sensitive, highly classified cases and operations during her career.

"Call Rear Admiral Winger," Ziva said. "Ask him for a few people, preferably those who can pass as college-age, but they must have experience, and be computer geeks. Tell Winger this, exactly these words: Armadillo the Gleason problem."

"He'll know all about it?"

"He will know that I am now involved, and he will know what those operatives have to do."

"For the present, that's good enough for me," Jen said and hung up.

Ziva pressed the hang up button and made another call. Grace just sat back and watched, and listened. He liked to see experienced people at work.

"Lawrence," came from the speakerphone. The voice was female.

"Micki. Ziva David."

"Shalom! What can I do for you?"

"Find out who splashed the name Brenda Gleason all over the papers."

"You got it, babe. Later."

There was a click and the disconnect tone sounded. Ziva pressed a button and, rocking back in her chair, she grinned at Grace.

"If the Armadillo team cannot find out where the leak is, and if Gavin's hunt turns up nothing, too, then maybe Micki's press contacts can at least find out who has a contact on our side of the fence."

"And maybe all three angles will score," Grace said. "Very nice."

"But it comes at a price," Ziva said, no-nonsense. "I want in when it comes time to... talk to people."

"If you knew Gleason—"

"I told you as much," Ziva said. "And besides a few people in Naval Intel, who will not say a word, no-one else, not even Jen, will know about it until I choose to tell them. I will tell Gibbs, for the same reason that I told you."

"Which is?" Grace asked.

"Insurance. Now I have made sure that I will act in a completely professional manner."

"Sometimes pride is a useful thing," Grace said and stood. He added what she wanted to hear: "I'll be watching you."

"Todah," Ziva said quietly. Thanks. After a pause she said briskly, "Let me have a copy of the file when you get it."

"Will do."

"And Robert?"

"Yeah?" Grace stopped in the doorway and turned around.

"I will liaise with NCIS, also with ONI," Ziva said. "But you should be aware that as soon as anyone produces a workable lead, ONI will probably run the game."

"I take it they'll ask you to do that... 'talking to people' thing?" Grace said.

"Probably," Ziva said innocently.

But she smiled in a slow, somewhat feral way that caused Grace to pity whoever she ended up 'talking' to.

That evening, Gibbs detoured to the Hoover Building and picked Ziva up. They talked about anything but the case on the way to Jen and Ziva's place. Once there, they focused their attention on the important subject of dinner. That first, mostly because they needed something good to look forward to later.

"Is this the sauce I helped to make?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah. It is really good," Ziva said. "You think two containers is enough for you, Jen, and me?"

"One feeds two?"

"With a bit left over, that I always have room for later. So two containers will be enough."

Ziva put the frozen brick-like contents of the containers in a pot, put the lid on it, and turned a gas flame up to a low glow. She filled a pasta pot with water, added a little olive oil and salt, and left it on an unlit burner. They had plenty of time before Jen arrived.

Ziva and Gibbs took seats at the breakfast nook table, and Gibbs proceeded to outline the basics of the Gleason case.

Gleason had been found dead by a hotel maid, and the hotel manager had had the sense to call NCIS instead of the local cops.

"Manager's ex Navy. Nothing hinky there," Gibbs said.

"And you were the first agent on the scene?" Ziva asked.

"Yeah. That was just before we went away on vacation. Had to hand the case over to Gerry Lockner. Jen looked at his team's progress after we got back. Lockner himself said to give the case back to my team."

Ziva made no comment on that. She'd viewed the case file, but had avoided looking at any photographs of Gleason's body. It would be hard for her to listen to the details now. It didn't matter that Gibbs was always respectful when talking about female victims. He was respectful but factual, and what had been done to Brenda Gleason was inhuman.

"I thought that bondage had gotten out of hand, but the knots were wrong, and my gut said that that wasn't because he didn't know what he was doing. He knew."

Gleason had been gagged. The killer had used cotton rope to tie her to the bed, the kind of rope that gripped itself. He'd used straight slipknots that tightened at the slightest pressure. Whenever Gleason had struggled, the ligatures around her wrists and ankles had become tighter, and tighter, with no relief.

"But he used a slippery nylon rope around her neck. He'd tighten it and let it go and the pressure would ease up... Ducky doesn't know how many times he did that. Eventually she passed out for good. There's also no knowing how many times he raped her... He shot her in the back of the head to make sure of the job. Used a pillow as a dampener. If someone was standing right outside her door, it woulda sounded like the White Pages being dropped. Forty cal, S'n'W. Big fucking mess."

"When last did any of the hotel staff see her alive?" Ziva asked.

"Around four p.m, and she was found a little before ten a.m next day. No cameras anywhere past the lobby. There's an entrance from the garage area. Camera there was fed a loop. Hotel security only figured it out when the morning shift took over and wondered why they couldn't see the laundry truck on the landing nearby. They were talking to the driver at the time."

"Did you find the feed tap?"

"Battery-powered detector/recorder/transmitter that you can buy at any RadioShack. He taped it to an H-beam in a shadowed spot. Probably climbed on the roof of someone's SUV to reach the beam. It took McGee an hour to find the damn gadget."

"Okay, let's backtrack," Ziva said. "Why was she at the hotel? She lived only a few miles away."

"Had her house fumigated. The bedbug thing."

Ziva got up to check on the thawing sauce. She was able to break the lower block apart with a spoon. She replaced the lid and returned to the table.

"Do you think he has done this before?"

"He's raped before, killed before," Gibbs said. "And maybe he's done both to the same victim before. We've checked every database in the US. Other women have been killed like that, or with variations, but he didn't do it. He hasn't done it like this before, not this guy."

"Why are you so sure about that?"

Gibbs took a moment to study Ziva's expression.

"You didn't look at the photos," he said, certain.

"If I do, the remains of my professionalism will fly out the window," Ziva said, looking him in the eye.

"I wondered why you wanted me here early," Gibbs said. "You knew her. How well?"

"Not very well, but I once had to trust her with my life. Literally."

"That involves a lotta respect," Gibbs said with a nod. "In your shoes, I sure as hell would be working this case, but I wouldn't look at those pictures either... Okay. This SOB used a gag, but not just any gag. A stick gag. She couldn't scream cos it held down her tongue. But he took it out every now and then."

"He interrogated her..." Ziva said, frowning, thinking. "Are you sure that he raped her physically?"

"All we know is that a condom with spermicidal jelly was used. Maybe a few of 'em. We didn't find semen anywhere. So yeah, it's possible she was object-raped, and the spermicide traces we found were from condoms that he used to fuck us over, too. But we also found male pubic hairs."

"To successfully interrogate someone like Brenda..." Ziva trailed off and shook her head. "She was easily as good as me, or maybe even better. That man had to have been just as good, or at the least, very much in control of himself to get anything out of her. Those pubic hairs were either planted, or he could not resist, right at the end."

"I don't think they were planted... If she was as good as you, how the hell did this guy get anywhere near her?"

"You are smarter than that question."

"Yeah, so he knew her," Gibbs said and gestured irritably. "But what I mean is, how did he get even one rope on her?"

"I woke up tied to the headboard once," Ziva drawled. "The knots were the right kind, and I pulled them loose—"

"And he became an ex?"

"Mmm, but first he nearly got a smashed face. My point is, I did not wake up when he was putting the ropes on my wrists... I was young. Not even Jen could manage anything like that now. But if rope was my kink? That would be different."

"We spoke to Gleason's ex boyfriends. None of them ever engaged in even light bondage with her. But she'd been single for nearly five years."

"She could have picked up a rope kink in that time, possibly even from her killer."

"But that would suggest that he planned this over several months," Gibbs said. "I send that ping out, and it's not bouncing back off anything. So I think he got orders. And he didn't plan anything beyond thinking about what he was gonna do."

"I agree. Was anything taken from the hotel room?"

"A glass, one of two in the bathroom. Maybe he drank from it, or maybe housekeeping didn't set out a second glass."

"Both are possible. Are the tox screens back?"

"Yeah. Clear."

"Then we have to hope that Winger's people dig something up," Ziva said. "Micki Lawrence is still trying to get something for us, too, but I asked for her help at about nine a.m. She has not called back."

"Then she's not gonna find anything," Gibbs said.

"Looks that way," Ziva muttered. "And it would really help to know who leaked the case details to the press. Did you talk to that hotel manager again?"

"Yeah, but like I told him, it was a routine check. He called us direct because he wanted to keep Gleason's name outa the papers. He doesn't care about his hotel. His motivation was respectful deference shown to Gleason, and he's mad as a rattler in a jar about the press leak."

"And we definitely have a leak, somewhere on our side."

"Like you said, gotta hope Winger's people dig something up. Can I ask how?"

"I will just say that there are several 'interns' dotted here and there, but they are not interns. They all have computer access."

"Couple new interns at NCIS," Gibbs noted. "Does Jenny know about this?"

"Yes," Ziva said. "One of those 'interns' gave her a message detailing the basics."

"Basics are all we need to know. I hope they find something fast," Gibbs said.

Two days after Ziva had called her, Micki Lawrence called back to say that she was officially stumped. She hadn't been able to find out anything besides the same story: several reporters had received the same email with enough details about the Gleason case to make them pay attention. The only differences lay in the email addresses.

"He used DEAs," Lawrence said. "Disposable Email Addresses, probably from Guerrilla Mail. Each one lasted about sixty minutes, and poof! Gone. And that's all I got."

That left Winger's people, and Ziva hoped like hell that they could pull something out the hat.

On Saturday morning Ziva was at work, wrapping up a progress report. Someone who looked like an intern brought her an unasked-for cup of coffee. She frowned at him and demanded to see his ID. He handed it over with a smile.

"Armadillos are cute," he said. "I like those little pink-and-white ones. What are they called?"

"Fairy Armadillos. Giving me a code contact like that... That is Jake Winger's sense of humor," Ziva said, handing the ID card back without looking at it. "So?"

"We found a pressure point. We need you on it, in person, and alone."

"Okay. Where, when?"

"Ten p.m. Steel Wheels."

"The biker bar in Crystal City?"

"Yeah. Take a cab there. Order a Coke to go, and someone will contact you. Wear ballistics, go armed."

"I am not at a hundred percent, physically."

"I doubt that leg has affected your aim. You might wanna check on that, though."

"There is a range downstairs. I spend enough time there," Ziva said with quiet confidence.

"Good," he said and walked out.

Ziva sat back and considered the empty doorway for a while. She could guess that the guy who'd just walked out of her office had probably been ordered to say what he had. He simply wasn't at liberty to say anything else. She trusted RADM Winger, but she wanted to know more than what she'd been told.

She picked up the phone and selected a secure line. Winger's Yeoman wanted to know who she was.

"Apparently, I am a Fairy Armadillo," Ziva drawled.

"You don't sound like one," the Yeoman chortled. "Putting you through now, ma'am."

Ziva waited patiently for Winger to pick up. That took a while and she guessed that the Yeoman had orders to put her call through no matter what Winger was busy with.


"Fairy Armadillo? Jake, you are a bastard of the first order."

"I have to get some fun out of this thankless job," said Winger in his trademark cultured New England tones.

"You are also a liar: you love your job."

"Indeed," Winger chuckled.

"So who am I going to scare tonight?"

"It's complicated. The amount of braid on his sleeves means that he can successfully pull rank on just about anyone in the Navy or Marines. That's why I want you to handle him: you're outside his sphere of command. Who is he? Admiral Lindstrom."

"Oh fuck," Ziva mumbled. She cleared her throat and said, "You had better be right about this, Jake. He is in a position to get me sent back to Israel."

"Actually, he's not," Winger said. "He's no longer head of our Co-op Division. He now heads the Naval Inspector General's Intelligence Oversight Division."

"That still makes him a very big fish," Ziva noted.

"One that our exceptionally ethical Inspector General's office will now want to kick out. Ziva, the IG is not called 'the Conscience of the Navy' for nothing."

"I say again: you had better be right about that. If not, then we are all in the shit."

"I'm right," Winger said with conviction.

"Convince me of that. Why am I going to scare him?"

"He bypassed regular channels and used his clearance to gain access to NCIS's case logs, and that's why I said that the IG will want to give him the boot. What he did is in violation of the self-same Information Access Regs that he's supposed to be upholding. He broke those rules on the evening before two major papers and several smaller ones ran individual stories about Gleason's murder. I bet it was the case lead change that spooked him."

"Yeah. Seeing Gibbs's name there instead of Lockner's would say a lot to anyone who knows even a little about Gibbs."

"Right. But Ziva, my gut says that Lindstrom's in the middle here."

"I would never call him a nice guy, because he hates me for no reason. But I see your point. He is not nice, but he is fair."

"That, and I personally don't think he's got the stomach to do what was done to Gleason."

"He might have ordered it done," Ziva pointed out.

"That's why I want you on the job."

"I was told to go alone."

"Screw that. I'll be around," Gibbs said and hung up.

Ziva put down the phone and didn't bother to put away a smirk. She knew him well but she'd have to look hard to find Gibbs tonight. The ONI people she'd be meeting with would never spot him.

Upstairs Jen helped her into body armor. An oversized sweatshirt hid that successfully; a leather bomber jacket, one designed by a company specializing in tactical clothing, would further disguise the angular tells of the bulletproof vest.

"What rig do you want?" Jen asked, going to a closet.

"That broad belt with the Velcro, and the holster that goes with it," Ziva said.

From the drawer next to her bed she took a SIG P226 Elite Dark. This one was hers, and didn't belong to any agency's armory. The pistol had originally belonged to Jen, but not for long, because James Marden had made an argument on Ziva's behalf: if she had an SCI clearance and worked for America's foremost law enforcement agency, she could own a firearm and have a concealed carry permit, too. The Attorney General had agreed, without reservation. No-one had said that Ziva couldn't own other firearms. In the basement a small room had been fitted with a blast-proof vault door. It was originally home only to Jen's collection of fine shotguns and a couple of target rifles. Those weapons now had the company of a tactical shotgun, an HK MP5-N, and an IWI Galatz (Galil Tzalafim) sniper system. Ziva had simply asked for the MP5-N's permit and had been given the documentation without quibble. She hadn't needed a special permit for the Galatz, because it was a semi-auto. She thought that she should send Israel Weapon Industries a letter demanding a cut in their profits. Since first taking the Galatz to a nearby long distance range, she'd started a craze: more than ten other range members had bought one. Little did they know that Ziva took practice regularly with that rifle precisely for its originally intended purpose.

Jen strapped the broad belt around Ziva's waist but held onto the holster. Ziva seemingly put her gun into the pocket of her jacket, but both hand and gun soon appeared over the belt. The 'pocket' was actually an access slit.

"Here is good," Ziva said.

She moved her hand out of the way and Jen firmly pressed the Velcro-backed holster in place, at the correct angle for a draw through the access slit. Ziva holstered her SIG and took her hand out of the 'pocket.' She zipped up her jacket and drew the gun, as practice.

"No hitches?" Jen asked.

"Smooth," Ziva said, holstering the gun again.

From a drawer she took a small wallet of lock picks, and an Emerson CQC-8 tactical folding knife. They both went into the same front pocket of her jeans, but the knife was clipped to the pocket edge, ready to be drawn. A lipstick-sized LED flashlight went into another pocket. She placed a pair of wrap-around sunglasses in one of the jacket's breast pockets. Jen smirked: she knew all about those, but why Ziva would want those in the middle of the night would baffle a lot of people.

"Gun, knife, picks, light, shades... and my brain– that should cover everything."

"I won't argue," Jen said. "Be careful."

"I used to say that I do not need to be reminded of that," Ziva said. "But now I have to be even more responsible than I used to be."

"Yes, you do," Jen said firmly, but she was smiling. "And thanks."

"It is as much for my benefit as it is for yours: getting hurt sucks; ending up dead would suck a lot more, I am sure."

Ziva kissed Jen briefly and left the room.

She drove her car to a mall, parked it, and walked away from it while calling for a cab. This was no time to risk hailing one. While in the cab she thought about what might be required of her tonight. She was hoping simply to interrogate Lindstrom, but seeing as she'd been told to arm herself, it was possible that she'd be entering his home, uninvited. Then again, perhaps a meeting had been arranged away from his home. In either instance if, as Winger guessed, Lindstrom was stuck in the middle, someone might be watching, and Ziva was armed and wearing body armor in case they did something stupid.

"That'll be twenty even. Lady, you know someone here, right?" the cab driver asked, eyeing several large men near an impressive array of motorcycles. "Looks like something big is happening here tonight."

Ziva handed over the cash and didn't bother to answer his question. He hadn't seen this place when Steel Wheels held charity auctions. The local cops pitched up just to keep an eye on as many as two-hundred bikes, while their riders and passengers were all inside proving that their rough exteriors hid hearts of gold.

When she pushed open the door her ears were blasted by the expected rock'n'roll, and laughter, and the loud crackle of pool balls. She made her way to the bar and ordered that Coke to go. She was rewarded with a nod from the bartender. A minute later a man in his early thirties gave her a nod and a grin.

"Hey, Zee. Let's get outa here."

Ziva had no idea who this guy was, and she strongly disliked his cocky attitude. She followed him anyway, her hand on her gun, hidden by the jacket. His was one of few cars outside.

"Name, rank, last operation, current CO," Ziva said as they reached the car.

"Dawson, Warrant Officer, FOUR LAKES, Winger," he said, relaxed.

"FOUR LAKES was a cluster-fuck."

"And thankfully I was back on the boat trying to fix that, instead of making it worse."

"What kind of boat?" Ziva demanded.

"Virginia-class attack sub," he said with a grin. "You know your shit."

"And you had better know yours," Ziva said, no-nonsense.

She got into the car and drew her SIG. She held it resting on her thigh, finger outside the trigger guard. When Dawson saw that, he said nothing about it. He started the car and told her they had an eighty-mile drive to their destination.

"But the person we are going to meet lives in Suitland, Maryland, just thirty minutes away."

"He has a house overlooking Portobago Bay," Dawson said. "He's there for the weekend."


If Dawson was hoping for conversation, he was to be disappointed. Ziva said not a word during the hour-and-forty-five-minute drive. All the while, her mind had been a studied blank, and she'd relaxed her body to the point where she could easily go to sleep. It was good to be in this headspace again, for reasons other than meetings with annoying politicians.

She was alert enough to take note of street signs, and the turns Dawson was making. As they entered the Portobago Bay area, Ziva pulled back from the edge, from that place where she could go to sleep. She tightened her core muscles and changed her breathing pattern, and frowned when that gave her a slight head-rush– proof that she'd become somewhat unfit. The head-rush didn't last. Now fully alert, she pulled the slide back slightly and checked that a round was chambered in her pistol.

"Other operatives are in place?" Ziva asked.

"Several. We're gonna meet with one of them. She'll have a full run-down for us."


They met the operative in question in the parking lot of a convenience store. She handed a piece of paper through the window and returned to her car.

The run-down wasn't much. Lindstrom had arrived at his home at around eight last night, and had left the house just once today to get some groceries.

"Our people are positioned around his house," Dawson told Ziva. "The air's been let out of one of his car's tires. Anything else you want as prep?"

"He knows me. If he has a peephole in his door, he will never open up if I am the one who knocks. Someone else will have to run the entry gambit."

"Or you can just sneak in the back," Dawson said.

It was dark but there was enough light for Dawson to see Ziva's smile, and it wasn't pleasant. He'd been deliberately played and had delivered: he'd made a mistake. She saw plainly that he knew it, but she rubbed it in anyway.

"Your idea is much better than mine," Ziva said lightly. "And I will be sure to commend you to Winger."

"All I've ever heard about you is 'Team-player this' and 'Professional that,'" Dawson muttered. "No-one said you were a bitch."

"There are plenty who call me a bitch," Ziva said, her tone unreadable. "Most of them have egos a mile wide, the kind of egos that I do not indulge. I am a bitch, but I am not any kind of whore. Let's go."

Dawson wanted badly to retort but he remembered other things said about Ziva, and now they made sense. The people who praised her did so quietly, with few words, and always there was a warning: do not cross her boundaries. It was possible that some of the people who'd said as much had personal experience of crossing those lines. If so, they'd probably faced what Dawson just had and, having been taken down a peg or three, they'd chosen not to hold their own foolishness against her. Dawson needn't have been so familiar at the bar, and perhaps if he'd been less so there'd be less reason for the tension in his neck.

"I got off on the wrong foot, didn't I?" he said and started the car.

"That... cockiness will get you killed one day," Ziva stated. "And it might also get other people killed. This game kills people with the best training, and the best possible attitudes to their work. Your attitude? This game will kill you. Like they say in the Navy, shape up or ship out. Think about that."

"Yes, ma'am," Dawson mumbled.

"This is your first field op?"


"Learn from it, and consider that maybe you are better suited as support personnel. There is never any shame in being smart."

Dawson wanted to say that fieldwork was a lot more fun than manning a desk, but he stopped himself just in time. The intel community called this work 'the game,' and at the same time contradicted the term by insisting that 'the intel game is no game.' Whenever he'd been privileged enough to listen to old hands talk about ops, there was no bluff-and-bluster to their tone. Instead of laughing when relating amusing incidents, they just smiled. If Dawson thought about those smiles, they were almost like the kind his mother wore, when telling people about the scrapes he'd gotten into as a kid: she was relieved that he'd come out of those situations with minimal damage. Those old hands only smiled, and never laughed, because:

"The intel game is no game."

"Bed'yuk—exactly," Ziva said, thinking about Freddy Bergen, and others. She said as much to herself as to Dawson: "Focus on what we have to do now."

Dawson's answer was a nod, and Ziva concentrated on dumping annoyance and reclaiming that calm-but-alert feeling. It didn't take long, and just as well. Dawson made a left turn onto an unlit road that was more potholes than paving, and within five minutes he killed the headlights and engine. He let the car roll to a stop and eased up the parking brake handle instead of yanking on it.

"So. Last night someone watched this place, and today I pretended to take pictures of egrets, from a boat. Actually took pictures of Lindstrom's place." Dawson turned on the cabin light and handed a thin photo stack to Ziva. "There's no fence at the end of this hedge, just the beach. No lights in the backyard, except what comes from the windows; he turns off the porch light before going to bed. Moon's almost full, but if you keep close to the hedge, he probably won't spot you. I can't tell you anything about the approach to the backdoor, except—as you can see—that door is on the right side of the porch, closest to the hedge."

"Convenient," Ziva asked.

"Yeah, but the porch deck is boards, and they look old."

"And probably creaky," Ziva muttered. "Does he have a dog?"


"Good. Did you get photos of the lock on the door?"

"Next photo. Yale, or Yale-type. You're screwed if he shot a bolt."

"But there are sash windows," Ziva pointed out.

"You okay to climb in a window?"

"On the ground floor? Yes."

"Okay. Let's rig your comms," Dawson said.

He opened and held out a small box. Ziva clipped a microphone to her sweatshirt collar, and dropped the transmitter and battery unit inside the shirt. She didn't have to worry about it falling out because the broad gunbelt was strapped over the shirt. She used a fingernail to flip a ridiculously small switch on an earwig and snugged it into her right ear.

"Volume check," she whispered.

"Good on my end," said someone female.

"Go up one notch for me?"

"How's that?"

"Good," Ziva said, and got out of the car. She closed the door quietly. "Going active."

"Now hear this: infiltrator is active. How copy?"

"Active, aye," came several responses, one after the other.

"Switch to master relay," Ziva said.

"Master relay, aye. You won't hear anyone else now."


For the first time since leaving her home, Ziva wondered where Gibbs was, and at the same time, she didn't doubt that he was nearby. She'd deliberately asked Dawson for the location briefing only when they'd gotten here, and not while on the road, to give Gibbs time to get into whichever position. By now he might even have slipped unnoticed into Lindstrom's yard. Considering the other people who were nearby, that thought amused her. Pictures of the yard showed the carefully trimmed hedge, and several large shrubs that had been victims to Lindstrom's attempts at topiary. The lower edge of the lawn disappeared into a marshy bank of reeds. There were plenty of places to hide. Gibbs's experience as a Scout Sniper showed: he was a stealthy bastard capable of sharing one of those places with someone else, and they wouldn't know it until he said 'Hiya.'

Ziva wiped the grin off her face and snuck along the hedge towards the porch. There were no lights on in the house, which was a weathered double storey Cape Cod style clapboard. The door Dawson had talked about opened directly onto the porch, but another door opened into a mudroom. There was a doormat in front of the second door, nothing in front of the first and that probably meant that it was hardly ever used for access. That in turn meant that it might be both locked and bolted. Ziva opted to creep along to the opposite end of the porch and try her luck with the mudroom door.

She stepped carefully up onto the porch decking and was grateful that it barely creaked. She took a knee in front of the door. Yale-type lock here, too. She selected a bar and pick by feel, and a little work resulted in the lock turning silently. She held the bar and pick in place and tried the handle, and smiled: no bolt.

"I'm in," Ziva whispered.

"Entry, aye."

Now came the hard part. She was unable to use her flashlight in a house with an unknown floor plan, and she had to approach a mark who knew the floor plan well: Ziva was at a distinct disadvantage. Once her eyes had become accustomed to the dark, she cleared the ground floor, made certain that Lindstrom hadn't opted to sleep on a couch, before she approached the stairs. She eased her weight onto each step, close to the wall of the stairwell, ensuring that any creaking was kept to a minimum. By the time she'd climbed both flights, she was sweating. She felt around on the wall for the hall light switch, and once located, she left it alone. Always find the light switches, Yuval Daron had taught her. In the dark, light can become a weapon.

Time to just stand still for a moment. Soft snores came from her left. Up here the angle was wrong, and no moonlight shone through any windows. In the near-pitch-black hall, Ziva took her time, each step carefully placed, hands held out slightly from her sides for balance. It seemed to take an eternity, but eventually she arrived beside the bed where Lindstrom still slept soundly.

She had several options now. She could scare the hell out of him, with a hand over his mouth and her knife point pricking his throat, or her pistol muzzle nudging his temple. Or she could scare him just enough, by going in empty-handed. Bad cop, or good cop? The latter.

Ziva's hand shot out and clamped firmly over Lindstrom's mouth. He struggled, immediately awake, and she had to block the elbow he tried to swing at her.

"Stop!" Ziva hissed. "I am not here to hurt you, you idiot."

Lindstrom stopped struggling.

"Good. I am going to take my hand away. Keep your voice down, okay?"

He nodded against her hand, and she took it away. He made to turn on a bedside lamp.

"No, leave it."

"All right... I know why you're here," Lindstrom whispered. "Penn. Rick Penn. That's who you want. I don't think he knows about this place, but he might've followed me."

"Which is the reason for this playing in the dark shit. Penn killed Gleason?"


"And why did you tell the press about the case?"

"He showed me pictures of what he did to her and told me he'd kill my sister just as slow. I don't know how, but he found out that Gibbs was on the case, and he told me to alert the press."

"You could have taken that straight to Gibbs," Ziva said.

"You don't know Penn," Lindstrom said. "Someone I know, someone I trust is sleeping on my sister's couch, and she's taken leave from work. That's all I dared to do, and even so, that puts me in Penn's sights."

Lindstrom sat up and moved over, a plain invitation for Ziva to take a seat on the edge of the bed. She did so, but her hand was inside her jacket, on her SIG.

"I had no idea Gleason was dead, until Penn arrived at my apartment in D.C.," Lindstrom said. "I know enough about Gibbs– he'd just hunt down Penn, and there's only one way that'll end. Penn will never let himself be taken alive. So he gets a well-deserved bullet, and then? Who told Penn to kill Gleason, and why?"

"We will find out. Who did Penn work for originally?"

"ONI, CIA, and after he quit he probably freelanced for the CIA, MI6, as well as other agencies. You can check the records: when he left ONI I recommended that his name be added to the Blackout list, drummed right out of the community. Instead, the Company snapped him up and ran him for a further six years."

"Ordinarily even a hint of a Blackout rec scares off the Company, and among their own ranks, just one Blackout rec is enough to can an operative's career for good. So I am very interested to find out who ignored your rec."

"I've tried to find out," Lindstrom muttered. "I've never stopped worrying about Penn, mostly because he knew that I didn't like him, or trust him. He may even have found out that I gave him that Blackout rec."

"That is a certainty, given that he also knew that Gibbs took back the Gleason case."

"Took it back? He had it to start?"

"He was the first agent on the scene, but he was up for mandatory leave, so he had to pass on the case."

Lindstrom said nothing for a while. It was too dark to see his face

"Gleason's murder was timed to happen when Gibbs couldn't take the case," Lindstrom said eventually. "That means that there's a mole in NCIS."

"Or someone outside, with access clearances like yours," Ziva said. "You accessed the case logs—"

"Yes, but there's a limit to what I can access. Information regarding leave periods of civilian employees falls under a department-specific privilege. In other words, no matter how high your clearance is, if you don't work for NCIS, you can't access that information."

"If you are right about the timing, how does Gleason's house being fumigated fit into the picture?"

"It probably didn't, but Penn isn't temperamental," Lindstrom muttered. "Killing is what he's good at, and where and when just don't factor."

"Okay," Ziva said and stood. "Call your sister and tell her to pack enough for two weeks. You are going to do the same. I cannot guarantee that you will have a job when you get back."

"I'll fight that battle when I—"

Ziva held up her hand. Her earwig had beeped twice.


"Perimeter compromised," the woman sounded calm, but there was an undertone of panic. "Operative down: injured, not dead—"

"That is a diversion."

"I concur. Assume that threat is inbound. Repeat: inbound."

Ziva gripped Lindstrom's wrist and hauled him off the bed. She drew her pistol and gestured with it. Lindstrom took a gun from the drawer in his bedside table.

"Control, pay attention," Ziva whispered. "I have my own backup. You have my bio?"


"Third contact number. Call it. Tell him to get in the house. And tell everyone else not to shoot him."

"Aye-aye, ma'am."

Ziva pointed at Lindstrom's closets. He opened one and got inside.

"I will say 'Hello' before opening this door," Ziva whispered. "If the door is just opened?"

"I'll just shoot," Lindstrom said.


Ziva closed the closet door carefully and cat-footed it out of the bedroom, and a little way past the head of the stairs. If Gibbs was as close as she thought he'd been, by now he'd be entering the house. He would clear the entire ground floor before coming upstairs. That was all the thought she could give to Gibbs, because by now Penn was probably on the stairs.

She assumed that he knew more about this house than only its location. She assumed that he knew the floor plan, that he knew where Lindstrom's bedroom was. That closet was the safest place for Lindstrom, especially with that just-shoot policy in play: if Gibbs or Ziva didn't get Penn, Lindstrom would. But if Penn intended to go straight to the bedroom, her current position was tactically superior. It put her at his back, where she'd be able to take him by surprise.

When a stair creaked, Ziva smiled coldly: he was putting his weight on the center of every step. That was stupid. She aimed her pistol at the head of the stairs– barely discernible, but that wouldn't be a problem. She took out the wrap-around sunglasses and put them on, and felt for the light switch she'd located earlier.

Another creak, this time accompanied by a whispered cuss: that wasn't Gibbs's voice.

Ziva couldn't see him, but she could hear him. She heard him breathing; heard the fabric-on-fabric rustle of his pants legs and sleeves rubbing; heard the very faint creak of leather boots. She held her breath when he took the last step, and she waited until he'd taken two paces toward the bedroom.

In the dark, light can become a weapon.

Ziva flipped on the light, and those shades helped her to see everything without her eyes having to adjust, but the man in the hall ahead of her did the expected: he instinctively put up a hand to shade his eyes. In his other hand was a suppressed pistol. She aimed for his wrist and fired before he had chance to turn around. Blood sprayed, and he gasped and swore as the pistol fell. He lurched for it with his good hand, but never came close: Gibbs threw himself at Penn's knees from behind, taking him down. Gibbs kept his weight on Penn, wriggling over his back until he was able to jam a knee in his back.

"You fucked up my wrist, means you can't cuff me. I still got one good hand," Penn snarled. "You better kill me."

"Only when and if it is convenient to me," Ziva said flatly. "Control?"


"We need a private bus. And a tranquilizer, the kind with an antidote. Mister Penn is very tense and needs to relax."

"Copy on all. Standby."

When he woke up his brain fumbled with vague memories of struggling uselessly while a tranquilizer was injected into a vein in his forearm. He struggled now and stared stupidly at the padded cuff around his good wrist, and another around the bicep of his injured arm; his ankles were likewise secured. His wrist didn't hurt. He looked at it: bandaged, and two hemostats poked out of the bandage, their twin-ring grips taped over a thick gauze pad on his forearm. That was a patch job, just enough to keep him from bleeding to death; some kind of local anesthetic had been used to kill the pain.

He was lying on a gurney, but this wasn't a hospital room. It smelled of mildew, and the paint was peeling. He could hear vague and intermittent traffic noises, and they sounded like they were right over his head.

Penn tried to sit up, which helped him to discover the padded strap across his chest.


"Asshole's awake."


Ziva walked into the small room and handed Gibbs a cup of coffee. Ducky tagged along but remained in the doorway.

"Mister Penn," Ziva said. "Be nice and tell us who ordered you to kill Brenda Gleason."

"Go fuck yourself."

"Temper, temper," Ziva drawled. She leaned a forearm on the gurney guardrail. "Look, various people did not need a lot of time to decide that the world is better off with you dead. The police reports are already being written up to say that you were shot, and fled, but we caught up with you later. You were shot again, and you died at the scene. And you are going to die—"

"Got a couple bullets with your name on 'em," Gibbs said.

"There is your executioner," Ziva said, jerking a thumb at Gibbs.

"You played for the wrong team, Penn, and you lost," Gibbs said.

Penn looked at Gibbs for a moment, and mentally repeated those words. After a small battle against the fuzziness caused by whichever drug they'd shot into him, he nodded. Penn might have said that this all had to happen sometime, but he didn't have to. These two people knew the risks as well as he did, and perhaps even better. They played on the Right team, and people like them didn't feel that they were able to make certain choices. Playing on the Wrong team had enabled Penn to weigh certain risks and rewards, and if he hadn't liked the odds he'd simply said no to whichever job, like that crazy business in China. Scuttlebutt along the Network had it that some guy called Freddy had only just managed to blow his head off before a pack of half-starved dogs had torn his body to pieces. Compared to that, Penn decided to call himself a winner, and never mind what this Gibbs guy had to say about it. There was even a sweetener, something these fools probably hadn't thought of: the tranquilizer was still working. He wasn't the least bit scared.

"Whatever," Penn said. "Get on with it."

"Not so fast," Ziva said. "It is all decided, except for the small matter of your preferences. Do you want to go down alone, or do you want some company?"

Penn's thinking was still fuzzy round the edges, but there wasn't enough interference to keep Ziva's words from hitting home. The hell if he was going down alone.

"I'm told I'm kinda fun at parties," Penn said.

This large basement room had once been used for storage, but a rising damp problem had put paid to that. Thick plastic sheeting crackled under their feet, and the crackles echoed strangely.

"Last words?" Gibbs said quietly.

"Yeah," Penn said. His good wrist was still in a padded cuff, but now it was shackled to a chain around his waist. "Don't miss."

Gibbs gave him a nod and took a step back. His pistol was already drawn. He raised it, aimed slightly away from Penn's sternum, and fired twice in rapid succession. Penn folded at the knees, coughing blood as he went down. Ducky approached him immediately.

"Should be gone already," Gibbs said.

"No pulse: heart shot," Ducky said. He took his gloved fingers away from Penn's neck and used a stethoscope to confirm what he already knew. "Goodbye, Mister Penn. None of this is... pleasing, but I'm not at all sorry."

"And I am surprised by that, but I cannot say why," Ziva noted.

"Perhaps because I've never blatantly stated my belief that an untimely death sometimes makes a good deal of sense," Ducky said. He removed the chain and cuff from the body. "Many of my patients suggest that to me, almost every working day. Brenda Gleason practically screamed it at me. As far as I'm concerned, this was no different to a state-sanctioned execution of a confessed serial killer, and I've attended two of those. Lethal injection and the electric chair are both inhumane compared to what I saw a minute ago... On three. One-two-three."

Ducky and Gibbs lifted Penn's body into a body bag that Ziva had opened and laid out on an ambulance gurney. Ducky used blunt-nosed scissors to carefully snip away the bandage and gauze padding from Penn's arm. He released the hemostats and looked at Ziva.

"Toss them onto the plastic, like you did with the restraints and dressings. A crew will come in soon and clean up."

Ducky did as he was told and straightened up. As he and Gibbs lifted the gurney, Ducky pressed the carriage extension lever and the frame dropped and locked into place.

"And now for the only part I object to," Ducky said.

"For that I am sorry," Ziva said.

"I rather doubt you'll make a habit of this," Ducky drawled. "These are most extraordinary circumstances, and I agree completely that Penn's death has to look like it happened during the course of an investigation. Autopsy is part of that... I'm glad you brought Penn back to D.C. I wouldn't have liked to work in someone else's morgue. And we'd better get along. Mister Palmer is on weekend duty, and he's bound to arrive and ask why I'm pointedly ignoring surgical tape residue and bandage impressions on that right forearm."

A little over two hours later Palmer walked into work ten minutes early, but it felt like he was late. Ducky was already suturing the Y-incision.

"Umm, I missed something?"

"Only the drama elsewhere," Ducky said dryly. "Nothing at all dramatic here. Mister Palmer, meet Mister Penn, otherwise known as the blackguard who murdered Commander Gleason."

"Suicide-by-cop?" Palmer guessed.

Whatever. Get on with it, Penn had said. And: Don't miss.

"Yes," Ducky said, and pulled evenly on waxed twine to close the incision. He locked the suture with a double over-stitch, cut the twine, and used forceps to tuck the tag end neatly into the incision. "Definitely a suicide-by-cop."

"If you'd called me in, I could've done the paperwork for you," Palmer said. "Can't do that now, because I didn't witness the post."

"That's quite all right, Mister Palmer," Ducky said, and was careful not to look relieved. "Brew us a pot of tea?"


Gibbs arrived at Jen and Ziva's place before Ziva did, and he waited for her rather than go knock on the door. He knew how that could be taken, in the few seconds before he could say that Ziva was just fine. He wasn't about to put Jen through that. Ziva was just fine, and she'd be the one to let herself and Gibbs into the house. Her Mini Cooper's headlights hit his mirrors eventually. He waited for her to pass him, started his pickup, and pulled into the driveway behind her.

It was just after six a.m, and it was probably going to be a long day.

"We need a big breakfast," Ziva said while unlocking the front door.

"Won't say no," Gibbs said.

He closed the door quietly, but he needn't have bothered.

"Ziva?" Jen called.

"And Gibbs," Ziva answered. "We have work to do."

"I'll be down in a bit."

In the kitchen Gibbs took it on himself to set up the drip machine. Ziva watched him for a while before checking on the contents of the fridge. She took out eggs and bacon, and milk, and from a cupboard she took pancake mixture.

"I'll handle that batter," Gibbs said.

"Okay," Ziva said, and started slicing bread for toast. Pre-sliced bread was anathema in this house. She used the knife tip to tap a slice count: five; one more. And she asked, "When does it hit you?"

"When I let it," Gibbs said, but as usual his mind was replaying events, whether he let it or not: tackling Penn in Lindstrom's house; Penn lifting his chin defiantly just before the .40 caliber rounds hit him; the coppery smell of blood, and Penn's knees buckling. "Learned a while back to let it happen within a couple days. If I don't, the memories turn into proper flashbacks... For me, it's a shitload of guilt and anger. You?"

"No guilt. Just a very heavy kind of regret, and anger... And I am feeling that now. Some of that is because a big part of me objects to the existence of people like Penn. The rest... I think that maybe I deal with it better than you do."

"Maybe, but Penn was this country's mess to clean up. If Marden and his buddies had asked you to do Penn, I woulda had a lot to say. We fucked up, so I cleaned up."

"Fair enough," Ziva said.

After dropping Jen off at the Navy Yard, Ziva drove out to Bethesda, to SECNAV Ben Holder's home. He walked down his driveway to meet her. He didn't expect her to get out of Jen's Mercedes, but she did that and gave him a smile.

"Morning," Holder said.

"Hi, Ben. You drive– I need to read that brief," she said. "I pushed the seat back for you."


Holder handed over a file and folded his long frame into the car. The seat had to go back yet another couple of notches. He reached for the ignition, and fumbled at blank dashboard instead.

"Keyless start," Ziva drawled. She took the electronic 'key' from her pocket and pressed and held a button. The car purred into life. "I preferred her old SLK, but Jen saw this model and could not talk about anything else for a week, and then when she got it, she talked about little else for a whole month."

"You fib," Holder chortled.

"No," Ziva said while reading. "It is true. She thinks that this car's ass is sexier than mine."

"No comment," Holder wheezed through laughter.


"A very wise chicken."

"Mmm... Operation DAWN FALCON," Ziva said and rolled her eyes. "Where the fuck do military people get these names from?"

"In Eighty-five you folks mounted an op called WOODEN LEG," Holder pointed out.

"You mean the 'you folks' that included several US Military Intel operatives, US flight instructors, and the US contractors who modified a Boeing Seven-Four-Seven as a refuel bird? Those 'you folks'? The same 'you folks' who went home very fast, when your State Department decided to change their tune and tell my folks suddenly that, no, REGEL ETZ aka WOODEN LEG was a bad idea?"

"Sounds like there was a leak somewhere," Holder said.

"One of the aviation contractors probably sent an anonymous message to George Shultz," Ziva said. She closed the file and gestured with it. "And it looks like something similar was going on here. Gleason was probably going to blow the whistle on someone involved in DAWN FALCON."

"I agree. Look at the timing: she resigned her commission a week after FALCON was concluded, and four months later she signed on as a consultant with the company used in FALCON."

"There was nothing underhanded about FALCON, so I think she was looking for a way to shaft someone involved without mentioning the op at all."

"Right, and she was killed because someone sniffed her out," Holder said. "You haven't told me who Penn named last night."

"Donovan Behring."

Holder glanced sharply at Ziva, and back at the road. Now he knew why she'd requested that he stay at home and ask for that op brief file to be delivered. If he'd gone in to the office and had requested the file from his desk, that would've involved calling in several staff members, one of whom might have had something to say to Behring. He was one of the four Assistant Secretaries in the Naval Secretariat.

"Behring wasn't involved in DAWN FALCON."

Ziva opened the file and read from a summary:

"'...these issues being reported to the ASN RDA.'" She closed the file. "ASN RDA: Assistant Secretary of the Navy, for Research, Development, and Acquisitions. That is the only mention of Behring in the file, and it is very easy to miss."

"Sonuvabitch..." Holder growled, glaring at the road.

"We are going to tie up some loose ends, and then you can be there when he is arrested."

"Good. Thank you."

"Most welcome," Ziva said, smirking.

The last person Danielle Everett expected to pitch up on her doorstep this Sunday morning, was Ziva David. Everett knew who Ziva was because she dropped in at NCIS regularly, but until now Ziva hadn't approached her 'replacement.' A house call? That was nice... Or maybe not. Ziva didn't return Everett's cheerful greeting.

"Has something... gone wrong?" Everett asked.

"Sometime before Thanksgiving, you told someone in the Naval Secretariat that Gibbs had to take mandatory leave?"

"Donovan Behring. He's my uncle-in-law, my aunt's husband. He often asks me about work. Why?"

"Did he pull any strings to get you assigned to NCIS HQ?"

"If he did, I dunno what I'll do first: smack him a shot, or burst into tears," Everett muttered.

"Aah," Ziva said, her expression softening. "That is why you got out of ONI?"

"Yeah. I wanna make my own way through life. But I don't think I fit with NCIS either."

"What I read in your jacket tells me that you might make a good teacher. Annapolis is hiring... Do not call Behring. Can I trust you with that?"

"Yes," Everett said firmly. And: "How bad is it?"

"Arrest, trial, and a prison sentence."

"If my aunt doesn't kill him first," Everett said.

At the Navy Yard, Jen told Ziva that Gibbs had already called Tony and McGee. Gibbs was currently out with two FBI agents, watching Behring's home, and that left it up to Ziva to brief her former colleagues.

"May I sit in on that?" Holder asked. "I haven't been fully briefed yet."

"What I will tell them will be need-to-know. Stick with Jen, if you want to know more."

Holder thought about that for a while, and nodded.

Ziva left Jen's office and closed the door on her way out. Downstairs she greeted Tony and McGee with a warm smile. But:

"You look like hell," Tony stated.

"Ani ayefah," Ziva admitted. I'm tired. "But by lunchtime this case will be closed."

"Sounds good to me," McGee said. "So?"

"Only what you need to know, okay?"

Both men agreed without hesitation. Part of that had to do with trusting Ziva's judgment, and the rest added up to a healthy respect for the maxim 'What you don't know won't hurt you.' More to the point, what they didn't know couldn't hurt their case.

"Rick Penn is in the morgue here. Before he died he named the person who hired him: Donovan Behring."

"Holy shit..." Tony mumbled.

"The name means nothing without proof," Ziva said. "You two need to go and effect the standard search of Penn's home. I expect that he was quite creative, and found all kinds of places to hide things... especially in the kitchen."

"We'll need a couple other people to help us," McGee said.

"Two FBI agents will meet you there," Ziva said.

"Yeah, but we'll check out that kitchen ourselves," Tony said.

"Good idea," Ziva said lightly.

Sometime later, while the FBI agents were taking inventory of a variety of weapons in Penn's basement, McGee and Tony were still trying to find something in the kitchen. They'd checked every drawer and cabinet; the freezer and fridge had been emptied and repacked; they'd checked the cooker hood and air vents. They hadn't found anything except a long-forgotten mousetrap that hadn't caught anything except a bad case of rust. Tony left it right where it was, and refitted the vent cover. He got down off a chair.

"It would help if we knew what we were looking for," Tony grumbled.

"Shhh!" McGee hissed.

He jabbed a silent, accusing finger at the basement door, and Tony winced. He listened for a while and heard a rather monotonous voice listing item after item. Those two hadn't heard him, fortunately.

"What do we do now?" Tony asked quietly.

"Take things apart?" McGee suggested. And added quite loudly, "You remember that case Gavin's team had last year? The one where that perp hid all the money in the housing of his busted microwave?"

"Yeah. Hey, let's check the appliances, see if any are broken," Tony said.

"That's actually a damn good idea," McGee said seriously.

Tony grinned and tried the microwave: it worked just fine. So did the cooking range, the oven, and the dishwasher, but when McGee pushed the power button on a front-loading washing machine, nothing happened.

"Check the outlet?"

"It's on, the switch is showing red," Tony said, and he tugged on the power cable. "It's loose."

"Pull it all the way."


Tony held up the end of the cable: neatly wrapped in insulation tape.

"Help me get this thing outa here," McGee said.

They pulled the washing machine out of its spot between the dishwasher and a wall. McGee made use of a cordless screwdriver for a while, and removed the back panel of the washer.

"Gotcha," McGee chuckled. "Penn took out the motor and water pump."

"To make more room for that tackle-box," Tony said. "Lemme get pictures."


McGee straightened up and stepped out of the way. When Tony was done, McGee picked up the hidden tackle-box and put it on top of the washer. Tony took more photos, and McGee called Ziva.

"We found a tackle-box hidden in his washing machine."

"Have you opened it?" Ziva asked.


"As soon as you are finished photographing it, take it to the Labs."


Within twenty minutes McGee and Tony were back at the Navy Yard. In her lab, Abby pulled on gloves before opening the box. She removed a cloth-wrapped Glock 23 .40 S&W, a glass in a Ziploc bag, and a banknote bag held a single Federal Premium shell casing. Another banknote bag contained three micro SD cards. Abby gave the SD cards to McGee, and he jogged away to another lab.

"Why'd he keep the gun?" Abby asked.

"Good faith bargaining chip," Jen said. "If he was caught, that gun would make a convincing argument for following up and nailing people besides Penn, no matter how respectable those people seem to be... Is that glass a match?"

"Yup. That's the hotel's crest. This is the missing glass."

Abby was careful not to disturb any prints on the glass. She placed it on a nonslip surface, dipped a sterile Q-tip into distilled water, and swabbed lip smudges on the rim of the glass.

"I'm gonna take this straight to Geoff and he can run it out," Abby said while closing the cap on the swab. She bagged it and labeled it. "It'll take me more than three hours to get this sample ready for an STR test. The FBI techs are faster cos they've got modern gear... Hint-hint, Director."

"Consider me poked," Jen said. "I'll ask about better equipment for you."

"Thanks. Tony, can you print that glass?"

"Yeah, on it."

Once dusted, Tony used tape-lifts and transferred each fingerprint, partial, and smudge to individual high-contrast backing cards. Each one was labeled and dated, then scanned. Tony didn't have the right passwords for the next step and had to wait for Abby. As soon as she got back, she selected the clearest print scans—just three—and ran them through an analysis program. She had the ridge minutia results in seconds, and submitted those and the scans to IAFIS (Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System).

"I haven't told it to chew yet. Am I adding Behring's name?"

"Yes," Jen said.

"The DNA will be overkill," Abby said, smirking.

"Everything is overkill," McGee announced as he came back. "We got pictures and audio on those SD cards. The pictures put Behring in Gleason's hotel room; the audio is a man arguing with a woman– I'm presuming it's Behring and Gleason."

"Can we get someone to call Behring, and voice-print an audio sample?" Tony asked.

"I'll ask Ben Holder to organize that," Jen said. "What was the argument about, Tim?"

"A laser guidance system that went missing, a lot of money, and something called DAWN FALCON."

"Never mind the voice sample," Jen muttered. "Behring is busted, and how I wish I had powers of arrest. I'd cuff him myself."

Holder had agreed that it was best not to arrest Behring at his home. He had two young children, and the sins of their father were none of their fault. Instead Behring got a call from Holder's PA requesting that he meet the SECNAV at his office.

"If he spooks, Gibbs will get him," Ziva said.

"He shouldn't be suspicious," Holder said and rocked back in his chair. "It's not often that things happen over weekends, but when they do I never hesitate to call in my staff. They only find out why they've been called in when they get here."

"So then we just wait."

Elsewhere, Gibbs pulled out of a side street and kept to a discreet distance behind Behring's SUV. He kept in radio-contact with two FBI agents who were both taking separate routes to the Pentagon. Each of them would be able to cut Behring off if he spooked, but like Holder, Gibbs didn't think that was going to happen. Behring hadn't been in any hurry to get into his vehicle, and he was in no hurry now, showing no signs of impatience when he ended up behind a vintage Dodge pickup with a driver who was possibly twice as old as his vehicle.

Behring took the route Gibbs expected him to take, and he pulled into the Pentagon's secure parking lot just forty minutes after Holder had called him. One of the FBI agents drove in after him. Gibbs produced his ID at another gate and an ensign waved him into a reserved parking spot, close to the Navy entrance.

Gibbs made it up to the SECNAV's suite in nine minutes. He called one the FBI agents.

"Where is he?"

"In the elevator, and it's headed up to the right floor."

Gibbs hung up and jogged a little way down the hall, away from that elevator, and waited. The doors opened eventually, and Behring stepped out. He walked straight to the suite's double glass doors and opened one. As soon as he was through, Gibbs followed.

The floor here was carpeted and Behring was unaware that he was being followed. He knocked twice at Holder's door and opened it.

"Donovan," Holder said. "Thanks for coming in."

Behring stepped through the door and absently pushed it behind him. It should have closed, but didn't. He turned and found himself face-to-face with Gibbs. Behring paled and took a step backwards, and bumped into someone. He didn't get a chance to turn around. Ziva gripped one of his wrists and twisted it up behind his back. She gave him a shove forward and pushed him against the door Gibbs had closed. Gibbs produced handcuffs and took over.

"Donovan Behring," Gibbs said. "You're under arrest for conspiracy in the murder of Brenda Gleason. You have the right to remain silent—"

"I waive that right," Behring said.

"Oh yeah, asshole?" Gibbs growled in Behring's ear. "You better think about that. Here's why. Penn was real smart. We found evidence in his house. That glass you drank from, in Commander Gleason's hotel room? Your prints, your DNA, are all over that glass. Penn recorded an argument you had with Gleason. He took a couple pictures of you gawking at Gleason's body, too. You still wanna talk?"

"Yes, because I didn't tell Penn to do any of that," Behring said, his voice high-pitched, panicked. "He said he'd scare her. That's all!"

"Why don't I buy that?" Holder asked.

"Because Behring and Penn have a history," Ziva said. "Lindstrom wrote up a Blackout rec for Penn, and Behring was the person who spoke up for Penn when the CIA recruiters asked about that rec. Behring told them that Lindstrom was bitter and the Blackout rec was a personal attack against Penn. Behring went to that trouble because Penn was exactly the kind of guy he wanted, when he was working for the Company."

"And what sick shit did he do for you then, Behring?" Gibbs asked. "Or should I ask, what did he steal? What did he sell? How many times did you two share a drink and laugh about the people you fucked over? Don't you dare tell me that you didn't know what he'd do to Gleason."

"Advise him of his rights again," Holder said. "But do it on your way out."

"Yes, sir," Gibbs said.

He yanked Behring away from the door, opened it, and shoved him through. The FBI agents each took one of Behring's arms, and Gibbs followed, reciting the Miranda rights.

"You okay?" Ziva asked Holder.

"That was distinctly unsatisfying," Holder muttered.

"Until arrests can magically bring back the dead and right whichever wrong, they will never be satisfying," Ziva said. "But at least we get to remove the bastards from society."

Holder wondered if that was enough, but given that he knew what Gibbs had done last night, he didn't voice the thought.

Ziva had opted to nap as soon as she'd gotten home, and Jen had woken her up an hour ago. Gibbs had just pitched up about twenty minutes ago and had said that his paperwork was all done. After saying as much he'd looked a little lost until Ziva had given him a beer. TV was a good accompaniment to beer, and there was that recliner that he liked in the living room. The combination of beer, TV, and recliner had resulted in a very relaxed Gibbs. Jen carefully covered him with a blanket and left the TV on, because she guessed that he'd wake up if she turned it off. She tiptoed out of her living room and went back to the kitchen, where Ziva was working through the last bits of a lot of paperwork.

"My ex is passed out," Jen announced.

"Good," Ziva said. "And later I will make sure that he has a good dinner."

"He's parked himself in front of my TV a few times, even before you moved in, but he never once fell asleep. He also used to object to being looked-after," Jen said. "I'm glad you can get through to him."

"Me, too," Ziva said.

She piled various forms, picked them up, and tapped their edges on the table. They went into a file. She checked something on her laptop and shut it down. She placed the machine and the file in the same bag and put it on the seat beside her.

"All done?" Jen asked while refilling Ziva's coffee mug.

"Except for the bits and pieces that absolutely have to be done at the office, yes... Did I tell you that I had words with Robert about the FBI taking over cases from NCIS?"

"No, but Rob told me. Just how much liaising are you going to do, my love?"

"If I am stuck in that office I might as well use the time to fix things," Ziva said and shrugged. "Anyway, it is a good thing we wrapped this case quickly. I would not have wanted to go home with it still open."

"We could've delayed the trip," Jen said.

"It is better to go and get it over with."

Jen closed the fridge door and wondered if she should just say it, or leave it. Leaving it unsaid was the easy way out, until their next trip to Israel, and then? Would she leave it unsaid, too? Better to say it.

"Maybe it would be better if you go alone?"

"That will change nothing," Ziva said. "She is still going to be awful, and really, after that I will want to be near you."

"Okay," Jen said. "Are we making your chili?"


And later, dinner smelled so damn good that it woke Gibbs up, even before it was ready to eat. He stretched and snorted: when had the blanket arrived? He got up and strolled into the kitchen.

"Hey, it's Rip van Winkle," Jen kidded.

"Who's ten months younger than you," Gibbs shot back. He stuck his head in the fridge and gave serious consideration to an assortment of beers. "Is Carlsberg Elephant all it's cracked up to be?"

"It's potent," Jen said.

"Yeah," Ziva agreed. "It has more than twice the alcohol of other beers. It is also quite bitter, but I think it will go nicely with dinner."

Gibbs capped and tasted the Carlsberg Elephant, and was glad he sipped instead of taking a slug of the stuff. The higher alcoholic content was noticeable, as was the extra-bitter edge.

"Not bad. So I'm staying for dinner, am I?" Gibbs said.

"Yes, because this is that chili you like so much," Ziva said.

"I could call foul on that," Gibbs complained, but he was smiling.

Ziva smirked and held out her hand, and Jen gave her five. Gibbs rolled his eyes. He opened a cabinet and took out crockery, and began to set the table.

Tel Aviv

They left behind Christmas decorations for Chanukah lights, three so far. Ziva's 'magic credentials' helped them to clear Ben Gurion Airport quickly, and a taxi took them to Eli's apartment building. It was around eleven a.m, and the keys to Eli's car had been left with one of the security people.

Jen didn't say much. She was watching Ziva, and liked the fact that she wasn't seeing anything unusual. She was, however, well-aware that when Todd was here with Ziva a while ago, he confessed to witnessing a new side to her, and that had had nothing to do with her interrogation of Udi Chadad. Here she came into her own, but she also did so when alone with Jen.

"Are we flipping a coin?" Ziva said as she closed the trunk.

"No, you're driving," Jen said. "You know how to negotiate with crazy Israeli drivers. I have to ask why we're not taking the train to Be'er Sheva."

"With hardly any traffic, like now, the train only cuts fifteen minutes off the travel time by road," Ziva said and shrugged. "And we have to go past Be'er Sheva, anyway."

In the car she adjusted her seat and buckled her safety belt, and only then did she start the car. This was a permanent habit. She glanced at Jen.

"Buckle up. I do not want to get a fine on our first day."

"Right... I got a jaywalking fine while I worked here. It was in a residential area after five p.m, and I was so shocked I just handed over my passport. The cop said, 'You are here for more than one year. You should know this rule by now.' I just said yes and accepted the ticket."

"Arguing with Israeli traffic cops... Not a good idea," Ziva said wryly. "And he was right."


"Adherence to small rules breeds a respect for bigger rules."

"Hey, you're forgetting that I lived here," Jen said. "Israelis obediently buckle up and cross only at crosswalks, but they break just about every other rule."

"We do not break them. We just... bend them a little—Shit!" Ziva slammed on brakes and stuck her head out the window. "Ma yesh lecha!" What's your fucking problem!

The other driver yelled back something incomprehensible, and continued to pull off to the side of the road where he resumed his cellphone conversation.

"He could have used his fucking indicator..." Ziva growled.

"That's why I said you should drive," Jen drawled.

No turn signals, sudden braking, crazy lane-changes, and generally hair-raising driving behavior continued until they hit the highway, where it was still evident, but less so, and only because there wasn't much traffic. Ziva wasn't inclined to talk and Jen let her be. If she was behind the wheel she'd be totally focused on survival, too.

"Hey, wake up, sleepy," Ziva said.

"We there yet?" Jen mumbled.


Jen sat up and raised the back of her seat. Beyond the car, beyond the highway, small dunes and scraps of scrub stretched for miles to their right. To their left, mountains were a hazy blur.

"Where'd the desert come from?" Jen chuckled.

"The scenery changes quickly in this country. You never have to drive far to find the desert."

"How far are we from Be'er Sheva?"

"It is about twenty kilometers behind us," Ziva drawled.

"I slept that long, huh?" Jen said wryly. "This looks vaguely familiar... I think I came down here on a wine-tasting trip."

"This is the Negev's wine route, yes, and our farm is between two of the biggest wineries here. One of them leases land from us."

"When you're in the States it's always just 'the farm.'"

"I miss it too much, otherwise," Ziva said, hunching a shoulder in a half-shrug. "I always wish I could have lived there permanently, as a kid. But my mother did not like it, and her parents did not like it either. It reminded them too much that my father's family has been living in this land for about six-hundred years..."

The conflict between Ziva's mother's family and Eli's represented the classic Ashkenazi-Mizrachi clash, with a twist: Ziva's father's family didn't leave the Levant region during the Exile which began around 70 C.E. Her mother's family most certainly had left, probably within the first hundred years of the start of the Exile.

Ziva's mother's people—the Jetlers and Rasbichs—all came from Latvia. They'd fled in a group of sixteen separate families to Canada at the outbreak of World War Two. All of the Jetlers, Ziva's maternal grandfather's family, had made it to Canada. The Rasbich family were not so fortunate: during their flight out of Europe, some of them had been caught and sent to concentration camps. Of those, Ziva's great aunt Zara, her maternal grandmother's sister, was the only one who'd survived. Zara had managed to escape and had made it to Canada with the help of the Polish Resistance. She'd reunited with her family just a few months before they and the Jetler family had boarded a mail ship in January of 1948. They'd made it to the then-British Mandate of Palestine in February of 1948, three months before Israeli Independence.

The Davids could trace their lines in this land back about six-hundred years. They couldn't say anything with certainty about the family beyond the six-hundred-year mark, but only because that mark on the time-line was when they got their first scholar, who went to live in Jerusalem and became a rabbi. Like many scholars, he'd written as if the Davids' history had 'started' with him and his known family. However, the Bedouin who lived in this part of the Negev claimed that they had never had even one fight with the David family.

"The Bedouin have very long memories," Ziva said. "Going back a lot further than six-hundred years."

"So it's possible that your family never left at all," Jen said. "The history books don't have much to say about that."

"Actually, they do," Ziva said wryly. "Look up the history of Jerusalem sometime. Why did the Romans and everyone who followed them have bans on Jews entering the city, even after the Exile?"

"Because there were still Jews living in the Levant?"


There has been a continuous Jewish presence in and around Jerusalem, Haifa, and Nazareth for three-thousand-three-hundred years. The idea of HaGalut, the Exile being something complete and absolute is incorrect. Firstly, it's generally presumed that every Jewish family had the means to flee, and that is clearly false. Some of them just moved out of Jerusalem or whichever other occupied city, usually only as far as they could walk. There were also those Jews who were Roman slaves, and they hadn't been allowed to leave when other Jews fled beyond the reach of the Romans and others. Other families were wealthy enough to stay: they could pay the taxes required of them. And then there were those who lived in areas that the Romans and others didn't care about.

"We are driving through one of those regions right now," Ziva said. "Just down that road we passed two minutes ago, there is Karmei Avdat, a modern wine farm where there are the ruins of another farm that is two-thousand years old, Nabbatean Period."

"But your farm isn't that old," Jen said.

"No, but three-hundred-and-seventeen years is not new," Ziva chuckled. "Thirteen generations ago, one of us moved away from a small town further in the South, and he built a house out here. No-one came to chase him and his family away. The house has been rebuilt several times, most recently sixty-eight years ago, by my grandfather and his three brothers. They had to fight to keep this land, when the State was formed. It was going to be included in land allocated to the Army, and the people who decided that had just looked at a map. They never came out here. My great uncle was then a barrister. He went to a meeting of the old Committee of the Interior, in a room in the Frumin House, the Old Knesset, in Jerusalem. Almost everyone there was speaking bad Modern Hebrew, and Yiddish, and even English. He told them, in perfect Hebrew, to find a Jewish Arabic interpreter. They asked why. He said, 'Because for hundreds of years my family has lived here and bled here, and I will be damned before I come begging to you, as if you were Turkish or British. You will hear this Jew in his own language, that you newcomers have not bothered to learn yet.'"

"Ouch," Jen chortled.

"Yeah," Ziva said wryly. "That statement effectively ended the argument, really, but Uncle Chayim was one of those men who believed in beating his opponents into the ground, to make sure they did not get up again. He shamed them in many other ways that day, and I think those newbie politicians drafted out the modern title deed to our land just to get rid of him. When he got the paper he came straight here, and he and Grandpa Avram and their two brothers marked out the boundary points and started to put up the first fences. They had fields fenced off for the horses and goats, but that was just a square here and some more squares over there. When you get told that maybe someone would like to use your land for tank maneuvers, suddenly the idea of boundary fences makes sense... And they also improved the driveway. But not by much."

Ziva made a left turn onto a dirt road marked 'PRIVATE' in several languages. She kept Eli's Ford Focus to a crawling fifteen kilometers per hour and carefully steered around the occasional pothole.

"The story is that it is left like this to convince visitors not to drive fast."

"Well, I bet it works," Jen said.

"Only if they are not driving a nice big pickup."


They rounded the shoulder of a hill and Jen was surprised to find herself looking at a shallow valley. With the mountains so close, she'd thought that this driveway would end up climbing at some stage. Instead it took a short but steep downward turn and Ziva slowed the car even more until the roadway was less steep.

"Is there an active watercourse in this wadi?" Jen asked.

"Two, with one fed year-round by a spring that fills the reservoir. It is one that is small enough that it never interrupts the standard outflow rate from the spring. You can see the date orchards now, and... up there on the low hill are the olive trees. The other side of that hill is the land we lease to a wine farm. Our family used to manage the vines, but it is a schlep that does not really pay if you do not also have a winery to turn the grapes into wine... Ohhh. Eizeh sus!" What a horse!

Ziva slowed the car to a halt and got out. She ducked between the rails of a fence, and ducked more carefully under white electrified tape meant to keep horses and other livestock from getting too close to fences. Jen got out of the car in time to see Ziva approach a dark bay Arabian slowly but without fear. He flared his nostrils and stretched his neck to snuffle at the hand she held out. Ziva said something that Jen didn't catch, and that was the ticket. The horse stepped closer to Ziva at once and rubbed his face against her shoulder. Jen walked around the car and leaned on the rail fence.

"The last time I saw him he was a yearling," Ziva said. "He remembers me still, even though I have not seen him for two years."

"What's his name?"

"We usually name horses after Arabic towns, and there is a place in Syria called Tafas, but that is also a pun in Hebrew. Tafas– 'to seize.' Because the first time a human approached him, he bit their sleeve and would not let go."

"And does he still bite?" Jen asked.

"No," Ziva chuckled. She ducked back through the fence. "And I promise I will not stop driving again until we are at the house... or else we will not get there."

"Ziva-my-love, what the hell are you doing living in the States?" Jen asked quietly.

"Good work. Necessary work. And..." Ziva slipped her arms around Jen's waist and drew her close. "Loving you is good, too."

"I take it I'll retire to that house over there, one day," Jen drawled.

"One day," Ziva said with a small smile. "If you can put up with me for that long. Me, and the relatives."

"We should go meet them."

"Yeah, before someone spots the car and everyone arrives here."

A short drive delivered them under a large carport, and the first 'people' to greet them were four Saluki dogs and a cat that had been sleeping on the roof of the car next door. The cat ended up on the Focus' roof, yowling for some of the attention that Ziva was giving to the dogs.

"Is this cat for real?" Jen asked, amused.

"He is half-Siamese, and the other half dog," Ziva drawled and rubbed the cat's head. "The other cats behave like cats. But Shuki? Forget it. If you throw a stick, he plays fetch. Yeah. You have no dignity whatsoever."

"Myaaa," said Shuki, and headbutted Ziva's chin.

"Chatul meshugah," Ziva said. Crazy cat.

"He's your cat, so it fits," said Eli. "Shalom, Jen."


Jen got a brief but warm hug from Eli. She knew better than to expect to see Eli and Ziva share a hug. They might 'upgrade' to hugs one day, but that day hadn't arrived yet. However, her uncle No'am, Eli's eldest brother, gave Ziva a bear-hug, as did his wife Chaiya; Ziva's only unmarried uncle Yakov bestowed a more gentle hug on his niece. Eli handled all their introductions to Jen.

"Only us for now," Chaiya told Jen. "Tomorrow, you meet the rest."

"Including seven kids," Ziva rubbed it in. "They are grown up, around my age. But they have kids."

"Six very loud ones," Yakov groaned.

"This place is really big," Jen said. "I can always take a walk."

"I like her already," No'am said to Ziva.

"Not surprising," Ziva drawled. "In some ways your personalities are a match."

"And where we don't match?" Jen asked.

"It might be fun to watch the fireworks," Eli drawled.

"Yeah," Ziva said with an evil little grin.

"What have I gotten myself into..." Jen giggled.

"Tsk! Yakov and me are the peacekeepers, so it's okay," Chaiya said.

"B'rucha ha'ba'ah," Ziva said as Jen walked into the house. Welcome.

"Todah rabah," Jen said. Thank you very much.

"It's about time you brought someone home," No'am said.

"No-one else was worthy," Ziva stated flatly.

"If you don't quit, I'm going to cry," Jen said quite seriously.

Ziva quickly changed the subject to the house, because she was certain that there'd be tears later, her own, and they wouldn't be the happy kind.

Ziva talked often about the horses here, but Jen hadn't thought to ask who looked after those thirty-six animals. There was a staff of five young women here, whom No'am oversaw. The horses were roughed out, meaning that they weren't stabled at night, and they didn't need much care except feeding, general handling, and training. The three stallions were all regularly ridden, as were a few of the mares, and seeing as they bore extra weight they had to be shod. No'am and two of the stronger stud girls took care of that farrier work, as well as the rest: all the horses needed their hooves trimmed regularly.

Jen immediately labeled the five stud girls 'tough and fearless' because she happened to arrive on the afternoon when they were backing a yearling colt. The first young woman was tossed into soft sand, laughed, got up, and vaulted onto the back of the half-wild horse again. No saddle, and only a halter with a lead rein held by someone else. The idea was just to get the horse used to the idea of humans sitting on him. He wouldn't be properly trained under saddle until he was two or two-and-a-half.

"He's still growing," No'am said. "So you just play with him, teach him that humans are his friends. By the time his new owners get him, he'll know what a bit is, and he won't buck like a crazy thing when a saddle girth is tightened. He already works on the lunge rein in the ring, but with no whip– walk, trot, canter all on voice commands."

"Arabians are smart," Jen said.

"In general, yes. Smarter than most other breeds. Our horses are even smarter because we don't treat them like precious little sculptures. They're internationally recognized as living treasures, but we let them look after themselves. When the mares foal down, whichever herd's stallion and other mares stand guard. Any jackal or feral dog that comes near gets chased, sometimes killed... Time to put down hay and alfalfa, and give some grain to the mares. You want to come with me?"


Two of the stud girls tagged along to a large barn where Jen ended up laughing at herself: hay and alfalfa bales are heavy. During the time that Jen managed to load just two of the things onto the back of No'am's pickup, No'am and the girls loaded four each. Jen figured there was a knack to handling the bulky bales, one that she'd have to learn.

There were three trips made out to the horses and back to the barn for more feed, and in that time Jen learned a lot.

This stud had been Avram's father's dream, one that Avram and his brothers had finally realized sixty-four years ago when a deal with several Bedouin had resulted in the arrival here of six mares and two stallions. Their bloodlines were the best of the Keheilan strain, one of the purest Egyptian Arabian strains known. The deal had been simple: the first six foals bred would be given to the Bedouin, and after that, they would get one foal per year for five years.

"And that was all the payment, nothing else?" Jen asked.

"That's like saying 'Only one handful of diamonds,'" No'am chortled. "At the time, nothing was certain for the Bedouin, and for them to have a guarantee that their horses would be kept safe, the bloodlines kept pure... That was like gold to them. The original deal was one foal for five years. We still give them one foal, every year; we let them come and take their pick, no matter how much that might cost us. Sometimes it costs a lot. Sales of yearling colts and weaned foals pay for this stud, and we make sure to save for bad years when only a few mares foal down. Everything is natural here. No supervised coverings. The stallions mate only with the strongest mares, and sometimes Nature says, 'Not this year.' But sometimes we get lucky and some crazy American throws money at us. We usually ask about forty-thousand US for a colt—"

"That's pretty cheap," Jen noted.

"Because a colt like that is unproven as a breeding animal. But then one of those crazy Americans comes out here and looks around, and maybe they get glued to one youngster. They say, 'Here's two-hundred-grand!'"

"And you don't say no."

"We-ell, sometimes. Someone wanted to buy Tafas and his full sister. We couldn't say no about his sister. We would've been stupid. But Tafas? No, he'll die of old age right here."

"What was the offer?" Jen asked.

"One-point-five-million," No'am said with a wry shrug. "We kept Tafas' half-brother until he was six, then put him on a plane to the States. At auction in Tennessee he fetched just over one-million, and this last year one of that stallion's fillies was sold for one-point-two-million. At auction Tafas would fetch over two-million, possibly as much as three, or three-point-five."

"But he's not for sale. The record price for an Arabian is what?"

"What was paid for Padron, the Russian-bred stallion, in the Eighties was crazy: eleven-million. Just that one sale turned the Arabian horse into a victim of over-breeding. Everybody with one acre of land in the States wanted a stallion and a few mares with the idea of making fortunes. They nearly killed the breed in the States; horses with some of the rarest and best bloodlines were literally slaughtered for pet food, because their owners couldn't feed them and couldn't sell them."

"God," Jen muttered. "Does nothing escape human greed?"

"It depends on the humans," No'am said. "These horses? They've got five-hundred-year-old bloodlines; they're living treasures. We treat them with the respect they deserve... I knew that would happen."

No'am pointed towards one of the watercourses, the dry one. At first Jen could only make out a dust cloud, but ahead of it was a slight figure on the back of a galloping horse. Ziva's hair was flying out behind her, to match the horse's mane and tail.

"Tafas loves to run, and Ziva loves to ride a horse that loves to run," No'am said. "How's her leg?"

"Better. Clearly," Jen said and laughed. "I hope she doesn't fall off."

"She won't," No'am said lightly. "She was born to ride, among other things."

"If I was you I'd miss her," Jen had to say.

"When Eli told me that she'd joined the Mossad, he was all shocked and surprised. He didn't know what she was planning, so he thought she would go to the Army, but wait for the official draft like most kids. He was going to talk to her about working in HaMossad after the Army. But then she just tells him that she signed up on a recruitment day, and they accepted her. He was so surprised... I laughed at him, because he could've seen that coming, if he'd looked for it. She'd grown up with all of us. We were all soldiers who signed on voluntarily for extra service. Yakov did his service, went to school, and went back to serve as a lawyer in the General Command. Eli was an officer in the Aman. I was an infantry officer in the Givati Brigade, when it was still a reserve unit. Yonatan, Yehuda, and Shimon were paratroopers who signed on for extra duty with various training divisions. And Ziva's still close to people like Yossi Gershom and Yuval Daron. She knew them all her life, before she joined HaMossad. She wanted to be with at least some people who understand her, and she wanted to do work that matters. So where else would she go? And I don't miss her because I believe that people like her must never, ever feel that their job is someone else's sacrifice: people like Ziva sacrifice enough, for us. But you have an excuse to miss her, when she's away. She's half your life."

"Truer words..." Jen admitted.

"Chaiya went last year to visit her cousins in England," No'am said. "She was away for three weeks, our longest separation ever. It was hell."

"You two were Army sweethearts, right?"

"Yeah. I was Infantry, and she was a tank mechanic. The first time I saw her there was this big smudge of track grease on her face. I told her she was still pretty, even with the grease. She said I was still okay-looking, even though I was Infantry and not Armor. We went on our first date a month later, and the rest is happy history."

And who wouldn't want Chaiya? Jen thought, when they were back at the house. Sixty-three, still full of fun and life and generally happy, it was no wonder to Jen that Chaiya was Ziva's favorite aunt. No other hostess had ever made Jen feel as welcome, and she knew already just to take Chaiya at her word. Jen made herself at home, and that included washing her hands and flouring them up to knead bread dough. There was never store-bought bread in this house. Likewise, a variety of vegetables were grown here in a white plastic tunnel behind the house.

"We used to have sheep, too, but oy, try keeping sheep: they get out from any fence," Chaiya said.

"And goats are worse," Yakov chipped in. "We had goats here when I was a boy, for milk and meat. Every damn day me and my brothers were out looking for some stupid goat that had wandered off. Better to buy the meat and let someone else try to keep the animals in one place."

"Amen!" Chaiya said with a laugh. "Jen are you going to be okay with the big meal at lunchtime instead of at night?"

"That's the story of every weekend, back home. Ein baiya," Jen said. No problem.

When Ziva eventually came in she smelled of dust and horse sweat, and Chaiya made a fuss, demanding that she hand over her jeans to be washed. Jen looked at those stained pants and her mouth fell open.

"You rode bareback?"

"She never rides with a saddle," Yakov said. "But she usually rides with a saddle cloth..."

"Tni li ha'jeans shelach," Chaiya demanded again. Give me your jeans.

"Shniyah..." Ziva grumbled. One second... She got busy with sneaker laces. To Yakov: "I am wearing thong underwear. If you are shy, go away."

Yakov made tracks, muttering about the strange fashions of women. Ziva peeled off stretch denim and announced that she was going to take a shower. She marched off, sock-foot, out of the kitchen.

"All these horse hairs aren't going to come out," Chaiya called after her.

"Use double fabric softener, and they will," Ziva hollered back.

"You tell me this trick only now?"

"I discovered it by accident."

"And I have to wonder when," Jen mumbled. "She was galloping that horse, without a saddle."

"When she was little she used to jump horses without a saddle, but jumping was more Tali's thing. Galloping? Ziva sticks like glue," Chaiya said, adding extra fabric softener to a top-loading washing machine. "I'm not putting anything else in here, not with all this hair... Jen, if you really want to be shocked, given that she didn't use a saddle cloth, she probably didn't use a bridle either; just a halter and lead rein, like a crazy Bedouin boy."

"Y'know what?" Jen said. "I'm not going to ask about that."

"Wise," Chaiya said with a grin.

After dinner, Yakov had offered to drive and Ziva hadn't said no, but she was silent during the forty-odd minute drive to the kibbutz where her mother had been born fifty-five years ago. Yakov could guess what Ziva would soon face. He'd known Rivka for all of Ziva's life, and he'd often had cause to wish that that wasn't so.

Rivka wasn't anything like a bad person, but she was difficult, and there was a razor's edge to her personality that tended to cut with little provocation. History was to blame, that more than anything else, although perhaps Eli was also a factor. He should've known better than to bed a bred-in-the-bone Ashkenazi girl, especially one whose parents had been European refugees who had viewed Eli and his family as considerably inferior to their own.

It was a complicated mess, one still being worked out in this country. The situation was much improved, nowadays, but the memories were strong, and bitter. Yakov kept himself from squirming at his own memories. Today he was a human rights lawyer, but once he'd been a foolish little boy who'd used words that he'd picked up from other foolish boys. He remembered with white-hot clarity the single lash of his father's belt across his backside, and those words, To mock the great suffering of another is the lowest any man can sink. You're still a boy: remember. That had been the only time Avram David had ever raised his hand to his second eldest son, because Yakov had called a pair of thirty-something Holocaust Survivors 'sabonim'—'soaps.'

That had once been a common insult in Israel. It was tossed derisively by brash Tzabarim, more commonly known in English as Sabras (first generation founder Israelis). They believed themselves superior to most Diaspora Jews, and particularly the Holocaust Survivors and other European refugees, whom they viewed as weaklings. Surely only weaklings would have allowed themselves to be herded like sheep and slaughtered. Those Sabras, with names like Dov and Zev, didn't stop to think that even bears and wolves are no match for machine guns.

Yakov and his family weren't Sabras, although Ziva and No'am wore the attitude like a perfectly tailored coat: prickly on the outside and soft inside; country first, duty second, family third, and God got a look-in if there was time. Ziva and No'am were old school but unlike most of the original Sabras, they were Mizrachim, 'Eastern' Jews, or to put less fine a polish on it, Arab Jews. Jamila, Yakov's late mother, was Temani—Yemeni, and had proudly owned that title of Arab Jew (not much had scared Ziva's paternal grandmother, least of all facts). Avram David had been born and raised in this country thirty-two years before it became a state, and his opinion had been less flexible. He refused to call himself one of the Old Yishuv, those Jews who were here before the first Zionist Aliyah, because even members of HaYishuv HaYashan had returned to Palestine, meaning that they'd fled to somewhere else first, like Spain: they were Sephardi Jews. He could have called himself a Musta'arabi Jew, but most of them had fled to Syria to avoid the Crusaders, and old Avram was adamant that his family had never left. But it was convenient to pick a handle, and 'Mizrachi Jew' was one that he hadn't objected to.

Avram had strongly objected to Eli's relationship with Rivka Jetler, but she was pregnant with Ziva by the time Avram was told.

Vus-vusim. That's what the Old Yishuv and Mizrachim used to call the immigrant Ashkenazi Jews. Vus-vus– an insulting mockery of the Yiddish word for 'What?' The newly-arrived Ashkenazim kept saying 'Vus?' when faced with Aramaic, Jewish Arabic, and Ivrit Yisra'elit—Modern Hebrew. To make matters worse, the Ashkenazim also didn't pronounce their Classical (Biblical) Hebrew in any fashion understandable by resident Jews.

Vus-vusim was what Avram used to call Ashkenazim, and Yakov would remember that tanning and the reason for it. He'd wanted to complain, but knew that there was no comparison to be made between the merely mocking insult, and the other one that cut like a knife: 'sabonim'—'soaps.'

Avram had been lashing out at that Ashkenazi nose-in-the-air superiority, but all that had done was cause the snake to bite its tail. The Sabras had mocked the refugee Ashkenazim for their so-called weakness, the Ashkenazim had looked down their noses at the Mizrachim, the Mizrachim had mocked the Ashkenazim for their failure to adapt. It hadn't stopped there: the Sabras had their own low opinions of Mizrachi Jews, and the Mizrachim were never loathe to snidely remind them that it had been Mizrachim who had taught the Sabras' Ashkenazi parents how to turn a desert into a garden.

Sixty years on, all of that was still going on, just to a much lesser degree, but with a whole slew of new factors added in, not least younger Israelis rapidly losing touch with the reasons why their grandparents still looked a bit shocked when remembering that their Mizrachi daughter married that Ashkenazi boy, or vice versa. That wasn't a bad thing, but a memory of the past helps to prevent the repetition of past errors.

And people outside Israel thought that the only complicated bit was the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Yakov deliberately turned his thoughts away from clueless foreigners, and returned them to Rivka, and Ziva who was a daughter of a union fully twenty-five years premature. If Ziva and Tali had been kids now, their parents' backgrounds wouldn't have turned a hair among their same-age peers. Instead they'd been born ahead of a small but important cultural revolution in Israel, and their peers had lived up to the universal rule of Kids Are Cruel.

The girls didn't fit in among Ashkenazi kids, including their own cousins on the kibbutz, and those at school in Tel Aviv. They also had trouble fitting in with their Mizrachi cousins, but to a lesser degree. They tended to have fewer problems with the latter group, because Ziva was close to her Grandpa Avram. The Mizrachi cousins knew better than to cross him, which meant that Ziva and Tali preferred time spent on the farm to that spent at the kibbutz and in Tel Aviv.

The imposition of their parents' differing wills hadn't helped. Rivka had refused to live on the farm, and Eli had refused to live on the kibbutz. The compromise was living an hour away from the kibbutz, in Tel Aviv. Rivka was given all of the kibbutz's bookkeeping work, and that could be done anywhere. Just before Ziva was born, Eli had resigned his commission from the Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence) and had signed on with the Mossad, whose headquarters were in Tel Aviv, so living there made sense. Alternative weekends were spent at the kibbutz and the farm.

Once Ziva and Tali were out of diapers, Rivka often refused to join Eli and the girls at the farm. By the time her daughters were fourteen and twelve, Rivka ceased permanently to go to the farm and effectively cut herself off from Eli's family. Rivka tried to encourage her daughters to make the same cut. Ziva had had other ideas, and Tali was just independent enough in her thinking to decide that following her big sister's lead was a good idea. That led to entire summer vacations spent on the farm instead of at the kibbutz, and Ziva's main aim was to protect her sister.

That protective streak had manifested early. Ziva was eight the first time she'd stood up to both parents and had told them to take their latest fight outside. None of it was her fault, or Tali's, she had said. Yakov remembered Eli's pride when recounting the incident: his little wildcat of a daughter– she'd sounded just like her paternal grandmother. Yakov also remembered Ziva's tears on his shoulder, when describing the fallout: Rivka had accused her of taking sides again.

Taking sides was all that was left to Ziva, but she took neither Rivka's nor Eli's side in anything. She took Tali's, and her own. This included standing up to her maternal grandparents. She'd never been close to her maternal grandmother, who was an over-critical woman with very un-Israeli ideas about the place of women in society. Ziva's maternal grandfather had held some of those views, but had been less harsh. However, he was openly hostile towards Eli's family, and as she got older, Ziva began to talk back about that. She also hit back by encouraging Tali's interest in equestrian sports, something that required regular access to her horse at the farm. When Tali was fifteen, a year before she was killed, she was strong-willed enough to insist on spending every weekend at the farm. She reasoned that she saw her mother all through the week, and she was strong enough to insist that she would never pick up her maternal grandparents' prejudices. Her maternal aunts were more easy-going and had no problem arriving at the farm for a weekend. Tali had told her mother straight, I am not your toy.

Ziva turned eighteen, and legal adulthood marked the start of her career with the Mossad. It was also the beginning of what she would end up calling her 'seventeen-month stay in hell.'

It started when Tali was killed by a suicide bomber. Avram died suddenly, only four months after Tali, and less than a year later Jamila died. The loss of her paternal grandparents affected Ziva deeply, much more so than the loss of her maternal grandparents, when she was fifteen and seventeen. The only elder maternal relative that Ziva had bonded with significantly was her great aunt Zara, and when Zara died only a few months after Jamila, Ziva (then aged nineteen) made no bones about withdrawing from her maternal family.

She loved them and attended birthdays and other celebrations; she made certain to spend time with her mother. She made an effort to write to her eldest aunt, who then disseminated the contents of Ziva's letter—a sneaky deal they'd made, and one that continued to this day. Other than that, she backed out. If the loss was felt, no-one said anything about it, confirming Ziva's theory that her Ashkenazi cousins filled the gaps that had never been, the ones meant to be filled by herself and Tali.

Through all of the personal upheaval, Ziva still managed to deal with the first intense training years with the Mossad. Yakov remembered how she would shrug when relating another overly gentle reminder from one of her training officers: she could put everything on hold, and pick it up later. None of those officers seemed to realize that work was Ziva's foundation for recovery. Work gave her a purpose, and also a much-needed gap from emotional turmoil. Work helped her to find a balance and maintain it. People like Yuval Daron and Yossi Gershom kept a close eye on her, but never dared to be the ones who issued those reminders that she could take time off. They knew better; they'd known her since she was a child. They sat back and watched her grow even more, watched her prove that her father's position had nothing to do with her own professional successes.

Nearly six years ago, when Rivka finally asked Eli for a get, a divorce, Ziva was beyond getting upset about family drama. Eli hadn't said so outright, but Yakov presumed that his youngest brother was relieved, both by the fact that Ziva didn't say anything against the divorce, and that his pride had been kept intact: his wife had been the one to ask for that split. Rivka had asked for it, but as Halachic Law required, Eli was the one to go and get the get. In Israel a rabbi of the Rabbinical Court must grant a get, and some of them refuse. Eli went to a lot of trouble to present his case to a rabbi who wouldn't refuse, and he went to even more trouble to ensure that everything went smoothly, mostly because that made him look good. His reasons for wanting that get were selfish, including a dislike of his wife evident by his relaxed estrangement from Rivka for more than ten years by then, but Yakov called that estrangement what it was: punishment, of a kind. Eli was just as stubborn as Rivka. Eli chose to ride a high horse, waiting to be asked; Rivka chose to ride on the hope that he'd give her a get before she asked. She'd bemoaned to her family that she was mesorevet get, a woman who'd been blatantly refused a divorce, but she hadn't dared to take that lie to the Rabbinical Court.

Ziva didn't offer an opinion on the divorce to anyone in her family. She did her best to stay right out of the mess. Eli had told Yakov that Ziva had firmly told him that she wasn't interested, that she had long passed the mark where her parents' relationship meant anything to her. Their get was their own affair.

Yakov had noticed that Ziva seemed to be trying to patch things up with Eli, and the divorce had probably made that easier. It had had the opposite effect on her relationship with Rivka: Ziva visited her mother more out of duty than anything else. If this wasn't Israel, if she wasn't Jewish, perhaps Ziva would have allowed that familial duty to slip, seeing Rivka more and more seldomly until those visits ceased altogether. But she was Jewish, and this was Israel, and not even Yakov would stint from criticism if ever Ziva ceased to see her mother. Kodem mishpachah—family first, and never mind Ziva and No'am's adherence to the old Sabra ways that placed family third, after country and professional duty.

When Yakov eventually steered the car into a parking spot near the kibbutz dining hall, he found that Ziva had dropped off to sleep. The lack of motion would eventually wake her, he knew, so he let her be.

What if Ziva hadn't been as strong? Yakov often wondered about that, and hated the answers his mind threw at him. Perhaps Avram could've intervened; Jamila would've definitely had something to say. But if they hadn't? Rivka had tried, since the girls were tiny, to drive wedges between her daughters and their paternal family; she still did that, goading Ziva into fights about her father's influence and his brothers' encouragement and approval of Ziva's career choice.

Rivka hated the Israeli intel community with a venom that Yakov did not understand, and he doubted that Eli had dared to ask about it. To Yakov's knowledge, Ziva hadn't asked either. Perhaps, as he thought, she thought that her mother's attitude was rooted simply in Eli's career and its effect on Rivka's life.

The life of the spouse of an intelligence officer is never easy, and the higher that officer ascends the ladder, with every promotion, that spouse's experience becomes more difficult. Their simplest questions are often met with 'I can't talk about it.' Their concerns become confused: Is he/she doing something I should be worried about?

Even though Eli had never served as a field operative, Rivka had had cause for concern. He had often been involved at the highest level, which had sometimes entailed travel to countries where he'd negotiated the terms of joint operations. As such Eli David had, for almost thirty years, been someone with a target on his back. While married to him, Rivka had only been able to escape Eli's security detail when she'd gone home to the kibbutz. Yakov wasn't and had never been fond of those men, who knew everything about him, even that which Yakov deemed none of their business. It had to have been worse for Rivka, and in this one area he pitied her honestly. But the rest? Yakov felt strongly that most of her grievances had been small things that she'd chosen to amplify through constant complaint.

Still, she was nothing like a bad person, and thanks to Ziva's life in the States, Yakov and his family dealt only seldomly with Rivka. More often than not she was civil, especially if he and his brothers were smart and avoided mention of Ziva.

And Jen. There was no way that Ziva could avoid mention of Jen tonight.

The car had been parked for only a couple of minutes when Ziva woke. Yakov managed to keep from sighing a dammit-all sigh.

"How long have we been here?" Ziva asked and yawned.

"A few minutes, no more," Yakov said. "I'll stay here. I can always go up to the hall and get some coffee if I want it. I brought a book."

"Better for your eyes if you read in the hall."

Yakov smirked and reached across Ziva to the glove compartment. He took out a reading lamp that clipped to his sun visor. A cable plugged into the cigarette lighter socket.

"This seat is more comfortable than the ones up there."

"Chachmolog," Ziva chortled. Smart-ass.

She got out of the car without another word. Yakov remembered other partings: she always left him smiling, and quite deliberately. That was her way with him. Yakov adjusted the lamp and chose to focus on his book. If she allowed it, and she might not, he'd deal with the fallout as best he could when she got back.

Outside a frigid desert breeze was blowing, and Ziva zipped up the jacket she was wearing. She walked in the shadows, deliberately avoiding well-lit paved walkways. Her mother lived in the senior members area, not far from the car park, the dining hall, and other important places, like the kibbutz's management office and post office.

When Ziva was growing up the homes here were a sprawling mess of long single-storey apartment buildings. Those had originally been prefab military barracks. Dry-walling had been used to divvy them up into one or two-bedroom units. A single shower and toilet, and a small kitchenette had been shared by every two units. All the residences here had gradually been revamped and now took the form of large, brick-built two-storey houses divided either into four or two, with the larger homes meant for families with kids.

Ziva knocked at her mother's door, and inside the volume on a TV program was turned down.

"Who's that?"


The door was opened and Ziva was faced with an older version of herself, but one whose scowl didn't match any that Ziva donned when in a bad mood. When angry or upset, the resemblance between mother and daughter was lessened.

"You'd better come in, I suppose," Rivka said.

"Yeah. It's too cold for a fight outdoors," Ziva said, her Hebrew hard-edged, deliberately goading. She wanted this over and done. She stepped inside and immediately rounded on her mother. "For nearly four months, you haven't answered even one of my emails. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"You ask me that!" Rivka slammed the door and pushed past Ziva. In the small living room she zapped the remote at the TV, turning it off. "You could've called and told me instead of writing."

"I don't fight over the phone. You know that, and I know you: you didn't reply to my emails. This fight is all I was going to get. So fight. Get it done, out of your system, and then we can go back to at least telling each other about the weather on two separate sides of an ocean."

"I didn't leave," Rivka snapped. "I didn't join an organization that sends me all over the damn world. I didn't choose to go and work in America. You did. And you walked out on me before that. You chose your side."

"Oh please," Ziva snarled. "You'd be fighting with me if I had a secretarial job here, even if I'd stayed on this damn kibbutz and had married someone here and had begged you to make my wedding dress. We clash, Mom. What of it? That's old news. So get down to specifics already."

Rivka glared at her daughter and deliberately took her time with packing away some mending work. She sat down and didn't offer a seat to Ziva, who wouldn't take one without that offer. Stubbornness was a trait they shared, and one each grudgingly understood in the other. Ziva wouldn't tell Rivka again to hurry up, even if she sat in silence for an hour.

"So you're fucking your former boss. How professional of you."

Ziva didn't take that bait. She dared not or she might lose it and say something regretful. Instead she waited in silence for Rivka to get over herself.

"Of all the people in America—no, in the world, you chose someone who's your father's counterpart," Rivka said eventually. "I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Wasn't my marriage to Eli example enough?"

"It was. If Jen was anything like him, I wouldn't be involved with her. You'd know how different she is, if I allowed you within one kilometer of her. I won't be doing that," Ziva almost whispered that last sentence. "I will not allow you anywhere near her, now that I know how you feel."

"My own daughter, the trained killer, is threatening me," Rivka muttered.

Ziva flinched internally but had the presence of mind not to let it show. That was the first time Rivka had thrown 'trained killer' in Ziva's face.

"Take it as you will. I'd prefer the term 'warning' to 'threat.' The difference is considerable."

"Maybe, but what are you warning me about? She's not here. What have I done to her, said to her—"

"Said about her. That's enough, for me. I know you, Mom."

That knowledge was her best weapon right now, and Rivka knew it. That rankled, and Ziva saw it plainly. She could press her advantage now, say enough to reduce Rivka to tears, but she had never once done so deliberately, and she wasn't about to start. So she waited for the next sally. It wasn't long in coming.

"You know, maybe it's better that it's someone like her," Rivka said. "Someone who knows what you do. But I don't know how she can do it. I don't know much; I don't know it all, about you, and I'm grateful for that: what I know is too much. But if I knew the person, I'd tell them to tell you to quit first. So what kind of person is she, that can open her arms and her bed to you after you've come back from one of those top secret missions?"

"One who understands necessity," Ziva said, her tone almost wooden.

She was pulling into a shell she'd built a long time ago. She doubted that she'd ever be able to forgive Eli for letting it slip that she was a kidon. He should've come under administrative review for that, and Ziva would've pressed the issue if she hadn't known that Rivka would not repeat what she knew, except to Ziva. Rivka had used that ammunition, over and again, in every fight they'd had for the last eight years, but tonight she'd gone a step further: trained killer. Rivka wouldn't back off of that term now. She'd use it again.

"Necessity," Rivka sneered. "That precious commodity that you and your father, and people just like you, tend to use to absolve themselves of the worst acts possible... And you say she understands that, so she absolves you, too."

"No. There is no absolution," Ziva muttered.

"Oh. So you're all wracked with guilt? And she accuses you of your every sin? And what then? Is it like make-up sex?"

"Stop it," Ziva snapped. "What's your fascination here? If you want to know what it's like, go find a girl who'll teach you."

"With the help of your father, menopause killed my appetite for sex, and I call it good riddance," Rivka stated. "Answer me one thing: was it like Eli and me? Did she seduce you?"

"Like I said, she's not like him. No. She didn't seduce me... Are we finished here?"

"Not nearly," Rivka said, glaring at Ziva. "We're never finished, you and me. I won't allow you to walk away, and neither will Eli's family. Then again, I don't think your pride could stand it. You're like Avram in that respect, and it's as much a weakness with you as it was with him—Old fool!"

"Hmph. You say things like that so easily since he died," Ziva said, and she met her mother's glare with one of her own. "You never dared when he was alive."

"I gave him grudging respect—"

"Bullshit. You were terrified of him, and for what? He never did or said a thing to you to earn that fear. He never stopped caring about you, even though you threw it back in his face, albeit indirectly. You never had the guts to tell him straight to keep his kindness."

"He showed me courtesy, only that," Rivka insisted. "You don't know. You were just a kid, and in the months before you were born—You don't know."

"So tell me then," Ziva almost shouted. "Make me take your side over that of a man who's dead now. I will. Prove it to me that I should think less of him, and I will."

"You don't know what it was like! You don't know a damn thing, little girl. What was it like? My parents' families came here with nothing, running the Blockade in a mail ship from Canada. They ran the risk of being hauled off by the British and told that coming from Canada wasn't enough. And when they got here the Sabras called them names, and people like your father and his father did the same. Your beloved Great Aunt Zara? She was the only one of my parents' people who'd been in the Camps, the only Survivor. You have no idea what she went through, and when she got here she was singled out, and she hated the fact that her entire family wore invisible tattoos on her behalf. This kibbutz, Ziva, was the only one that would take my mother's family. The rest? One look at the blue numbers on Zara's arm... You don't know. And Avram wasn't much better than the Sabras."

"That's a lie," Ziva said. "He was Mizrachi, and to him Survivors were without equal when it came to showing his respect. He once beat Yakov for using a slur against Survivors. It was finding out about Zara that caused Grandpa Avram to quit criticizing Eli'ezer. And maybe you don't know about that because Eli'ezer's too cowardly to admit that he deliberately used Zara's history to help him out with his father. Maybe that's so, and all I can do is offer a late apology. But don't you dare tell complete lies about my grandfather. Your bitterness towards him is rooted in your own stubbornness."

"Oh yes, right," Rivka sneered. "There's nothing so 'stubborn' as being pregnant and stuck with it."

Ziva laughed and shook her head.

"If that was meant to sting, spare me. That you didn't want me, that I was an inconvenience, is also old news. It doesn't sting because you changed your mind. You have to be smarter here. You fight with me and yet I never doubt that you love me."

"Which is why I hate your job," Rivka muttered. "How many times has it nearly gotten you killed? You were in the hospital about four months ago. It's selfish. You don't care about how anyone else will feel if one day that damn job does kill you."

"I can't care about that," Ziva said, although she did care. She cared about how Jen would feel, but she really could not care about anyone else. "To care is to lose touch with the necessity of that work. This country is kept a bit safer because of the work we do. Any sacrifice is acceptable."

"It's selfish," Rivka repeated.

"If that's all you've got left, then I think we're finished here."

Ziva was goading again. She had to. She was tired, jet-lagged, and if she didn't get this wrapped up soon that weariness was going to work against her. She'd drop her guard. Things said would hurt worse, and she knew that Rivka had more to say.

Ziva took a pack of smokes from the coffee table and lit one. Horrible Israeli Noblesse cigarettes. They were a lot cheaper and much stronger than the Marlboro Lights she and Jen smoked occasionally. The smoke hit and tightened her chest a little, waking her up. There was an ashtray on the table, and she bent and tapped an ash. As she straightened up, she knew that look on Rivka's face. The smoke had been a good idea.

"I said that you're selfish," Rivka said. "You are, you always have been, and that will show through one day. To her."

Rivka paused and lit a cigarette of her own, and Ziva left the momentary quiet alone. The worst was on its way. No sense in delaying it.

"She's fifty, your father said. Only five years younger than me. She could be your mother. If Eli had come along sooner, I could've been pregnant at seventeen. She could be your mother, and one day when you're sixteen years younger than an old woman, that selfishness will show through. It's the story of your entire life, Ziva. Whatever suits you, or makes you feel good about yourself—"

"She makes me feel good about myself," Ziva said. "She understands me in ways you can't begin to approach, mostly because you don't want to. You make up your mind about things, Mom. You stop listening, and you make up your mind, and after that you're deaf to whatever anyone says."

"I stop listening when I realize that I'm hearing the same story again," Rivka stated. "I make up my mind after thinking about where that story leaves me, in the grand scheme of things. In this case I'm the mother of a girl who can't bear life to be dull and ordinary. I'm the mother of a trained killer who doesn't seem to suffer with guilt. I'm the mother of someone who's involved with a woman who seems to be able to ignore what you do. You say that she understands necessity, and she understands you... So then she's just as selfish as you are. Thinks just as little of life and of taking life as you do—"

"You don't listen!" Ziva yelled.

"I listen until I've heard enough!" Rivka yelled back. She'd get into serious trouble if others heard the rest. She knew it and was not stupid, so she lowered her voice, and said, "You're exactly like those Camp guards, those monsters who'd shoot us in the back of the head—"

"And that would be the reason I do not!" Ziva snapped, too shocked and angry to be hurt just yet. "You want to know? All right. I don't shoot through hoods. I don't shoot them from behind. I look at their faces. Sometimes they look back at me. Sometimes—huh. More like rarely. I never shoot marks in the back of the head. You really think I can forget the photographs? There was one in Meir Dagan's office, over his desk. That was his own grandfather, kneeling with a crowd of guards around him while he prayed. And the other picture, the one I can never forget, of some unnamed Riga Jew kneeling at the edge of a pit filled with bodies, with a fucking SS guard pointing a Luger at the back of his head. And you have no idea what it does to me when the best place to kill is a cold silent forest. You think I can forget? You compare me to them? Those monsters? Mom, what did I ever do to deserve that from you?"

"Killers are all the same. You go against everything that is Jewish: Piku'ach Nefesh. Preserve life at all costs, that is the Law. Preserve life, but instead, you take it," Rivka said flatly. "Like I said, I listen until I've heard enough. You take a life and walk away, and weakly hang your soul on that word 'necessity.' I suppose you live with yourself by thinking that it's just one death, and others are saved by it—"

"Yes. That's exactly what I think," Ziva said, and she was back in that shell. "If someone had put a bullet in that fool's head, before he blew himself up, Tali and six others would still be alive. That is an incontrovertible fact."

Ziva stubbed out her smoke and ignored the sharply hurt look in her mother's eyes. They talked around it. Tali was gone; Tali died; it was even okay to say that Tali was killed. But no-one in Ziva's family talked about the event that took Tali's life, because they didn't like to think of the physical damage caused to her body. Ziva had a scar or three, but that was from glass that had blown into the convenience store where she was buying something to drink. When she got outside, when she found Tali, identification was made by a burnt backpack attached to what was left of her. It was determined that she was walking right next to the bomber when he depressed the detonator. In some ways, both sides of Ziva's family were deeply observant. Tali's body was buried incomplete, and only someone Jewish could fully appreciate how devastating that was for her family.

"I'm finished with protecting you," Ziva said. "You've proved tonight that you don't deserve it. I'm the only person in our family who saw her like that. You don't get to tell me that there's never any justification in taking a life. I was barely eighteen when all my doubts in that regard were rubbed right out... Are we finished here?"

Rivka made no answer. She kept on staring into her lap. Yesterday Ziva might've gone to her, might've sat there and held her tightly while they cried together. But yesterday her mother hadn't equated Ziva with SS guards. Yesterday, if anyone had predicted that, Ziva would've laughed in their face.

And she knew better than to expect an apology from Rivka, though one might come along next Yom Kippur; Ziva didn't bank on that either.

She left the silence as it was, and went to the door and out into the night. The cold had deepened, and overhead the stars were bright in that way peculiar to the desert. It was almost eerily still, except for the wind's whisper in olive and bay trees. Somewhere to the east a jackal broke the stillness with a whining cry. As she reached the car and opened the door, another jackal answered, but it was much closer than the first.

"They'll have to start shooting them again," Yakov said. "We just let the horses deal with them."

"They need a couple of mules here," Ziva said and shut the car door. "They'll kick the shit out of just one jackal and none will come near again for months."

"Yes," Yakov said and started the car.

Her tone of voice had said it all. He knew better than to expect another word from Ziva. He turned on the radio, and wryly shook his head at coincidental irony. Shalom Chanoch sang:

"...Zikaron she'oleh bi shuv,
Pardes ratuv, yelelat ha'tanim,
Ve'at, she'hayit ahavat ne'urai

A memory returns to me again,
Of a wet orchard, the howling of jackals,
And you, you were my childhood love..."

Yakov glanced to his right, and the faint light caught, silvering, on a tear trail down Ziva's cheek. He didn't have to be told that Rivka had killed something in Ziva tonight.

Jen let her instincts dictate. She didn't ask any questions. She rocked Ziva while she sobbed her heart out, and that was evidence enough for Jen: she would not ask about this evening's visit with Rivka. Whatever she found out about it would come voluntarily from Ziva, and if she chose not to talk about it at all, that was fine.

And Jen kept a leash on her anger, somehow. Perhaps not knowing the details helped– Jen was nothing if not fair and usually refused to take a side until she had all the details. But this was different. She knew Ziva so well. There was real pain here, possibly the kind that would never heal. Jen knew her so well, and Ziva's was the only side she was taking in this business. She hoped that Rivka was smart and would decide to steer clear of Jennifer Shepard. The last thing Jen wanted was to make matters worse, but there was no way in hell that she'd keep her opinions to herself if ever Rivka crossed her path.

Ziva's sobs eventually eased into sniffles and she mumbled about taking a shower. She added a request for a cup of tea. Jen pulled on sweats and made her way to the kitchen where a small fluorescent light burned near the kettle and coffee machine. It threw enough light to show Yakov sitting at the table with a cup of something.

"How is she?" he asked.

"Cried-out, for now."

"Good," Yakov said quietly. "She isn't proud, with you. That's very good."

Jen had been shown where everything was. She put on the kettle and dropped teabags into large mugs. She leaned back against the counter and dug her hands into the pockets of her sweatpants.

"The variety of personalities in this family... astounds me," Jen confessed.

"I think it was encouraged," Yakov said with a very Israeli half-shrug. "It's not something I thought about much until I was older, when I came back from the Army and I settled into this Yakov you see now: the Observer. And I would look at the way my parents considered each of us, as individuals. I thought then that, yes, they encouraged us to be ourselves... And then Ziva is like a mix-up of several of us. When she was little my father was her idol, but eventually she became just as close to No'am. She's only a very little bit like Eli, and he's the youngest of us. Tomorrow you'll meet Yonatan and Yehuda, the twins, and Shimon—"

"No'am is the odd man out. Everybody else has a Biblical name."

"My mother made a deal that she'd name her first born, and my father could name any other children. So there's No'am, the odd name out, but of all of us he is ironically most like our father. Anyway, you'll recognize little bits of Yehuda and Yonatan and Shimon in Ziva. That straight-back, straight-face pride? No'am has it, too, and that's from my father. Also that very strong will. The playfulness? Yehuda's the same. Quick to make jokes? Shimon and Yonatan are like that. The quiet, thoughtful side of her, me and Eli are like that... Ziva's like no-one on her mother's side, except for Zara. Ziva will not be beaten, at anything, and Zara was like that... I must go to bed."

"Won't keep you," Jen said with a smile. "Thanks for driving her out there tonight."

"Yeah, but I wish I hadn't," Yakov said and put his cup in the sink. "Goodnight."


When Jen returned to their bedroom, Ziva was sitting in bed, smoking. A shower cap had kept her hair dry. Jen passed a mug to her and set her own next to the bed before getting undressed.

"I heard you talking to someone," Ziva said.

"I was getting the character trait run-down from Yakov," Jen said and got into bed. "This only child is trying to figure out what it would've been like to have five siblings... You didn't tell me that Yehuda and Yonatan are twins."

"Because they do not act like it, and they are not identical," Ziva said. "They do not share that intense bond that most sets of twins do. It is easy to forget that they share the same birthday... And my uncles are probably going to treat you more like a sister than a niece, so you will find out what it is like to have several siblings."

"Sort of. I didn't grow up with them."


During a long pause, the smoke was stubbed out, and mugs were eventually emptied of tea.

"She deliberately hit me where it hurts," Ziva said quietly. "That is nothing new, but this time..."

"I'm sorry," Jen murmured. She didn't know what else to say.

"Me, too. And I just... I cannot repeat what she said, okay?"


That was easy for Jen to say because of the decision she'd made earlier. Easy to say, but not nearly as easy to put into effect, because right at this moment Jen wanted to get in a car and go to that kibbutz. Facing off with Rivka wouldn't fix anything, she knew, but at least she'd be standing up for the woman she loved.

"I know that expression," Ziva said, her smile faint but fond.

"I promise and swear to behave myself," Jen muttered.

"I love you, too... and I do not know how well I would be coping right now if you were not here."

Jen did her best to hide it, but it was possible that she looked as shocked as she felt. Ziva, thankfully, was looking at her fidgeting fingers and Jen managed to pull her face straight. Jen didn't think that Ziva was invincible. However, she knew how strong Ziva was, knew how many difficult situations she'd dealt with alone. Jen's small indignant urge to go and give Rivka a piece of her mind was replaced with something else. It was a kind of fear, or perhaps dread. Jen very nearly stumbled into a prayer, and that was also shocking. Brought back to herself through contact with something like a mental rumble strip, she made up her mind fully to doing her best to steer clear of Rivka in a permanent sense. If she didn't she was likely to say something to Rivka that Ziva might not forgive.

"I'm just going to stay away from your mother, all right?"

"Yes. She will hurt you if she can," Ziva said. "She has already, yes?"

Jen's answer was a nod. When Ziva rearranged her pillows and settled down in bed, Jen did the same, and turned out the lamp. Ordinarily, Ziva was the 'body pillow,' but tonight she fit herself to Jen's side, laid her head on Jen's chest, and Jen thought that she felt smaller than usual. She rubbed gentle circles on Ziva's back until she fell asleep, and only then did Jen submit to her own weariness.

Things always look better in the morning– like hell. Whoever had come up with that cliché, had lied. Ziva remembered her mother's words and they hit just as hard this morning as they had last night. It was everything she could do not to start crying again. Instead, she lay still in bed and tried to focus on Jen's deep, even breathing.

Now was the best time for rational thought on this business, now, before she got up and ended up in company, before she was distracted into putting off what she needed to deal with as soon as possible. And crying was another kind of distraction, one she couldn't afford.

Rivka had compared her daughter to SS guards. The knife went in again, and it didn't feel metaphoric. It was almost physical pain, and along with it, this time, came nausea. Ziva fought it down and struggled to get a logical grip.

Some things were really obvious now, like the reason for Rivka's hatred of the intel community. Ziva wondered why Rivka hadn't just spelled it out earlier. Why had she waited? Not much thought was required to reach an answer: that was Rivka's way. She generally stewed for long periods over whatever annoyed, angered, or upset her. But eight years—No. Rivka had resented the intelligence community for a lot longer than eight years. Ziva knew that Rivka was already pregnant when Eli first told her about his job in the Aman. That was almost thirty-five years ago. He hadn't consulted with Rivka before signing on with the Mossad, Ziva knew that much. What she didn't know was Eli's reason for going behind Rivka's back.

Only one way to find out.

Ziva got up and dressed, careful not to wake Jen. After a trip to the bathroom she walked quietly through the house. Chaiya was awake, pottering around in the kitchen, and No'am was probably out feeding the horses by now. Ziva poked her head around the door to the room Eli and Yakov were sharing. Yakov was absent; Eli was buckling on sandals. There were three double bunk beds in this room. Ziva sat on the bottom bunk opposite Eli.

"English or Hebrew?" Eli drawled, his expression wary, almost nervous.

"I fight okay in both, but I am not here to fight... A long time ago, you signed up with the Mossad, but you did not talk to Ima first. Why?"

"I knew it was the best job I could get. I also knew that she hated my job in the Aman."

"Do you know why she hated it?"

"I asked. She refused to talk about it. I said that that wasn't any kind of argument that I could respect."

"Big fight?" Ziva guessed.

"Big fight," Eli said, nodding. "And I knew that I could have only one big fight if I just switched to the Mossad without telling her. Or I could tell her: big fight, and then switch anyway: another big fight. In my place, would you have chosen one big fight or two?"

"I waited till I was accepted before I told her where I would be doing my service," Ziva said. "I am not going to yell at you for being as smart as I was."

"Good... So it was bad, last night."

"Worse than you can imagine," Ziva whispered.

Eli didn't know Ziva very well. He was trying his best to get to know her. One thing he knew with certainty: she was never melodramatic.

"Even though I think you won't tell me," Eli said, looking Ziva in the eye. "I'm asking– what did she say?"

Ziva shook her head and looked away. She chewed at the inside of her cheek to keep from crying, but her eyes brightened anyway.

"I told her last night that I am finished with protecting her, but this is different, mostly because I cannot repeat it."

"I think..." Eli paused and made sure that he wanted to say it. He did. "I think it's time for you to walk away. You let me do the talking, for once. If anyone in this family objects, they'll talk to me, not you."

"She told me last night that she will not let me walk away. I believe her," Ziva said. "So it is not worth all of that drama, too. Can you imagine the fights? And she will bring those fights here. Never forget that she likes to fight."

"Shit..." Eli muttered. With a wry grin: "I could pull strings and get a couple of court orders against her."

"Hey, she is bad enough already," Ziva said. "Poke her like that?"

"Maybe not such a good idea," Eli agreed. "But listen: don't go anywhere near her for a while. and don't call her or write to her. She must make the first move now."

"That might come only in two years."

"So be it."

"Eli'ezer, I cannot go through Pesach or Rosh Hashanah without talking to my mother."

"Is it your pride that says so, or your heart?" Eli asked.

"Both. It sucks to be me?" Ziva said with a humorless laugh.

"I'm sorry," Eli said.

Ziva gave a tiny shrug in response and got up off the bed. She delivered a soft affectionate punch to Eli's shoulder, and left the room.

Last night, and at other times, she'd told herself that she wouldn't be able to forgive Eli's blunder of telling Rivka what sort of work their daughter did. Things might not have been better in the morning, but they were clearer: it wasn't Eli's fault that Rivka chose to use that information to hurt Ziva. Rivka's choice, and the blame was hers alone.

Ziva forgave Eli there and then. As per usual at times like this, she was grateful for being the kind of person who didn't bear grudges. A grudge and something seemingly unforgivable are not the same thing. When the latter is honestly forgiven it represents a clean start, leaving no hint of resentment in its place, as Ziva found this morning. But those who bear grudges, like Rivka, just swap a grudge for resentment. Ziva had to wonder which her mother would prefer this time, but she knew that Rivka wasn't likely to decide anytime soon.

Chaiya wasn't in the kitchen when Ziva got there, and she was grateful for that. She needed a little time alone, and chose to go outside, and up onto the flat roof. Up here four solar panel arrays faced south and did double duty, soaking up energy and reflecting harsh light away from a covered deck. The arrays obscured the view to the south but that was a small price to pay for free electricity and hot water. Ziva sat in a deckchair facing east, which gave her a peaceful view of the reservoir and the date palms beyond.

It wasn't often that Ziva ended up remembering Tanach verses, but Proverbs 18:21 wouldn't leave her alone today: Mavet ve'chayim be'yad ha'lashon—Death and life are in the hand [power] of the tongue. She remembered old Avram warning her that the Gemara explained that thus: just as the hand can kill, so can the tongue deal a spiritual death-blow. His lecture had come after she'd tattled on one of her older cousins with the sole intention of getting him into trouble. She'd had her reasons: six-year-olds believe strongly in revenge– he'd tattled on her, but his intention had been to save her from getting into trouble (little Ziva had had the idea that she could go swimming in the reservoir all alone).

If Avram was still alive today and if he knew what Rivka had said, he'd be quoting that verse again, Ziva had no doubt.

But what would he say about Ziva's training? He'd been proud when she joined the Mossad, but he'd died before Ziva had been selected for training with Anaf Metzada. In any case, she wouldn't have been able to tell him about that. Rivka knew more than most of Ziva's uncles did; only No'am and Yakov knew the truth. The other three could guess, and they probably had, but it wasn't something spoken about. What would old Avram have said?

A vague memory camped at the edge of her mind, of a conversation between her grandfather and a man whose name Ziva couldn't remember. But she remembered his face, and his car: a World War Two vintage Willys MB Jeep. She remembered how Avram had walked around the vehicle, inspecting it while wearing a small grin. He'd said, Brings back memories. Remember my first driving lesson in one of these? And his friend had said, Just as well you were terrible– we needed you with the irregulars.

Ziva had to rack her brain for other memories of overheard conversations. Avram hadn't often spoken with her about his 'warrior days,' and when he'd shared those memories he'd been a dutiful grandfather and had made sure that whichever tale had had some sort of timeless message attached. Honor; loyalty; courage; above all, the application, in equal measure, of straight talk and common sense. What else Ziva had found out had come from Eli and her uncles, and others who'd known Avram better than she had.

The 'irregulars' had been a hundred or so Bedouin volunteers who'd preferred the idea of fighting alongside men like Yigal Allon, rather than fighting against him and the Palmach. Unlike the organized Pal Hai'b Platoon in the Galilee, the Jewish-allied Negev Bedouin took no pay and could take or leave any orders. Avram had been their leader, and he and a few other Mizrachi Jews had been the go-between agents for the Palmach. 'Missions' had been organized during relaxed conversations in the shade of black goat hair tents.

But long before he'd been asked by the Palmach to lead the 'irregulars,' Avram and several of his Bedouin friends had volunteered to serve with their enemy, the British, against a common foe: Nazi Germany and their Italian allies.

Unlike many other volunteers who were refused, Avram and his friends were sent to Tunisia, as spies. It had been noted by Allied forces that small bands of Bedouin roamed around without being bothered by anyone on either side, and some bright spark had gotten the idea that one of those bands could do a fair bit of intelligence-gathering. They were equipped with good camels, well-worn but fine rifles, ammunition, binoculars, and Avram was given a line-tap telegraph key, a code-book, a thick notepad, and a dozen pencils. That was it. They had no radio, and were expected to forage for meals and water. They were told not to get caught, and reminded that if they did get caught, all knowledge of their existence would be denied.

All in all, they were out in the Western Desert for more than a year. They reported on enemy positions, mine-laying operations, convoy routes, and anything else of interest. Then came the Second Battle of El Alamein, which marked Rommel's defeat. German Afrika Korps and Italian forces surrendered. Avram and his pals called their job done and went home.

An English officer in Tel Aviv had expected Avram and his friends to report to him, but they didn't. He had to take a trip to go and find Avram, who ended up telling him quite politely to stick both His Majesty's thanks and the offered medal. The officer just as politely asked for an explanation. Avram told him that his family had held their farm for three-hundred years, and had lived in Palestine twice as long; his Bedouin friends had lived there longer. He'd added, That's why we helped you to keep the Germans out. If you want to give me something, give me something to do. To which the officer had replied, My superiors might call me a traitor, but I suggest you talk to the Haganah.

That proposed conversation happened more than three years later, after the end of World War Two. By then most of the Haganah knew about one Avram David and his Bedouin pals, and their crazy camel tour of the Western Desert. Instead of being placed in a platoon and ordered to drill, Avram was passed on to a Palmach commander. That man proposed that Avram should come up with a variation of the crazy camel tour. Avram went away and talked about it with several Bedouin, who took the idea to their tribesmen. Less than a week later he was informed that he had a hundred volunteers.

That the Negev Bedouin 'irregulars' hated the British, despised the Egyptians, and had blood feuds with most every other tribe on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, certainly helped the Palmach. It was doubtful whether the Egyptian Army had ever realized that their defeat and expulsion from Be'er Sheva was thanks to information willingly (perhaps even joyfully) gathered by other Arabs. The Jordanians kept coming up short in every skirmish fought in the Negev, and though they might have guessed who was responsible, they never said so outright, because it would've been an embarrassing thing to admit to their closest allies, the British.

Besides intelligence-gathering, those Bedouin 'irregulars' had also been responsible for a fair amount of destruction. Sabotage was the name of their game: phone lines were cut, fuel dumps were blown up, vehicles were either stolen or damaged. They also provided the ever-useful skill of tracking, and Ziva knew that at least one party of trackers had neatly and lethally ambushed their quarry– not one of the enemy had walked out of that wadi alive. Her grandfather had been there that night, and he hadn't been a mere audience member.

Arab newspapers had called it a massacre, but there'd been thirty-five Egyptian troops, and counting Avram, only nine irregulars. The thirty-five Egyptians were a convoy guard on three truckloads of ammunition and weapons on their way to Be'er Sheva. If that convoy had arrived to resupply the garrison, in particular the twenty-five-pound field guns and six-pound anti-tank guns, it would've probably cost the lives of most of the Haganah regulars and Palmachnikim who were trying to take the town. There'd been no way for nine men, armed only with a few hand grenades, bolt action rifles, and one Bren light machine gun, to take those thirty-five men prisoner. In Avram's place, in time of war, Ziva would've given the same order: Don't stop shooting until they do. None of the Egyptians had tried to surrender; they fought to the last man, and they didn't go down alone. Two of the Bedouin were killed, and Avram and three others were wounded.

Avram had been no stranger to aiming a rifle at human beings, either from range or at close quarters. He'd also understood necessity. Ziva had known him as a quiet and gentle man, and a homebody, and she'd gathered that that had been an accurate description of him for most of his life. But necessity had sent him into Tunisia and Egypt, had sent him out into the Negev, on what others might have called adventures. He'd called them 'ventures of duty'—Ziva remembered that much quite clearly.

So what would he have said about Ziva's training and career? Other memories arrived to help her out. Avram had been the person who'd first taught her how to handle a rifle, an Uzi, and a handgun. He'd also made sure that his wife could handle weapons. Ziva remembered her grandmother telling this story: Jamila's father had arrived here one day, to find a Lee Enfield .303 pointing at him, and the person behind it was his own daughter. As a Yemeni Jew, someone with rather patriarchal ideas about life in general, Jamila's father had a few things to say about that. Avram had spoken up, pointing out the obvious: Jamila had been there alone, the sole defender of five small children (and she was pregnant with another), and not every person who came that way was a friend. He'd said, They're founding the State on the premise that everyone, man or woman, has to defend it and themselves. Look at Europe: if the Jews there, both men and women, had been armed, where would the Nazis be? Where, indeed. Jamila's father had dropped the argument. He hadn't been around when Avram had personally instructed all three of his granddaughters in the use of weapons. It's never good to kill, he had said. But if he's armed, then it's necessary.

Some of Ziva's marks hadn't been armed, but they'd been painted as targets for good reason. She never doubted in the necessity of taking them out. What would Avram have said? He'd said it years ago, when Ziva was just eight years old, and she'd repeated it many times: sometimes it's necessary to kill.

It wasn't often that Ziva cared about what others thought or said, and today she knew that her doubts had been spurred into life by Rivka's words last night. Ziva wasn't like that, was nothing like those SS butchers, and though she knew it, she was being very human in grasping for a little comfort. She still missed her grandfather, and today she was grateful that he'd been the one to first put a weapon in her hands. Ziva abruptly laughed to herself– that damn Lee Enfield. These days she wouldn't even notice the recoil, but when she was eight it had felt like she was being kicked, and being bumped right onto her butt from a bench (kneeling) position had been common in the beginning.

Her smile faded as another memory rammed away the amusing ones: Rivka's expression when Avram had told her in no uncertain terms that he'd be teaching her daughters how to shoot. The Army isn't soon enough? Rivka had asked. And Avram had said, Between now and then you might succeed in passing on your wrong-headed opinions. They'll learn to shoot and make up their own minds.

He'd known. Avram had known more than Eli did even now, and he'd known as much as Ziva knew as of last night. Thinking about it, that made sense. Avram had cornered Ziva on several occasions, and he'd managed to get her to talk about whatever was bothering her, no matter how personal or foolish she might have thought those issues were. He'd done the same, at some stage, with Rivka. He'd known, and if anything, Ziva thought more of him now than she had just moments ago. As she'd told her mother last night, Avram had never stopped caring about Rivka. He'd known what she thought, had known about the comparisons she'd drawn, and yet Avram's only word against her had been an insistence on teaching Ziva and Tali to shoot. And no wonder Rivka still resented him. It was neither accurate nor fair, but she probably saw Avram as the catalyst to Ziva's career with the Mossad.

Ziva muttered cusses under her breath, and remembered her mother arguing with No'am when he'd started to teach Ziva and Tali how to wrestle. She'd argued with Shimon when he'd taught Ziva how to throw a knife and a hatchet. Rivka had also argued against Yonatan teaching Ziva how to climb, but Ziva suspected that that just stemmed from a genuine worry that her daughter might take a fall. She wasn't about to tell her mother that the Mossad had found several uses for Ziva's climbing skills, and she guessed that Rivka probably hadn't linked climbing and the Mossad even once. Just as well. Ziva refused to allow herself to imagine what her mother might say about that mission last April, in Afghanistan. She doubted she'd be able to convince Rivka of the risk she'd taken: one sniper, alone on a bare mountainside, against more than ten armed men.

There'd be other missions like that. There'd be missions nothing like it, too. Shots from range, shots point blank, a blade, drugs, gas, a bomb, a well-planned 'accident,' or if necessary, her bare hands. Ziva accepted that, despite her mother's opinion. It came down to what she knew, without doubt.

As long as people were prepared to kill the innocent for selfish reasons, others had to be prepared to protect the innocent, even by killing.

There was nothing complicated about that, except the ways in which killing had ended up complicating Ziva's life, and her relationships with others. That was the price she paid, among others. Her mother might think that she slept easy, but she didn't: the nightmares were awful, and much more so just after eliminating a mark. Depression was something that walked with her on a parallel path, just waiting to jump the gap and get a proper grip on her, and it was only constant personal vigilance that kept Ziva from ending up with that particular monkey fully on her back.

She'd been warned about all of that, and more. She'd been given the standard period of six weeks to consider the potential emotional, mental, and physical consequences of accepting selection as a kidon, and she'd taken all six weeks to respond. They'd been six of the hardest weeks of her life. Rivka might think that Ziva had accepted the selection because that was what she wanted. Incorrect: she'd accepted selection because she'd felt, and still did, that she had no choice. She was considered a 'priority candidate,' someone possessed of every trait necessary to perform whichever task asked of her, and that included those traits that might give her superiors trouble. Her psychological assessments had pointed to a personality strong enough to disobey any order that struck her as being issued without moral grounds. Ziva had been tested in that respect, twice. In the second instance, only a last-minute intervention by Yuval Daron had saved the life of the person acting as her handler, who'd been the first to tell her that she'd done an excellent job. He'd added, There are too few people like you in this game.

That was why she felt that she didn't have a choice. She'd accepted selection without a single wish for deployment. She'd gone through the hell of training, which included being hacked (put through a mock operation where she was 'captured' and faced psychological torture), without any thought for reward. She'd had no choice, because people like her were few, and the rest were good at their jobs because they enjoyed them.

Ziva couldn't say that she hated her job, but she didn't enjoy that part of her job that involved sabotage, kidnapping, and killing. She felt nothing, neither sadness, nor anger, nor joy, nor even the slightest sense of satisfaction, when pulling a trigger or killing in whichever other way. She had no affect whatsoever. She thought about it later, considered her actions and their results when she had time and space to deal with the fallout. She was the perfect assassin, according to people like Yossi Gershom and Yuval Daron. Without affect, detached, adaptable to circumstances even if those extended beyond her current scope of experience, and yet still able to act according to a personal moral compass that enabled her to make decisions that allowed her to operate within her own boundaries.

Ziva had caused eyebrows to jump after her first solo op: two men had died instead of only one. Of the 'collateral damage' she'd said plainly, He was in my way. She'd been able to remove that man simply by hypothesizing what he'd have done to her if he'd known why she was there. There'd been no way to go around him. Instead she'd stepped over his dead body, and his boss soon went the same way.

Incidents like that had caused a few people to call her lahav kar—a cold blade, an intel community euphemism for someone who kills easily, without much forethought, and who isn't bothered by that. Yuval, Yossi, and people like Moshe Aretz knew better, and because of that they also knew that it was best to leave those lahav kar comments severely alone. It was easier for Ziva to apply the 'Suspect everyone' rule if most of those people were not her friends.

Moshe Aretz had once told McGee, You can be very good at something even if you aren't properly suited to it, and if, one day, you find that you don't really like what you're doing, you will hate it immediately. That is Ziva. Moshe was among those who called Ziva 'the perfect assassin,' but like Yossi and Yuval, Moshe was acutely aware that Ziva was not and never had been her job.

'The perfect assassin' was also a soft-hearted woman who'd lay her life down for anyone she cared about, and even for an absolute stranger. While she couldn't be called gregarious, she liked company, was a team-player, liked to be relied upon, and felt that good working relationships had to start with trust. None of that was available to Ziva as a kidon. Most of the other members of that unit feared and deeply distrusted the lahav kar whose father was the Director General of HaMossad. Ziva was better liked among her liaison colleagues in Anaf Tevel, but even there distrust lurked and waited to rear its head. That was why Moshe had suggested to Eli, Let her go. Her job in the States allowed her the freedom to be a team-player, but one who was always on-call for other duties, should she be needed.

And Ziva would've explained that to Rivka, if ever she'd been given the chance. Past tense. Yakov had guessed that Rivka had killed something in Ziva last night, and he'd been right. Ziva bit back tears at the realization that she was now firmly beyond that point where she cared to explain herself to her mother. There was no going back. Rivka had seen to that.

Ziva didn't want to be alone anymore. She got up, obeying an abrupt want for company. There was no-one in the kitchen. In her room, Ziva found Chaiya lounging across the foot of the bed, chatting with Jen, who was sipping from a cup of coffee.

"You got coffee in bed? Wow," Ziva drawled. "You are very, very well-favored."

"I'm just buttering her up, before I drag her into the kitchen to help with the cooking," Chaiya said.

"So I'm not so well-favored," Jen said, amused.

"Hmph. You ask No'am when last he got coffee in bed..." Ziva kicked off her sandals and parked on the bed next to Jen. "Chaiya, I will want a lot of things to do today."

"We're cooking for thirty people– is that enough to do?"

"Probably," Ziva said and lit a smoke. She glanced to her left and had to grin at Jen's expression. "Yeah. Thirty, three generations, ranging from age five to sixty-five. And what did Ranit get for her fifth birthday?"

"Not a helicopter," Chaiya said. "But she got a ride in one. That might've been a mistake, because she keeps asking when is she going for another ride."

"A cousin after my own heart," Ziva said.

"Maybe, but she's only five. I tell you, Gal is more and more like you every time I see her. And you can't call her 'Gali' anymore, because she says that's a 'baby name.'"

"Gal is fifteen, the eldest of the third generation," Ziva told Jen. "No'am and Chaiya's only grandchild... Is Itai ever going to get married?"

"If he can find a woman who'll put up with him," Chaiya drawled. "I love my son, but I don't know where he got his head from. Not from No'am, and certainly not from me. If he gives you and Jen any trouble, give him hell, okay? I said the same to Lilach and Meital. I told Itai the last time he picked a fight that I'm not going to play peace-maker. He can get what he gives. He sulked for a month."

"So he sulked, but did he stop poking people?"

"No..." Chaiya said, slowly shaking her head. "That's why he sulked, because Meital doesn't take shit. She gets on fine with everyone else in this family, and Itai hates it that nobody else is prejudiced the way he is."

"I think he also hates it that his very feminine cousin ended up with someone just as feminine. And gorgeous. Now there is me and Jen, too."

"Oh dear. Poor Itai," Jen said, giggling.

"But seriously, Jen," Chaiya said. "If Itai pokes you, let him have it."

"Honey, I'm used to putting men in their place, and I never hesitate unless they can get me fired. Itai is not in that position."

"And he will realize that really fast," Ziva said. "But Chaiya, maybe you want to tell him that today is a bad day to push me."

"I hope he'll listen," Chaiya said. "Then again... Yes. I'll tell him that the tone you just used was the same one you used when you told him to leave Naomi alone. He didn't listen then, and what happened? So maybe he'll listen today."

"Who's Naomi, and can I ask what happened?" Jen said.

"Naomi was Lilach's first girlfriend," Ziva said. "And okay, so no-one in this family except Lilach thought it would work—"

"Naomi is like Meital's complete opposite," Chaiya said. "Meital is very feminine, like Ziva said, and she's quiet—"

"Unless you make her angry," Ziva chuckled.

"Right," Chaiya said with a grin. "But Naomi's boyish and loud. She's lots of fun, and she still visits here; she's still like family, but she wasn't and isn't right for Lilach."

"But love is blind," Ziva said. "Anyway, Itai is a chauvinist, and Naomi is a very... capable woman—"

"She works in construction," Chaiya said, a smile lurking.

"Oops," Jen said, not bothering to hide her amusement.

"But even though Naomi is tough and has muscles, she has a very soft heart," Ziva said. "She hates to fight, and Itai likes to fight. So he used to poke her, verbally, all the time, and one day I told him to stop. He did not listen. I shoved him hard, and he landed on the floor, on his ass. I told him, 'Next time, I will punch, not push. Leave her alone.'"

"And he did," Chaiya said. "Since then, he only says 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' to Naomi. Itai is a chauvinist, but he isn't stupid."

"Lucky for him, because I meant what I said that day," Ziva said. "If I had punched his lights out, what then?"

"I don't think anyone else would've said anything against it," Chaiya said. "He had it coming for a long time. But maybe Itai would've called the police."

"I would not put that past him," Ziva agreed. "But maybe he would not like to tell a police officer, 'A woman beat me up.'"

"Hmph, yeah," Chaiya chortled. "I can see it. He calls the cops. The cops come here. But suddenly, Itai has nothing to tell them... My son. Where did he come from, the moon?"

"There are bits of him that match with us, but the rest... Lo yoda'at," Ziva said. Don't know. "But I must not speak: some bits of me may as well come from the moon."

"What bits?" Jen asked.

"She's more pragmatic than anybody else in this family, and she was like that even when she was a little girl," Chaiya said. "Even Avram was to a certain extent a dreamer. When Ziva was about ten, Avram said, 'Dream big,' and Ziva said, 'No, I'll just plan big.'"

Jen cracked up laughing.

"What? It made more sense," Ziva said with a shrug.

"Yes, my love," Jen said, amused

"Hmph," said Ziva.

"And that pragmatism is where all of Ziva's differences start," Chaiya said. "But unlike Itai, Ziva doesn't make her differences our problem."

"Because I have good manners," Ziva said. She poked Chaiya's knee with bare toes. "So you like my Jen, huh?"

"Yes," Chaiya said simply.

"Good, because we are all stuck with her for the rest of her life," Ziva stated.

"But it works out fairly," Chaiya said, grinning. "She is stuck with all of us."

"Jen, when you get the urge to run away," Ziva said, deadpan. "Tell me first so we can all plan where to go."

"Yeah, we'll have to vote," Chaiya chortled.

"It might take some time to reach consensus," Ziva said.

"Oh my God..." Jen said, laughing. "What've I gotten myself into?"

"Mishpachah," Ziva said wryly. Family.

"The Israeli definition thereof," Jen drawled.

People had started to arrive at ten a.m, were all present by eleven-thirty, and by twelve Jen joked that she needed name-tags. No problem for Shimon, Ziva's youngest uncle and the family's biggest joker. Everyone new to Jen got a strip of masking tape stuck to their shirts, with their name written on it in magic marker. The name-tags helped, as did a general familiarity with Israeli names. Jen was certain it would've been harder for her to navigate both a sea of new people and a tide of new names if she hadn't already come across names like Hadar and Ayelet, and Nadav and Yaron.

And then there was Itai, whose mother had clearly had a word with him. He was very polite to Jen, and just as polite to Lilach and Meital, but even more polite to Ziva. It was hard for Jen not to show her amusement whenever Itai appeared in the kitchen and tried to impersonate a mouse: not really doable for a man who stood six-foot-three in his socks.

"I think Chaiya... embroidered on that warning," Ziva said.

"Maybe a little bit," Chaiya said innocently, and checked on a lamb roast.

"You can say the same thing about embroidery and warnings," Meital said. "A stitch in time saves nine."

"That's more true for mending, not embroidery," said Leah, Meital's mother-in-law and Shimon's wife.

"Okay, now that saying makes sense," Ziva said. "Catch a hem when it first starts to come undone, and that saves fixing the whole thing later. Like that?"

"Yes, but that's not a saying for you," Leah drawled. "You only thread the needles when you must."

"Needlework is not my thing," Ziva said with a shrug.

"You do other things better. Are you going to play the piano later?" Leah asked.

"Yup," Ziva said.

"We keep forgetting to get your piano from the apartment," Jen said.

"They've got new lovers' amnesia," Meital told Lilach.

Ziva cracked up laughing, and Jen groaned, her face bright red.

"Ziva, your girlfriend's face is clashing with her hair," Lilach giggled.

Jen found the funny side and laughed hard about that. She didn't mind when the rest of the women and a few of the men arrived in the kitchen and demanded to hear the joke. She noticed a change, one clearly brought about by the realization that this American woman could take a joke and a bit of teasing. Even Itai relaxed a little, which was saying something. When the American decided it was time to put an end to various individuals' struggles with English, and switched to Hebrew, Itai was quite taken aback. Others were more impressed than surprised, one being Eitan, Yonatan's eldest son, who had just one word for Ziva:


"That is slang," Ziva said in English. "'Ten!' means 'top marks.'"

"I got it," Jen said. "And don't worry. I won't use it and embarrass you by sounding like a 'teenager.'"

"What did she say to get that reaction from you?" Chaiya asked.

"Ani meta alayich," Jen said before Ziva could. You're to die for.

"Ya-Allah…" Ziva groaned. Oh God

She got no sympathy. She was in fact ragged mercilessly, and to top it, the crowd in the kitchen endeavored to teach Jen every bit of popular Israeli slang they could think of. At some point Jen glanced Ziva's way and was pleased to see that her smile was genuine, and relaxed. There was still a tightness around her eyes, though. Jen wasn't foolish enough to think that a little laughter could fix the damage done by Rivka last night. She had an idea that nothing would fix it.

But some things could at least ease the hurt. After lunch, with the kids and some of the adults, Ziva was dragged into a game of one-goal soccer. The game confused the hell out of Jen– the single 'goal' was a gap between two plastic chairs in the middle of the 'field,' and Eitan was the only keeper. He had to keep an eye on the ball or end up with a goal being scored literally from behind his back. One of those sneaky goals was scored by Ziva, and Eitan took mock-umbrage, which resulted in a bit of wrestling and much laughter as the kids piled on top. When Ziva eventually managed to extricate herself from the heap, her smile was bordering on happy.

Eli took a seat next to Jen and offered her a smoke. She checked out the brand: Time, even worse than Noblesse.

"Thanks, but I pass," Jen chuckled. "Too strong for me."

Eli nodded and lit up. He gestured towards the one-goal soccer game.

"She gets knocked down, and just gets up. Not even my father was that strong."

"Last night Yakov guessed that she got her won't-be-beaten genes from Zara."

"Maybe," Eli said. "But Zara once told me that in several ways she was beaten, and remained that way. She never married, and we can guess why. All it takes is one monstrous man to make a woman believe that all men are monsters, even if she doesn't want to think so. But Ziva? There is no man who could leave her 'beaten' like that."

"He'd be a fool to try," Jen said quietly.

"True... And Rivka knows that. But I think she also knows that if anyone could scar Ziva in a lasting way, it's her mother."

"Listen," Jen said seriously. "I've promised her that I won't go anywhere near Rivka, but you're—"

"You must be aware," Eli insisted, looking Jen in the eye. "And you must also be prepared to break that promise. I pray it won't happen, but one day you might need to confront Rivka... This morning I suggested that Ziva should walk away, permanently. She refused. And where does that leave people like you and me? There are times when it's better for us to fight her battles. She might be angry with us, but that's better than her getting hurt in a way that scars forever."

"That's already happened," Jen muttered.

"More than once, yes. I made up my mind this morning– I'm not allowing it again."

"I don't think you ever 'allowed' it. I don't know Rivka, but my impression is that she isn't easily dissuaded from whatever she wants to do or say."

"So then I must steal a march on her," Eli said. "Act preemptively."

"Eli, you and Ziva are only just starting to get along," Jen said. "You might jeopardize that relationship, and that's another kind of hurt. Do you really want to take that risk?"

"I can't just do nothing," Eli muttered.

"My gut says that no matter what you do, or I do, Rivka is going to hurt Ziva again. There's sweet F-A you and I can do, except help pick up the pieces."

"As Ziva would say, it sucks to be us," Eli said.

"Sometimes," Jen said and shrugged. "But I'd rather be me than someone who doesn't know her."

"Sap," Eli chuckled.

"Guilty as charged," Jen muttered, and blushed a little.

Yossi Gershom and Yuval Daron arrived after most of the family had left. While the blood relatives had made Jen feel very welcome, Ziva's adopted uncles made Jen feel rather like an amoeba under a microscope. She didn't really mind, because the purpose behind their grilling was to judge Jen fit for their Ziva, who didn't interfere. Yakov eventually took pity on Jen and told the two curmudgeons to leave her alone.

"Hey, we have to check," Yuval insisted.

"Hmph. He talked you into this, huh?" Yakov jabbed a thumb in Yossi's direction.

"Ulai," Yuval mumbled.

"Maybe, my ass," Yakov said. "Yossi, you told me already that Jen's the best—"

"Professionally, yes," Yossi said. "But this is personal."

"And since when don't you trust Ziva's judgment?"

"She made three bad choices before now," Yossi said.

"Tagid li, mi ata: zaken o z'kenah?" Yakov demanded. Tell me, who are you: an old man or an old woman?

"I'm eight years younger than you, old man," Yossi said.

"So act like it," Yakov said with a grin. "I'm telling you, Jen's stuck with all of us. Even you two. God help her."

"You make us seem so bad," Yuval complained.

"You two manage that by yourselves," Yakov drawled.

He strode out of the kitchen, leaving a wordless silence interrupted only by the soft rumblings of the dishwasher. Jen was trying hard not to laugh, and by now her face wasn't anything like straight.

"We're not as bad as he says," Yuval insisted.

And Jen cracked up. It was a while before she was able to turn the tables. Her version of 'grilling' Yuval and Yossi involved asking about Ziva as a kid, as a teen, and as a young adult. She'd been asking similar questions for most of the day, but from these two she got a slightly different perspective. Also, some interesting 'intel.'

"She was fifteen the first time she asked me about being accepted by HaMossad," Yuval said.

"She only talked to us about that," Yossi said. "Us, and Moshe Aretz. Ziva kept it quiet, because she knew that Rivka would argue. Eli would've argued, too—"

"But Eli's argument would have made sense," Yuval said. "It's a hard job, and dangerous; sometimes it's a spirit-killing job."

"Yeah, and Rivka just hates the community, so her argument... But anyway, Ziva only told us, and we told her what she needed to do to make the grade. There's this kid, fifteen, doing all her regular schoolwork, and on top of that she takes language course after language course."

"If that wasn't enough, she talked a friend's father into teaching her how to fly a Cessna. She got her fixed wing Light Commercial license when she was seventeen."

"And the acting classes," Yossi added. "We told her that she'd get those classes during training, but no, she took some ahead of time. A lot more serious than acting: she'd gotten the Krav Maga basics from No'am, but she went to intensive classes three nights a week. Rivka hated that, but it was around that time that No'am and Yehuda, in particular, started telling Rivka to leave Ziva alone. By the time Ziva was eighteen, she had reached instructor level in Krav Maga."

"All of that self-driven preparation told us that she was suited to it, here—" Yuval tapped his head. "I have not met anyone better, psychologically."

"She's better than me," Yossi stated. He paused before saying, "And then Tali was killed, and we wondered... We thought maybe that would screw up everything for Ziva, but she managed to view the event as a singularity: the bomber killed Tali, and the bomber had also killed himself."

"She isolated cause-and-effect, and that neutralized the expected urge towards revenge," Yuval said. "If she had not managed that—somehow: God only knows—then she would not be working with HaMossad today. She wouldn't have made it past even the first psych eval."

"She told me that No'am and her other uncles went out the night after Tali's funeral," Jen said. "And you two pretty much held Eli hostage."

"We could not stop No'am and the others," Yuval said. "We could and did stop Eli, and that saved his career."

"And whatever No'am and the others did, they must live with," Yossi said quietly. "Yakov refused to go, at first, but he ended up driving a vehicle. I've never asked, I never will. But I do know that no report was made in any paper of a death, or someone gone missing, on or around that night."

"But they found the bomb-maker, somehow," Yuval said. "The Bedouin here probably talked to their friends and relatives in the North, and they found him, and they all got lucky and he was an illegal."

"No-one reports the death or absence of an illegal immigrant, because that involves admitting that you knew he was illegal, or you harbored that person– you can go to prison for that."

"They probably killed him," Yuval said, matter-of-fact. "And I doubt he died hard. A bullet to the head is quick, painless. But to kill in revenge... It took months for any of them, even Yakov, to look anyone in the eye."

"Ziva said she took that to heart," Jen said.

"Yes, but like I said, she isolated cause-and-effect," Yuval said.

"And she did that before No'am and the others went to get revenge," Yossi added.

"She proved her maturity then, but really, she was most of the way grown up at about twelve," Yuval said. "Dealing with Eli and Rivka's fights, and Rivka alone, and her maternal grandparents... And just being aware of the threats to this country. She used to sit here in this kitchen with the newspapers, Hebrew and Arabic and English, when she was ten."

"She liked to compare reports about the same event, and pick out the inconsistencies."

"And then she would drag the adults into a big debate."

"She still does that," Jen said, smiling. "So her intel-gathering and investigative skills showed up even then."

"I don't think she linked up the investigative side of things until she went to work with NCIS," Yossi said. "But yeah, that side was there, too."

"She will find a way to put all of her abilities and skills to work," Yuval said. "By the time she retires, there won't be anything she hasn't used. Ziva was born to serve."

"But without being subservient," Yossi said. "And that's not an easy combination. She's a servant who must also be her own master. That's why she's better suited to the intel game than service in the military, because even the very relaxed chain-of-command in the IDF doesn't allow enlisted people and officers the kind of scope given to an intel operative. In the military, your scope is limited by your command, branch, and field assignment. In the intel community, your scope is limited only by your abilities."

"And what Ziva knows is that HaMossad will use her," Yuval said. "They will use her until she is all used up. That might sound bad to people outside of our community, but to someone like Ziva it sounds perfect: she will always be useful. Now she's serving two countries? I think she is in her own strange kind of heaven."

"Except for her current desk job," Jen drawled. "She hates her office."

"She will find a balance, when they give her more to do," Yuval said. "She gave me examples of what she's doing, and I thought that I had better not say anything. Why? I wanted to say that if I'd known she would be so good at negotiation and mediation, I would've recommended her for a liaison assignment in Tevel right from the start."

"She would've kicked your ass, even over the phone," Yossi chortled.

"Exactly. Good thing I'm not stupid," Yuval said. "But really, what she's doing now is important, and she knows that. So she hates the desk and the office, but she doesn't hate the hat she is wearing now."

"Far from it," Jen agreed. "She didn't have as much liaison work to do with NCIS and ONI—"

"Because we've always had a rather good relationship with them," Yossi said. "Not even the Pollard incident screwed that up, because by then our relationship with them was something set in stone. When we said that we never asked for what Pollard sent us, ONI believed us."

"ONI took a lot of heat, from your people," Yuval said. "At one point, the director of the FBI, at the time, told ONI brass that they should cut all ties with us."

"That would've been stupid," Jen stated flatly.

"Yes. Only fools throw away good relationships."

"Good old relationships," Yossi said. "We first established lines of communication with ONI during the Cold War, but even before that, the Mossad and US Naval Intel operated on a platform of trust built through lots of personal relationships. We developed our own liaison protocols by studying the successes ONI achieved through their protocols."

"The most important thing we learned from them: you can be friendly without ever sucking up," Yuval said. "Then you have the CIA, and they've always had this superiority complex. It's better now, but sometimes Eli and others have no choice and have to tell Tevel to go suck up, mostly to individual operatives. The FBI was the same, until recently."

"Ziva's got big ones," Yossi stated. "Everyone else tried to ignore the negative people in the FBI, and the ones in the Mossad. Ziva? On both sides, she weeded them out, steamrolled them, and used them like a doormat."

"You used the past tense, but that's still happening," Jen said. "Just before we left the States—literally just a few hours before we got on the plane, Ziva shut down the mediation process focused on a particularly... stubborn agent. He was summarily dismissed with half benefits, and he's not going to be able to fight that ruling. When last I checked, she had nearly thirty mediation cases left. So, present tense: weeding, steamrolling, and using them as a doormat."

"And like I said, she has big ones," Yossi said with a grin.

"I think it's just her particular brand of dugriyut," Jen said. —Israeli directness. "She's all about efficiency and results, and she worked it out that the best way to get her job done is to be as direct as possible. If someone is a problem, she labels them as such and she and her team work out how to deal with that person. If they respond to mediation efforts, they get something akin to kid glove treatment. If they don't respond, she steamrolls them. What impresses people is how fair she is. There was one guy who said in mediation that the reason why he keeps screwing up is because he's just not suited to the job assigned to him. Ziva agreed and put things in motion to get the man reassigned. That's nothing like steamrolling."

"No, and it also doesn't require 'big ones,'" Yuval said. "Just common sense."

"There's still a lot of courage involved," Yossi insisted. "I think it helps that Robert Grace decided to take a direct interest, but even so, Ziva isn't doing things the American way and that makes space for bad feeling to come in."

"But like I tell Robert, at least once a week, I am not there to be liked," Ziva said, and took a seat at the table. To Jen: "Did these two give you the third degree?"

"Until Yakov changed the subject, and I turned the tables... Sort of," Jen said.

"Ah. You gave them the third degree about me, huh?"

"MmmHmm. I'm not about to get tired of that," Jen said.

"And I suppose I have to put up with it," Ziva said.

"Of course," Jen said, smirking.

"I love you, too," Ziva grumbled.

"So," Jen said, looking from Yossi to Yuval. "Do I pass muster, gentlemen?"

"Yes, with a polish, even," Yuval said.

"He said it," Yossi said.

"Now you have got all the gold stars," Ziva told Jen. "We already know what Moshe thinks."

"He told us, Jen's great," Yossi said.

"But we had to check," Yuval insisted.

"You two..." Ziva said, exasperated.

"Hey, it's your fault that we love you," Yuval said.

"On that point we'll never disagree," Jen said.

Ziva blushed and might've objected to all the mush suddenly present, but an accidental glance at a wall clock reminded her that this time last night she was feeling less-than-loved.

She'd told Gibbs not so long ago that Jen was the only person who loved her as-is. While that was true when it came to lovers, it wasn't entirely true when it came to family, blood or otherwise. Yossi, Yuval, Moshe, Yakov, and No'am—No'am in particular, were all men who'd never wanted Ziva to be anyone but herself. The rest of her family worried in ways that caused Ziva to build small walls between them and herself. Even Chaiya was kept at a small distance, because that was the only way that Ziva could put aside Chaiya's concerns and get on with her job.

But here she sat now, at a table with the only lover who loved her as-is, and two men who had only ever wanted her to be herself. They, too, loved her as-is.

Ziva relaxed and didn't object, even when Yossi launched into a particularly embarrassing remember-when-she-was-ten story. When he'd finished telling his story, Yuval and Jen were in stitches. Ziva grinned bashfully and bore it.

After all, as the saying went, 'You only tease the ones you love.'

On their fourth day in Israel, the sun had been hidden by thick clouds and before eight a.m it had rained softly and steadily for a couple of hours. Jen caught the itch: every few minutes she found herself hoping that it would rain again. She hadn't forgotten that peculiar Israeli happiness attached to rain, a rare commodity in a desert country. Ha'yoreh, the first rains, had fallen a couple of months ago, but the novelty hadn't nearly worn off and even Ziva, who was by now used to comparable oceans of rain in D.C. and surrounds, was caught up with that itch: We had one rain shower. Will we get another?

If it did rain again, they'd be soaked. Jen could count the number of times she'd ridden a horse. She knew how to stick on, mostly. Her mount was an older mare, one not likely to decide that bucking might be fun. Ziva was riding Tafas again. They'd left the farm by a gate and were making their way across government-owned land, towards the mountains.

They'd been riding for about an hour when they both gave up hope for more rain anytime soon. The clouds had broken up into a high mackerel pattern that threw dappled shade. Wherever the sunlight touched down it caused raindrops to flash like jewels on grass stems, mitnan thickets, and the occasional stunted elah tree. Ziva identified plants for Jen and described their traditional uses. Mitnan is still harvested by the Bedouin and used in rope-making, but as Ziva pointed out, the thickets hereabouts hadn't been selectively thinned in a long while.

"When I was a girl," Ziva said. "Every winter, I used to be able to ride for only an hour, and find my Bedouin friends. These days? Now I must drive for an hour. There is no camping allowed on this land anymore, and no harvesting allowed of mitnan or elah resin. At least it is somewhat fair: no-one, Jew or Bedouin, is allowed to use the plants or camp here, but that is still one of those laws meant to try to keep the Bedouin in one place. The politicians keep expanding 'natural areas' and no camping zones. And where the Bedouin have decided, 'Okay, we will just stay here then,' the government turns around and says, 'We do not recognize your choice. That is an illegal settlement. No, we will not help you with infrastructure.'"

Jen didn't comment, mostly because she didn't know enough. What little she knew as fact revolved around sedentarization plans that sometimes worked, but more often backfired. Nomadic peoples like the Bedouin generally don't like to be pinned in one place. It takes several generations for them to get used to the idea, and along with that comes a loss of cultural and ethnic identity.

"The trouble is," Ziva went on. "This is a very small country. If, for example, the borders included the Sinai Peninsula, there would be no restrictions placed on the Bedouin at all. But here, in the Negev—" Ziva threw an arm wide, gesturing at a scrub-and-sand plain and mountains. "It looks like so much, but it is not. Just a few herds of goats and camels can strip all the vegetation in only a few years. So the herds are not allowed, and the wandering around has to stop. I hate it, but I accept it, and even though I hate it, I can call government-built Bedouin towns like Rahat and Hura somewhat successful. If my grandfather was alive today, he would never accept it. He would be fighting with politicians every waking minute. Before he died, about half his time was spent writing nasty letters. He had been doing that since Nineteen-forty-eight, when so many Bedouin were expelled into Sinai and Jordan."

"Did those letters have any effect?" Jen asked.

"Sometimes. Shame can sometimes be a powerful weapon. He started writing letters about some very distant cousins of one of the Bedouin fighters who had died while helping the Palmach. Those cousins had been kicked into Sinai in Nineteen-fifty-something, and by Nineteen-eighty, who the hell knew where they were? But no, Grandpa Avram wrote letter after letter, and each one became harsher and harsher, and eventually some politician contacted the Egyptian government: 'Please go find these people.'"

"And did they find them?" Jen asked.

"It took nearly two years," Ziva said, and leaned forward to pat Tafas' neck. "They found them, and the two sides of the family started writing to each other. The Israeli side eventually packed up and left. Sinai is a dangerous place, but no-one there stops the Bedouin from moving between summer and winter grazing places. The ones who really do not want to settle in towns here sometimes make that move, to Sinai, or Jordan, and sometimes Syria. They risk a lot, and they give up a lot, like good medical care, and welfare assistance, and education."

"But they get to keep their culture alive," Jen said.

"Yes, and that is why they go," Ziva said. After a pause: "So far it has not been a fun vacation, and here I am talking about depressing things."

"Reality is sometimes depressing, yes," Jen said. "But I like knowing what you think, and what concerns you. Besides, if you suddenly started indulging in escapism, of whatever variety, I'd call Doctor Heller."

"Other people might object, but for me? That is good to know," Ziva said seriously.

"Got your back," Jen said with a smile. "Just the same as you've got mine."

"Always," Ziva agreed. She pondered the word for a while before saying, "I am pretty damn sure we can make that word a reality."

"Always? Yes," Jen said with quiet confidence. "There's the last three-and-a-half years to go on, but we have a longer history than that. Even though we didn't know each other very well, whenever our paths crossed we just... gelled. It works. This works. We'll have to purposefully break it before it doesn't, and my love, while I'm sure we'll both screw up occasionally, neither of us is the kind of idiot who sets out to break what she cherishes most."

"I cannot imagine being that kind of idiot," Ziva said. She might've said something about her mother, but chose not to. Instead: "I want this to work. I cannot remember wanting anything else like I want this relationship. And I know that I do not often talk about this—"

"You have to talk? Ziva, you just look at me, and I know."

"Yes, but sometimes..."

Ziva paused and reined Tafas into a turn. She urged him forward and drew rein, halting him so that she was knee-to-knee with Jen, facing her, with their mounts' noses pointed in opposite directions.

"Sometimes actions alone are not enough," Ziva said. "I remember the first time that I told you that I love you. It had to be said, even though I knew that you knew. Actions had spoken loudly, as the saying goes, so you knew, but words have power, neshamah. I told you that I love you, and you began to fall for me, a little bit. Look where we are now."

Ziva matched Jen's smile with one of her own, and she leaned over and kissed her.

"I am not about to give up that kind of 'language'—"

"You'd better not," Jen chortled.

"I am not crazy," Ziva said with a grin. It faded after a while, and she said, "So I was saying that sometimes words are needed. But there are no words, in any language, for what it means to have you here with me. I have brought no-one else home; I said the other day that no-one else was worthy. That is the truth, and my heart is telling me that there will be no-one else but you... Well, you warned me that you would cry."

"I did," Jen sniffled, digging in a pocket for a tissue.

Ziva kept her peace while Jen dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose. Those were happy tears. When Jen cried for unhappy reasons, it broke Ziva into little pieces. She thought about that and gave a mental shrug: small price to pay for all the rest. There were so many pros that the short list of cons may as well have been a nonentity.

"Okay?" Ziva asked eventually.

"Perfect," Jen said, smiling.

"I think so, yes, but I am not the only one. We had that big lunch, and my uncles and aunts-in-law, and most of my adult cousins all told me, individually, like each of them was the only keeper of a big secret, 'Jen is the one for you'… And it does not hurt that they also think you are 'the one' for all of them."

Jen snorted a laugh. Ziva smiled and gave Jen's hand a squeeze.

"Chaiya told you about my from-the-moon pragmatism," Ziva said. "But I have a few dreams. One day I will go climb the Matterhorn, and instead of worrying all alone, you can come here and live the dream you made real for me. We will ignore my mother—"

"And Itai," Jen drawled.

"And Itai," Ziva said. "So we ignore them. You came here, and made a dream come true: all my family loves you... Nothing short of miracles and wonders are required to make me happier."

"Good thing I brought a pocket pack of these damn things..." Jen mumbled and liberated a fresh tissue.

"Those words needed to be said, yes?"

"In a render-me-utterly-speechless sort of way, yes," Jen said.

"I will probably go back to just looking at you, for a while," Ziva said, her grin cheeky.

"And sometimes the way you look at me renders me speechless, too," Jen noted.

Ziva gave a small shrug. She pressured the left rein and wheeled Tafas away from Jen's mount. They'd used their horses as armchairs for long enough. Time to head along the trail again.

"All my reasons for looking at you like that..." Ziva shrugged again. "Like the song says: Ahavat chayai hen at, ahavat olamim." Love of my life, you are my everlasting love.

"Ziva, I love you, and I love that song, too, but it's addressed to 'Chavetzelet HaSharon,'" Jen said. —the Rose of Sharon. "That's you, not me."

"It fits you better– you have red hair," Ziva said, amused.

"Hmph. The sand daffodil is thought to be the Chavetzelet HaSharon, and just FYI, it's white. But besides, even the Sages couldn't agree on what kind of flower it was. So who says it was red?"

"Me," Ziva said. "Roses are red, violets are blue, and Chavetzelet HaSharon is you."

"Don't give up your day job, darling," Jen giggled.

"I could try to be both warrior and poet. It was once very fashionable."

"The fashion died. Did you ever wonder why?"

"I am hurt," Ziva said, but her face was nowhere near straight.

"I'll kiss it better later," Jen chortled.

The last Chanukah candle had been lit last night, which, on that other calendar governing most of the world, had been Christmas Eve. If Jen hadn't set a reminder on her phone, she might've forgotten to call her mom on Christmas Day. Ziva asked about the alarm (at around four p.m), and promptly wished Jen a merry holiday. She wasn't the least bit apologetic about having forgotten, and Jen wasn't offended.

They were flying out tonight, going back to all things North American, including Christmas decorations and all the rest of the commercialized holiday hype that was almost inescapable. Jen wasn't looking forward to it. Christmas in Israel, or rather, the near complete lack of Christmas, had been refreshing. When Jen had worked here the US embassy had never skipped Christmas. She was sure that if she were to drop by that embassy today there'd be carols playing and tinsel all over the place and a fully decorated tree displayed in some can't-miss-it spot, like the lobby.

"What are you frowning about?" Ziva asked, while packing her bag.

"Christmas decorations," Jen drawled. "When I worked here I also had to work on getting out of that embassy so that I could learn at least a little about this country. That wasn't a habit common to my colleagues."

"Embassy work is only fun if you are posted someplace on your wishlist. You wanted to come here. I think that many people at that embassy, and every other embassy, just want to complete their assigned terms, and go home... I am all packed now."

"Same," Jen said and zipped her bag shut. "I still see the sense in your insistence that we should only spend five days here, but frankly, I would've been quite happy with a flight that deposited us in D.C. just ten or so hours before the start of a workday."

"Do not tempt me," Ziva chuckled. "Good thing it is too late to change our flights."

"We'd never get a flight in the next two days," Jen agreed. "Still, I really don't want to leave."

"We will be coming back. In July. And I will prove to you that you can leave a frying pan in the sun for a while, and then fry an egg in it. No flame needed... I can hardly wait for that. Not the egg thing. That wonderful dry desert heat. I miss it so much."

"And we're going home to snow and below-zero temperatures," Jen noted.

Ziva pulled a face.

"I think we'll make a point of spending a couple of recharge weekends away in Florida this winter," Jen said.

"I am sure that even one weekend with no snow and no freezing cold will be enough to 'recharge' me for about two months. I am considering this trip as a recharge. Add one more weekend away, and that will be perfect... Last winter was really bad."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"There you go again," Ziva chuckled.

"Where'd I go?" Jen said, confused.

"You forgot that last winter we were not a couple."

"Oh. I do that often..."

"Mmm, and it is very endearing." Ziva checked her watch and picked up her bag and a carry-on daypack. "Yallah, neshamah."

"Alright already," Jen grumbled.

"You sound like a teenager again."

"I do not," Jen protested, ignoring Ziva's giggles. "I sound like a mature adult who'll miss several people here."

Jen hefted her bags and followed Ziva out the room.

They'd left packing until the last minute on purpose: no dawdling now. They went straight out to Eli's car, where Ziva and Jen collected hugs from No'am and Chaiya. Yakov was going along to the airport, and this evening Eli was driving. He tapped his watch.

"It's easier to leave if there's a rush, yes, but we can't cut it too close."

"Dammit," Jen grumbled.

"Go, go. Don't make me cry," Chaiya said.

"Me, too. I look terrible when I cry," No'am said, grinning. "Send us an email when you get home."

"We will," Jen said and got into the car. "You two come visit soon."

"When there's no snow," Chaiya promised.

Jen nodded and shut her door, and Eli backed out from under the carport. No-one had said the word 'goodbye': so that's where Ziva got it from. Jen had been happy to pick up the habit. She shifted in her seat and looked out the back windscreen. Chaiya and No'am were making their way into the house, without looking back. Jen sighed heavily and turned eyes-front again. Next to her, Yakov reached over and gave her knee a gentle pat.

"Wait and see," Yakov said. "You'll miss us less when your Skype contacts list suddenly grows and everyone wants to talk to you at the same time."

"Yeah, that. Exactly," Ziva said. "Now you know why I do not mind the time difference. But expect to wear a headset often over weekends."

"I really and truly won't mind that one bit," Jen said.

Washington D.C.

Snow and below-zero temperatures, Jen had said. They got out of a taxi and grumbled the short distance to their front door.

"The house probably isn't going to be much warmer than it is outside," Jen muttered. "We turned the heat almost right down before we left."

"Hmph," said Ziva and opened the door. She took a step inside and stopped. "Huh."

"What?" Jen said.

"The house is warm, and someone put all the mail on the hall table."

"Oh. I forgot about that," Jen said and closed the door.

"What?" Ziva said, hauling off her coat.

"Gibbs dropped by this afternoon, so he must've turned on the heat."

"And why was Gibbs here?" Ziva asked.

"The small matter of your Chanukah gift, and I'm so glad I ordered the damn thing in September. They only finished it four days ago."

"Okay. I just stopped being curious and became suspicious," Ziva drawled.

Jen closed the hall closet and slipped her arms around Ziva's waist. She kissed Ziva and drew back to offer her a cheeky grin.

"I could so easily make you forget about being suspicious."

"That would be cruel and unusual," Ziva complained. "I mean, it is bad enough that you chose to wear that sweater—"

"You gave me this sweater. You didn't want me to wear it?"

"Not on an airplane full of people, where I could not help you out of it."

"There's nothing stopping you now," Jen said innocently.

"But now I am all... distracted about this suspicious gift," Ziva said, her tone equally innocent.

"Touché," Jen muttered, but she was amused. "I'll meet you upstairs."

Ziva's only comment was a smug grin. Jen rolled her eyes and went to fetch the gift. She had to unlock a couple of doors to get it. She set off to the bedroom, but halfway up the stairs, she stopped and muttered about the weight of the damn thing. Carrying the bag by the handle was making her shoulder ache. She cradled it in both arms instead.

The bedroom was empty when she got there. Ziva was in the bathroom. Jen parked the bag on the bed. She sat down and waited for Ziva, who ended up staring at the soft rifle bag for a while.

"You carried one of these things up a mountain? Are you nuts?" Jen drawled. "It was hard work just coming up the stairs."

"There is a Chandler in that bag?" Ziva mumbled.

"Three-thirty-eight Lapua. All yours," Jen said.

"Thank you!"

Ziva kissed Jen before opening the bag.

"That grin says it all," Jen said, smiling.

"Yes. We are going shooting as soon as I have dealt with all the registration stuff. And I need to make adjustments. I must also get a reloading jig for three-thirty-eight—"

"It's downstairs, and Gibbs hand-loaded a hundred rounds for you."

"I must thank him for that."

"He said that the deal is he gets to come along to the range and spot for you. I thought he'd say something about wanting to take a few shots, too, but he didn't."

"The adjustments to the cheek-piece on the stock, and to the bipod, will be just-for-me. And I can see already that I must reduce the butt-pad segments to match my reach. Those adjustments will not fit Gibbs, and that is—"

"Okay, I get it. Are you going to wax lyrical about gunsmith-y things all night? I thought you wanted to help me out of this sweater."

"Talking about this rifle all night could be considered fair payback for the whole month I spent listening to you 'wax lyrical' about your new Mercedes."

"I walked right into that one, didn't I?" Jen said, laughing.


Ziva zipped the rifle bag shut and stowed it in a closet. It would be okay there for one night. Bolted to the back wall of the same closet was a pistol safe. When asked for them, Jen tossed Ziva a bunch of keys. A Glock and a SIG were placed on two separate bedside tables: back in the States meant back-on-the-job, even if that wasn't officially true until day-after-tomorrow.

Ziva dropped the magazine from her pistol and checked the loads. That was an automatic thing. She did it every night before placing the gun under her pillow, even if she'd just cleaned it and emptied and reloaded the mag.

"Your mood has changed," Jen said quietly.

"That silly suddenly homesick feeling," Ziva muttered.

"It's not silly, love."

"But it helps to call it silly. Helps me to boss it, make it smaller, so it hurts less... I thought it would be different, mostly because when I went home to deal with Chadad, and came back, I did not feel like this."

"But I wouldn't call spending a couple of nights at Eli's apartment 'going home,'" Jen said. "And there was work to do when you came back. You didn't have time to feel more than you did."

"You also fixed it with falafel, and hummus, and schug," Ziva said, smiling.

"And there was that, yes. We'll do some cooking tomorrow?"

Ziva nodded and sat on the bed while she unlaced her sneakers. As Jen had said, Ziva's mood had changed. She wanted to apologize but knew better– Jen would give her a lecture.

Not much later, while Jen slept tucked into her side, Ziva lay awake in the dark thinking about other occasions when she'd felt this way. She'd come to this house and up to this room, often in the small hours of the morning. It wasn't any different, now that she and Jen were lovers. What Ziva wanted now was the same as it had been many times before: company and contact, and Jen's quiet and simple acceptance that Ziva needed emotional space, even while sharing personal space. Tonight Jen hadn't said much before they cuddled up in bed, and she'd settled to sleep as soon as the light was turned out. Just like the old days, Ziva thought, and ended up rolling her eyes at herself. The 'old days' had been a bare four months ago, and they were nothing like 'old days' in another way: so little had changed between them.

Ziva had said something like that to Chaiya, and had received a confused look in reply. Ziva had explained, without missing a beat, that the addition of sex was wonderful, but it wasn't a big deal. The 'big deal' lay in the deepening of her relationship with Jen, brought about not by sex, but through an increase in emotional intimacy, not that Ziva had thought that was possible. Their level of mutual trust had been absolute for at least two years by now, and somehow that level had been surpassed. That was a really big deal, but it didn't rate as a change. Going further down the same road had altered the scenery somewhat, but it was still the same road, the same friendship, 'Just with... more,' as Ziva had told Jen not so long ago.

She'd also said to Jen that she wouldn't be able to explain it to anyone else. She'd managed to explain some of it to Chaiya, some but not all, and Ziva hadn't been willing to try and explain the rest. She hadn't given that much thought at the time, but over the last two days her thoughts had looped back, and had given her an answer. At the end of the day, some aspects of her relationship with Jen would only make sense to the two of them: it wasn't worth trying to explain to anyone else.

There was also some general reluctance to explain. Ziva had a lot of time to give to people like Chaiya, or Jen's mom; there were also few of Gibbs's questions that Ziva wouldn't answer (not that he asked many questions). Tony knew better than to ask, and Ducky, McGee, and Abby reckoned that they had enough 'intel.' Most everyone else? Ziva just could not be bothered. They could get the short and truthful version: "We were close friends, then we fell in love, and here we are." Ziva suspected that Jen might be willing to tell a longer version, and that was okay. Ziva wouldn't mind. However, she suspected that her lover might also stick to the short, truthful version because that would fit her to a T– Jen was a very private person.

Ziva smiled at a memory, an old one– the first time Jen had told her, I'm actually a very private person. Ziva had been twenty-one, and thirty-seven-year-old Jen had said that and had sounded rather confused, just three days after they'd first met. At that point they'd spent about an hour alone, if that. The conversation had somehow drifted off the professional path and onto the personal one. Jen had been alone on the roof; she'd told the crew that she was going up there. Ziva had tagged after her. She'd been homesick that night...

Before she could hold it back Ziva laughed quietly, but not quietly enough.

"You okay?" Jen mumbled.

"Sorry that I woke you. A memory amused me."

"Tell me?"

"Do you remember the first personal conversation we had?"

"Yes, even though I'm half-asleep," Jen drawled. "What I remember most was being shocked that I'd talked like that with a practical stranger."

"Yeah," Ziva said, rubbing Jen's forearm. "It was dark, but I could hear that surprised expression. Do you remember why the conversation became so personal?"

"My love, I remember that conversation every time you're homesick."

"This relationship started there, that night in Cairo."

"I'm so glad it did," Jen whispered.

"I am, too," Ziva said. And after kissing Jen's forehead, she added gently, "Tishni, ahuvati." Sleep, my love.

The End



Israel: 'Complicated' Doesn't Come Close


To paraphrase Ziva's uncle Yakov:

And people outside Israel think that the only complicated aspect of Israel is the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

When outsiders write about Israel, many of them often employ an almost criminal amount of simplification, no matter what they write about, be it the people (Jewish Israelis, Israeli-Arabs, and Palestinians—three main groups, several smaller ones. Not only two, hello?), the food, the history, or Israeli politics, and the reason for that is Western-minded rationalization. Those writers try to force Israel and Israelis to fit into a Western box, and whatever just will not fit is either blatantly ignored, or viewed as something alien, incomprehensible, and—often—therefore wrong/bad.

Israel is neither North America, nor Britain, nor any country in Europe. Israel is a country like no other, Israelis are a people like no other. They should be viewed with an eye towards learning about something different, instead of trying to cram both into a box labeled 'Israel: simplified to our specifications.'

This section of the post doesn't cover everything. Bear that in mind while reading, and consider as well how much I have covered here. This isn't nearly everything... Complicated place.

Try to describe Israel in just one word, and 'Complicated' doesn't come close. Fasten your seat-belts.

HaGalut – the Jewish Exile

There is this very strange notion that the Exile was something complete: in 70CE Rome said, "You're conquered and also banished! Get out!" and every Jew obediently left the Levant. WRONG. The Romans only tossed the Jews out of Judea, and banned their presence in Jerusalem, which ban was in place for about 30 years. Why have a 30-year ban on Jews entering the city, post 70CE, if there were none left? Right.

More evidence? Tons. In 614CE there was a revolt in Jerusalem, led by Benjamin of Tiberias (yes, that really pretty place in modern day Israel), Gen. Nehemiah Ben-Hushiel, and their Jewish army. They moved in, and kicked the Byzantines and Christians out. The tables turned on them the following year, and some 30,000 Jews were massacred by Heraclius. Thirty-thousand? Didn't they all leave in 70CE? No, and not even wiping out 30,000 Jews effected a complete removal of Jewish presence in the Levant. Bounce ahead nearly 500 years and look at another city. Haifa was a focal point of the First Crusade in 1099CE. Defense against Crusader soldiers was mounted by the city's Jewish population. There were a lot of Jewish defenders, enough to hold the city against some 15,000 Crusader troops, as well as a naval onslaught, during a siege that lasted nearly 6 months. Back to Jerusalem. Also during the First Crusade, Jewish soldiers fought alongside Muslim soldiers to keep the Crusaders out of Jerusalem. They failed and the Crusaders either put to death or banished nearly 5,000 Jews. During the Third Crusade Jews fought alongside Saladin's Saracen troops, and conquered Jerusalem in 1187, taking it back from the Crusaders. Saladin actively recruited Jewish men, wherever he found them. Smart guy: they were very angry Jews by then.

There are also the many efforts of return prior to the rise of Zionism, starting with 100 rabbis from England in 1210, who made aliyah to Jerusalem to serve an extant population of Jews in the city. A Mizrachi and Sephardi community existed in Hebron for more than eight-hundred-years, until the Hebron Massacre of 1929. I could go on, and on, listing reference after reference that points to a constant Jewish presence in the Levant after the 70CE Exile.

But the above is forgotten history, especially among Diaspora Jews. 'History' for them is, "We all had to flee," and that is the 'history' brought back to Israel. This Makes Israel Complicated, because Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews make up the majority of Israel's population, and the majority of Mizrachi Jews in Israel came from other Middle Eastern and North African countries. In other words, the "We all had to flee" 'history' overrides and overpowers the histories of those Jews who've lived in what is now Israel for a helluva lot longer than the period beginning 1808 (Perushim Aliyah, the people who would become the Old Yishuv).

It's hard to find them, because by the time of the First Aliyah (1882 to 1903), constant persecution had reduced pre-Old Yishuv Jewish numbers to probably less than 5,000, and possibly less than half that. These days it's easy for many Israelis to say, "They never did exist," because it's not often that any of them speak up. In the 2.5 years that I lived in Israel, I met up with exactly one old man of about 80 who said, "My family never left, you know," and my ex girlfriend (Sabra, but of Jewish Iraqi descent) listened in stunned silence to a history of several hundred years, a history not taught in Israeli schools.

My personal opinion is that this is a problem. Ignoring that history makes it shockingly easy for anyone to say that the State of Israel should not be recognized as such. The largely unwritten history of constant Jewish presence in the region is a stronger argument, and one inestimably less contentious than the religious argument made to defend Israel's right to statehood.

Fruit of the Prickly Pear

Hostile and prickly on the outside; soft and sweet inside: Tzabarim, the Sabras. The modern definition of a Sabra is simply 'an Israeli born in Israel.' The old definition of a Sabra is... well, it's not simple.

The Sabras' parents were immigrants of the First Aliyah who began to arrive, in trickles, from 1882 until 1903. They arrived in a land that didn't want them, and that—at first—had little to do with the Arabs and the Turks, and had almost everything to do with the environment. They were socialist Jews who came from Europe, Britain, and the Americas, and very few of them had seen a desert before, let alone lived in one. The Turks and the Arabs had already settled all the nicer, more habitable parts of the country, and these Jewish immigrants of the First Aliyah got a delightful choice between swamps and the wilderness. They took the desert first, and by the time the first Sabras were born, they were working on draining those swamps.

When the Second Aliyah began to arrive around 1904, the Sabras were adults. This was when they were first called 'Sabras,' and it was an insult: many of the Second Aliyah Jews were cultured Ashkenazim, and they looked on the very rough-and-ready first generation Israelis, and their parents, with scorn. Of course, the people tossing insults found all too soon that if they didn't become rough-and-ready quickly, Eretz Yisra'el would kick their asses in several ways. Those of the Second Aliyah who stuck it out started to think of themselves as Sabras as well, but to their chagrin found that any Ashkenazi newcomer used 'Tzabar!' as an insult against them, too.

Thanks to the formation within the Haganah (precursor of the IDF) of the Palmach (precursor of Israel's modern sayarot—special forces units), 'Sabra' became a badge of pride. Most of the soldiers who served in the Palmach (both men and women) were Sabras. Ask anyone over 65 in Israel, "Who won the 1948 War of Independence?" and they'll say, "The Sabras did." This is not the same as saying "We did," which is what younger Israelis will say. People aged around 65 were babies and young kids back then, and they grew up with their parents telling them, "The Sabras won the war."

The original image of the Sabra was one of a mature but fun-loving young person; it was one of someone tough and capable, but also sensitive and intelligent. A Sabra was someone who did manual labor on a kibbutz, and after a hard day, they joined their friends around a fire to talk and laugh and debate. A Sabra was also a soldier, someone virtually fearless, someone willing to make any sacrifice to defend their homeland, family, and friends.

But they weren't without faults. The first Sabras were intolerant, to varying degrees, of anyone they perceived as weak. The list included intellectuals, almost every city-dweller, and new immigrants (it was probably a Sabra who first called Holocaust Survivors 'Sabonim—'Soaps'). In this the first Sabras inadvertently saw to it that their image would change in the eyes of others: the new immigrants objected to being viewed as weak, and during the Seventies the term 'Sabra' was used again to mock them.

The term was eventually reclaimed, and tamed. 'Sabra' is what any born-in-Israel Israeli will call themselves, and most don't attach the original image to the term. Instead it just means 'I'm an Israeli,' and it fits whoever they are, rather than them trying to fit the old mold.

The New Jew

There's nothing new about this term. It's as old as the first Sabras, and both the concept and the attitude have made Israel what it is today.

The Old Jew was (in some places still is) someone who kept a low profile and didn't make a big deal about being Jewish. They believed that the world was out to get them (in many cases it was only the whole town, but dead is dead: may as well have been the whole world), and they felt that it was just best to accept the existence of antisemitism, because to fight against it was to make trouble for all Jews.

The New Jew, no matter where they live, looks at the above and says, "Fuck that noise."

In Israel, back in the days of the First Aliyah, the concept of the New Jew came with baggage, mostly a lot of resentment and plain old fed-up-ness. They were sick and tired of persecution, sick and tired of putting up with that, and also sick and tired of religion. Many were socialists who had rejected religion in favor of secularism. For some, religion was seen as the very thing that had caused them to be persecuted in the first place. The smarter folks saw it a different way: even if they quit being practicing Jews, even if they changed their names and moved a thousand miles from home, someone somewhere would figure out that they were Jewish, and that would be enough for them to spit, throw a stone, take out a knife, or aim a gun. These smarter New Jews modified their very strict religious practices to include only whatever they felt they didn't want to give up. They were Jewish, practicing in their own way, and those New Jews who'd rejected religion were respectful of that.

Two kinds of New Jew, but with enough similarities to work well together. Once in Palestine they would tell each other, "We're the New Jews. Let them come—anyone! Let them come. They'll get a surprise they'll never forget." They were fighters to the core, filled with the suppressed rage of centuries of oppression, and to put it in a nutshell, they were done with taking shit. But they didn't go out and start fights. Instead they put their energy into the land, and from a desert they created a garden.

Whenever trouble came around, they were ready, and unforgiving. At the same time they were averse to absolute violence. If they caught a thief in the act, they just chased him away, because the thief had come to steal, not to kill, and to kill that thief was to commit murder. There was no law in the land, and no-one, not even the Turks, would've held them accountable for killing a thief. They held themselves accountable to themselves, and referred simply to the Ten Commandments, which was Law even when there was none.

Later this idea of personal restraint against violent reactions, like revenge against Arabs for attacking civilians, was to become official policy in the 1930s in the form of HaHavlagah—'The Restraint.'

Vus-vusim and Sabonim

These insults were not only applied directly, i.e., against refugee Ashkenazim and Holocaust Survivors. They were also generally directed against the concept of the Old Jew, and the inherent weakness that the New Jews saw in that concept.

When European refugees and Survivors began to arrive by their thousands, some might have thought, "More of us! Now we can really defend this land!" But that was not the case. Setting aside the general physical weakness suffered by many, caused by starvation and illness, the refugees and Survivors had fled to what was then British Mandatory Palestine because they had nowhere else to go. Most had not gone there with the idea of adopting the New Jew mentality. All they wanted was some safe place to live, and they intended to make a new home that resembled, as much as it could, their old home. This included 'living quietly,' and definitely did not include being roused at 2 a.m, accepting a loaned rifle, and going out to join a skirmish against some angry Arabs.

These Old Jews objected when, in 1949, the First Knesset announced that military service would be mandatory. Behind their hands, the New Jews made comments about smart politicians who'd made it impossible for those Old Jews to shirk their national responsibility.

These days 'Vus-vusim' is something still heard, but often it's the more relaxed kind of Ashkenazi Israeli who will jokingly refer to themselves, their family, or Ashkenazim as a whole as 'Vus-vusim.'

'Sabonim' has, thankfully, been mostly consigned to that dungeon named 'the Shameful Past' (I say 'mostly' because when I was there I had yelling matches with people about that word). In Israel today Holocaust Survivors (those few who still survive) are rightfully honored, and the Holocaust itself has been rightfully etched into the Israeli national identity, even among those ethnic groups of Jews who were not at all directly affected by the Holocaust.

Holocaust Consciousness

In Israel Yom HaSho'ah—Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed by law, and was first signed into law in 1953. It begins at sundown (as does every day in the Jewish calendar) on 27 Nisan, and flags all across the country are lowered to half-mast.

At 10 o'clock the following morning, sirens throughout the country wail for two full minutes. During this time, except for emergency medical procedures and ambulances bearing patients in need of urgent care, most everyone stops what they're doing. In factories machinery that needs human supervision is shut down (wise shift bosses start telling people to turn off their machines at around five-to-ten). People stand stock-still in major supermarkets. Traffic on major highways and lesser roadways slows to a stop, and people get out of their vehicles. Everyone who can stand, stands at attention, and barring the sirens there's silence for those two minutes.

I've yet to meet anyone who happened to be in Israel on Yom HaSho'ah who didn't use the phrase "Very moving" when describing those two minutes; I've also heard the word "Unforgettable." That's the whole point: mandatory stop, stand, and think about +/-6 million lives snuffed out, and never forget.

In Israel you'll find Jews from as far away as India and China, and in the other direction, from North and South America. Closer to Tel Aviv, there are Jews from North Africa and many Middle Eastern countries. They're not from Europe, and most of them were not directly affected by the Holocaust as it happened.

But in Israel, the Holocaust belongs to every Jew.

This wasn't always so. Pre-1980 the ideas surrounding the Holocaust were that it belonged to the Survivors and their children. The Jews who'd come from North Africa, parts of the Middle East, and elsewhere felt that they should honor the memory of the Six Million, while also feeling that it was something apart from them.

It was artists in the Sephardi and Mizrachi communities who changed that. They wrote and performed plays, and wrote novels and poetry about the Holocaust, that encouraged their communities' interaction with that memory in new ways. They had a lot in common with those Survivors: they were refugees and immigrants, and during their first years in Israel, Survivors had been considered weaklings by the extant population, while the Sephardim and Mizrachim had been considered the 'other.' Survival was not a thing that had stopped when they'd all arrived in Israel; pain was not something that ended when they got off the plane or the boat. The grandchildren of Survivors and grandchildren of Sephardi and Mizrachi immigrants are the ones who today all claim the Holocaust as collective memory.

Holocaust consciousness is the ongoing creation of collective memory; a living, growing memory of memories belonging to others. It's shared, almost like a burden, but one that's an honor and a duty to bear. The concept that it's shared, without consideration for one's ancestral roots, is hard to accept until one hears a 16-year-old Yemeni boy say with absolute conviction, "The Nazis wanted to kill all of us, but we are still here."

In Israel Holocaust education starts young, and the best way to teach little kids about something awful is to keep the information simple: "There was a man called Hitler who didn't like all of us Jews. He said bad things about us, and he made all of his people hate all of us, too. They killed a lot of us, but the rest got away. Today, we're still here, and we must always remember, so that bad things like that don't happen again." It's only when kids are about 11 or 12 that geographical and ethnic details are spelled out, but by then they've been told, "We must never forget" so often that the memory is collective, and an integral part of the Israeli identity.

An Israeli child born today, almost 70 years after the last Survivor was liberated, will eventually become a witness to the Holocaust, through education. By the time that child is an adult aged around 30, the last of the Survivors will be gone. There will be no direct connection to a massive aspect of Israeli identity. To keep hold of the collective memory, and to keep it alive, the Holocaust must belong to every Israeli. And it does.


One can't talk about Israel without discussing the importance of kibbutzim. They were home to many political figures in Israel's baby days, and helped to shape the country. Even though they represented around 3% of the total population, kibbutzniks made up an average 15% of Knesset members in the 1950s through the late 1970s. There was and to some extent still is a great deal of pride in the old kibbutzniks– they might've been old school, but people like Yigal Allon and Shimon Avidan and hundreds of other Haganah and Palmach Sabra heroes were born and raised on kibbutzim.

The Kibbutz Movement cannot be compared to anything else, anywhere (although it's slightly related to the smaller Moshav Movement). It essentially ensured that Israel would become agriculturally self-sufficient in almost every respect. The kibbutzim provided enough to feed the local population, as well as enough left over for the government to sell and trade. Some kibbutzim also combined small industries with agriculture. One that many will recognize is Naot Sandals, which is now an international brand, but had its start as a tiny factory on Kibbutz Ne'ot Mordechai, in 1942.

But kibbutzim are no longer what they used to be. As they prospered kibbutzim started to change. The socialist ideals that had driven their creation were replaced by ideas that revolved around freedom, and that included the freedom of members to make their own decisions. Socialism was gradually replaced with modest capitalism, and the idea of privatization took root. Kibbutzim all over Israel started to re-purpose their land with the idea of making a profit. They built factories alongside their dairies, and guesthouses next to their cotton fields. They also branched out bravely into the relatively unknown: fish farms in the Galilee, and parrot farms in HaSharon. Making more profit reduced their reliance on government subsidies, freeing up more capital for personal allocation.

Kibbutzniks started to earn real paychecks, enabling them to buy their own toasters, instead of sharing one, and (shock!horror) they bought those toasters without asking permission of the rest of the members! I witnessed several arguments about toasters, TVs, and even one about a garden hose. It took months for this sort of response to die away: "But we should ALL have decided if you can get a new toaster!"

Foundations of the IDF

The IDF's roots lie in the Haganah ('Defense') which was, at first, an illegal underground defense force during the British Mandatory Period. It was formed when various Jewish leaders came to the conclusion that the British were doing their best to ignore Arab attacks on Jewish civilians (shooting at or throwing grenades at people working the fields was the commonest form of attack at the time). To start, the Haganah was a very rag-tag operation that consisted of kibbutzniks, both men and women, who at least knew the dangerous end of a rifle from the safe one, but were untrained beyond that. They were armed with whatever could be found (read: stolen) or secretly manufactured. At the time the ratio was 1 firearm per 12 people. Not at all well-equipped.

For 9 years the leaders of the Haganah found it difficult to convince folks that they needed support, in terms of finances, materiel, and volunteer personnel. The general Jewish attitude toward the Haganah's existence changed over the course of 6 days, during the 1929 Palestine Riots. Arab mobs stabbed or beat to death 133 Jews and injured another 339.

The Riots convinced the Jewish population that the Haganah needed support. Hundreds of Jews around the country 'signed on,' and a lot of money was raised in a short period of time. Within just a few months of the Riots, supplies of small arms and ammunition found their way into Palestine, and into Jewish hands.

Now armed and determined to mount their own defense if necessary, the Haganah focused on remaining prepared, for whatever. That turned out to be offering to help the British to defend Palestine during the 1936–1939 Arab Revolt. This was an opportunity to see action and learn, and it was also to prove to the British that here was a force that should be utilized. They never officially recognized the Haganah, but they made use of them by forming Jewish police forces, and that crazy SOB (hey, he used to walk around starkers! I don't care if he's an Israeli hero) Col. Orde Wingate trained up several groups of Special Night Squads.

As the Nguni saying goes, don't teach a dog to bite if you only want it to bark. The British had helped to teach the Haganah how to bite, and they wouldn't be convinced of returning to barking only.

It's important to know about the Haganah before even looking at the IDF, because the Haganah cemented so many of the idiosyncrasies that make the IDF unique in the world today.

Sir?! What do I look like, an American?

In general, informality rules in Israel. Informal speech, informal dress, informal everything, including the very informal IDF.

Picture this: a group of camped soldiers doing the hurry-up-and-wait common to any soldier when there's a war on. If Ramatkal (Chief of Staff) Benni Gantz arrives, it will be assumed that he wants some horrible coffee, a smoke, and to chat about the possibilities of action tomorrow. He'll be called Benni, and because he's tip-top brass maybe those soldiers will refrain from calling him 'achi'—'brother,' but they won't treat him like anyone special. Unlike American top brass, Benni Gantz and other high-ranking IDF personnel carry weapons when in the field. If that high-ranking officer is infantry/paratrooper (Gantz is the latter), should an attack occur, instead of ordering soldiers "Forward!" they will yell, "Acherai!"—"After me!" and lead their personnel to meet the threat. This is evidenced by the (shocking to American officers) high officer casualty—dead and wounded—rate experienced whenever Israel mounts land-based operations.

Don't look for an example like that anywhere else in the world. You might find one in history books, though. The last time an American general led a charge was in the Civil War (Pickett at Gettysburg, though seeing as he was one of very few survivors of that charge, and wasn't even scratched, I suspect he 'led' from the rear).

So what's the reason for all this informality, even with the brass?

Look back to the Haganah. Most everyone in the Haganah was either a socialist, or agreed with many socialist principles, primarily the one that holds that everyone is equal. The idea of raising one person higher than the others through rank was something that reeked of the bourgeoisie. The ideas of rank that most people had at the time were either European, British, American, or Latin American, and in all examples available, rank represented a distinct and immovable separation between officers and enlisted. To just about everyone in the Haganah, that idea was unacceptable.

As the Haganah developed, and its numbers grew, the more apparent need for officer ranks surfaced. People who'd voluntarily taken the lead in logistics and general staff matters were assigned ranks; those who'd proven themselves to be fair and natural leaders in the field were also assigned ranks. At the same time, those people were reminded, "Don't ride a high horse, friend."

Field officers led from the front, and given the real danger that they could be killed or wounded, everyone in whichever unit was taught how to take command, what orders to give, what messages to send back to the nearest command/logistics post. Officers who didn't pull their weight could be demoted on the say-so of their units. Every officer had to make sure that they remained proficient in first aid, that they were fit and up to doing whichever physical task. And during combat, officers were not permitted to separate themselves from their units in any way. They slept in the same place, ate the same food, suffered the same hardships.

I was describing expectations of officers in the Haganah, but that last paragraph could well be a picture of the IDF today.

IDF officers rise through the ranks. Everyone starts at rock bottom, in tironut—basic training, and after that, for about five or six months they're watched like hawks by people looking for those with leadership qualities. A formal evaluation follows, and in non-combat units promotion comes mostly with a nod: he/she makes the grade (but it's still really hard to make that grade). In combat units, the 'lucky' ones are asked (very innocently) if they'd like to be included in a junior command course. The smart ones say no (fast). The not-so-smart ones jump at the opportunity... only to find that they bought themselves a ticket to hell for the next 3 to 5 months of rotating command exercises in the field. If they pass evaluation, they can be proud of their corporal's stripes. If they want any rank higher than that, they have to earn it.

In all branches and all fields, from staff to combat, further evaluation might mark some NCOs as having officer potential, but potential isn't enough, not in the IDF. Evaluation—the dreaded sosi'ometri 'test' which no-one can pass by studying because someone else writes it—includes interviews with the candidate's unit-mates and commanders (in the IDF 'commander' means 'any higher rank,' including NCOs). If the candidate manages to run that particular gauntlet, they're then asked if they'd like to attend the officer's course. If they say yes, they have to pass physical, psychological, and theoretical exams before being admitted to Bahad 1, the IDF officer training school. Bahad 1 is a bit like West Point, except that West Point Greys go there with zero military experience (uh-uh, don't even think about citing military school/JROTC as 'experience.' There's a massive difference between playing soldier and being a soldier). Many West Point cadets actually aren't suited to command, and often that's only discovered when they're in command positions. Not everyone passes at Bahad 1. If they do pass, the men and women they command can be almost certain that they're in good hands.

But even the guy/gal who passed top of the class had better not try riding a high horse. He/she won't get any respect for that. Israeli officers—especially combat officers earn respect, by proving that they're not above anyone in their unit. IDF officers prove that by taking all the same risks their units do.

You don't call someone like that 'Sir.' You call him, 'Achi'—'Brother.'

Competency Culture

This... This isn't even really called that. It's only something you can come to grips with by living and working in Israel for a minimum period of 3 months. Go there on vacation and you'll never encounter it. It's the reason for many a kibbutz volunteer's early departure to elsewhere, fast. Too fast: if they'd given things a chance and asked the right questions, they might have changed their minds about leaving. "Prove-it mentality" is what I've also heard it called, and proving it (that you can do whatever task) is all about earning trust.

It has its roots in the Haganah where many of the volunteers were quite young. The Haganah was an illegal underground army. If the British had caught any of them they would've been charged with general insurrection, something that carried a 25-year prison term. More importantly, anyone caught would've been questioned. The Haganah commanders had to trust those young people not to give up any of their friends or superiors. In general, getting caught might also mean that people would die, because if word got out that the British were onto an underground Jewish network of whatever variety, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem would very likely incite the Palestinian Arabs to violence.

Competency culture is strong in the IDF, where no-one gets a promotion without proving that they should. To give someone a command rank is also to assume that they can handle the responsibility and additional duties that come with rank. That said, the Israeli prove-it mentality makes a good deal of sense...

...except if "Prove it!" is attached to such mundane tasks as washing dishes and scrubbing toilets. Thing is, to paraphrase my friend Hagar recently said to me, things like washing dishes and scrubbing toilets are a necessary part of everyday life. They have to be done. Better still, they're not difficult to do and therefore hard to screw up, which makes them the perfect sort of start-out job for a new and unknown person.

For a new volunteer on a kibbutz, the trick is to do whatever job you're given without complaint, and do it to the best of your ability. That looks like "New person is a good worker," and once you've convinced your volunteer supervisor of that, you'll be told about other work allocations and asked what you'd like to try next. 'Prove it' again at the next job, and if you find that you don't like it, just say so, and as soon as a spot opens up in another work allocation, you can go try that job.

That's competency culture at work. It's not nearly a bad thing, but foreigners who've experienced it and haven't asked about it call it the worst thing about Israelis. I call that privilege: strangers expecting to be immediately trusted with important jobs, like looking after babies or driving a quarter-million-dollar tractor, is nothing but privileged thinking.

'Proving it' in Israel, in whichever way, is the easiest way to earn an Israeli's trust.

Granny just told me I asked a she'alat kitbeg!

IDF slang pervades Israeli society. Except for those who have a disability, or are religious/conscientious objectors, or who find a way to get out of service, everyone in Israel goes to the army or into the police and other security forces. And then there's long-term reserve duty for most men and a few women. Slang Tzahali is a language unto itself. It follows soldiers home and generally becomes a permanent part of their lives, and many young people pick up most of it before they're drafted.

A she'alat kitbeg is a 'kitbag question,' referring to a stupid question that produces a highly undesirable result, usually asked by a tza'ir—rookie soldier, in this way: "Must I run the obstacle course with my kitbag?" to which a corporal or sergeant will probably say, "No, but seeing as you suggested it, RUN THE OBSTACLE COURSE WITH YOUR KITBAG!"

So if Granny said, "She'alat kitbeg" her granddaughter probably asked something like, "You said I must wash the dishes; Mom said I must tidy my room. Must I do both?"

About Daughter's boyfriend, Mom might say, "Chikmuk"—"Slob."

Dad comes home and complains, "We had so much work to do today, but Moshe was acting all shvizut Yom Alef"—"—broke-dick Sunday." Shvizut Yom Alef is the Israeli equivalent of the Monday blues, very common to all soldiers, both male and female, who come back from weekend leave.

Big Brother comes home and sees Sister washing the dishes. She's about to whine about it, her expression very unhappy and pouty, and he says, "Eizeh partzuf tachat..."—"What a butt-face..."

I could go on and on here, and I never was in the army. Many of the slang words and phrases any long-term visitor will learn have their origins in the IDF.

Siege Mentality

If you live in a country like the States you might worry about crime, but you're not thinking about when next a rocket will be aimed at your house, or when next the bus you're riding will blow up. There's nothing over-dramatic about that sentence. While many Israelis don't actively think constantly about those issues, they are constantly subconsciously aware.

By the time an Israeli child is 5 or 6 they know to report any suspicious object immediately: it might be a bomb. By the time they're 10 they know how to work with others to prepare their home or school against a chemical warfare attack; they also know how to put on and take off a gas mask, and they know how to perform that task for younger children and also for old people. The levels of personal responsibility given to an Israeli child of 10 by far exceed the personal responsibility levels of an average 25-year-old American student.

And then that kid grows up and goes to the army, where they're taught to be even more responsible.

Siege mentality is a way of life in Israel, and it has been a constant way of life for most of the state's existence.

That's most of the reason for Israelis always being in a rush, their pushiness, their terrible driving, and the next item on the list.

Tagid li dugri.

Bear in mind that this is coming from a white South African raised by parents with a rather British attitude towards manners and behavior. I say 'Please' to my dog (well, actually, I say 'Bevahkasha' because he's not fond of English. But I digress), and I've been known to say 'Thanks' to doors for closing properly.

So I know from manners and being polite and behaving with decorum.

Frankly? That sentence adds up to superficial bullshit, that is less about consideration for others than it is about making sure that one comes out looking like the better party.

And that sentence is an example of dugriyut.

Dugriyut—Israeli directness is either appreciated, in full or in part, or it's written off in the oft-repeated, oh-so-boring, "Israelis are rude!" The only thing I found 'rude' about Israelis was the habit of pushing into queues. Everything else? Nope, they're not rude, they're just direct.

Are they loud? Yeah, because someone who speaks quietly does so to signal that they're not feeling well (or at any rate, it will be automatically assumed that something is *wrong* with them. This definitely extends to naturally quiet-spoken people... none of whom are Sabra Israelis. Loudness is in the water, or something).

Are they inconsiderate? NO! Far from it. If you're travelling in Israel and your car or motorcycle breaks down, or your bicycle throws the chain, someone will stop and help you. If you walk out of a supermarket and your shopping bag breaks, several people will help you pick up the spilled contents, and commiserate over anything that's spoiled. If you look pale and sickly someone on the bus will ask if you're okay. None of those examples demonstrates anything like inconsiderate behavior. However...

Are they pushy? Yes. Why? See above, re: siege mentality.

Are they outspoken? Definitely. They're very direct, speak their minds, express their opinions, and if an issue is important they prefer to have a conversation arba einayim—with four eyes/face-to-face with you. In European and American circles this can seem like confrontational behavior, but the only thing that Israeli is confronting, is the issue at hand. They might be talking loudly, but that's just the Israeli way. This is a common example– American/Brit yells back, "Why're you shouting at me?" And with shoulders drawn up, hands spread, expression confused-bordering-on-hurt, the Israeli says, "Why are you angry with me?" If an Israeli is mad at you, they'll swear loudly at you. Until the swearing starts, they're not angry.

Dugriyut is tied to siege mentality, to the idea of dealing with things right now. It also has roots, as do many other Israeli traits, in the military where young soldiers are encouraged to talk things out and keep the air clear, because that's best for group dynamics. And they've got the chutzpah, the gumption (or as the British would say, "The nerve!") to feel that they have the right to be direct. Which they do. The US Constitution guarantees every citizen the right of free speech. Americans choose to couch that speech less directly (sometimes). Israelis choose to talk straight, and they expect that in return.

"Tagid li dugri"—"Tell me straight."

The Ashkenazi Superiority Complex

Please Note: For the purposes of simplification, I'm adopting Israeli shorthand. 'Ashkenazi' refers to Jews of broad European and Russian origin, and not only those who once lived in Germany or close to that country.

At base, the Ashkenazi superiority complex is discriminatory in nature, and some even say that it's racist. Sephardim and Mizrachim are of Spanish, Middle Eastern, and North African descent, and have darker skins, whereas Ashkenazim (after centuries spent in European countries where the sun shines only when it feels like it) are pale-skinned. Personally, while acknowledging and, as you'll find, calling out the racist element, I don't view the problem as one that's based solely in racism. There are too many other contributory factors besides "I'm white and you ain't."

But judge for yourself. And believe it or not, what follows is a simplified look at the issue. This is a big section because one cannot hold a valid opinion on Israelis without having at least a basic knowledge of the Ashkenazi superiority complex and its effects on other ethnic groups in Israel.


A full 50% of Israeli Jews are of Ashkenazi origin. There have always been more of them than anyone else, and on the whole their demographic is wealthier than the other ethnic groups in Israel (Sephardim, Mizrachim, and several smaller groups). Nowadays there are more working class Ashkenazi families, but not so long ago the middle and upper classes in Israel were almost completely dominated by Ashkenazi Jews. Many of them were very proud of that; some still are, but that is less and less tolerated in Israel these days.

Sephardi and Mizrachi Israelis have made broad inroads into the formerly Ashkenazi-dominated fields of politics: in 1977 the Sephardi-dominated nationalist party Likud wiped the floor with the Ashkenazi-dominated labor party Mapai. Big business is also no longer the reserve of Ashkenazim. That long-held Ashkenazi ivory tower called academia is also starting to get a mottled coat of fresh paint (but that particular 'paint job' is a slow process. Too slow).

And in general, younger generations of Israelis are ignoring their parents and grandparents, and making friends with, and also marrying whomever they choose; those marriages are causing ethnocentric divides to become narrower by the year.


The Ashkenazi superiority complex is strongly felt within Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities, where ethnocentric divides between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredim are vast and almost impossible to bridge. The funny thing about that is how much the Ashkenazi Haredim have borrowed from the Sephardi Haredim. Without getting into specifics, a number of important minhagim (religious customs) practiced by Ashkenazi Haredim are of Sephardi origin, because, as any observant Ashkenazi Jew will say, "They're more authentic!" So is the ethnocentric divide between the two groups logical? Logic? What manner of fish is that, and from which planet? You will never argue logic between any two Haredi groups. Logic is a nice serviceable grey; they argue in black, and white, nothing in between. And often they do so in the Knesset.


Ashkenazi superiority regarding language has its roots in the idea that Ashkenazi society was a superior, cultured branch of European society. Those who voluntarily went to Israel before WWII grabbed Modern Hebrew like a lifeline, and learned to speak it eagerly, but they hung tight to whichever European languages as well. It's telling to look at nonfiction, fiction, and poetry written by Jews already living in Palestine– one finds so many books written in German, Hungarian, English, and other European languages. Some cite the problems of printing in Hebrew characters... Elek!—Yeah, right! The earliest book printed in Hebrew has a printer's mark dating it to 1487. No need to make excuses: just as I write in English because I can better express myself in English than in Afrikaans, Zulu, and Xhosa, so those pioneering Ashkenazim wrote in their mother tongues instead of Hebrew.

But the matter of language was complicated and compounded by post-WWII Ashkenazi refugees and immigrants to Israel, during the few years before statehood, and following that into the 1950s. Those Ashkenazim who fled Europe because they had nowhere else to go were many of them observant Jews. They actually didn't like it that their 'Promised Land' had been founded on rather secular ideas, but they couldn't really say much about that– as said, they had nowhere else to go.

In the Ma'abarot, the post-war refugee and Holocaust Survivor Ashkenazim separated themselves from everyone else, and they resisted speaking Modern Hebrew.

They missed their old homes in Europe, and language was what helped to keep their memories alive. Except for Yiddish which was a tongue of their own invention, European Diaspora Jews had willingly adopted the languages of the countries they lived in, and these were now considered their own. In the Ma'abarot many Ashkenazim spoke Yiddish and whichever other European language with fervor. They viewed those languages as far superior to Modern Hebrew, and also more respectful: even those who weren't especially religious had still been raised to view Hebrew as Lashon HaKodesh—the Holy Tongue. It was not for everyday use. On the whole, that is a notion now relegated to the Haredim, and—excluding more recent Russian and Ukrainian immigrants—Modern Hebrew is the dominant tongue among Ashkenazi Israelis, but it's a second language for many over 50, and many Ashkenazim aged around 30 speak both Hebrew and another European language when at home.

Mizrachim and Sephardim are also often polyglots, but in the Ma'abarot their adoption of Hebrew was something easier. Most of them had spoken Jewish Arabic (Mizrachi) or Ladino (Sephardi) at home, as their mother tongues, but they were used to encouraging their children to learn whichever (sometimes hated) language of their country of residence. Once in Israel, Hebrew was viewed as something good, or at any rate, a lot better than Iraqi Arabic, Farsi, Moroccan and Egyptian French, et cetera.

The end result here is that Mizrachi and Sephardi kids learned to speak fluent Hebrew faster, and actually left the so-called superior Ashkenazim in their dust. Many refugee and Survivor Ashkenazim, despite their religious reservations, responded by encouraging their kids to catch up. However, the adults stubbornly clung to the notion of general superiority by keeping a firm hold on the languages they considered superior to Modern Hebrew, and every other Middle Eastern tongue.

The Socioeconomic Divide.

When it comes to working secular Israelis, the divide between Ashkenazim, and Sephardim and Mizrachim is something that has bitter roots.

It all began in the early 1950s when a majority Ashkenazi government decided that, along with European refugees and Holocaust Survivors, those Jews living in other Middle Eastern countries and North Africa should be brought to Israel. Not all of those Jews were thrilled with this idea, but Israel seemed like a better prospect than their current circumstances of persecution and violent discrimination. They soon found that in many ways it really wasn't.

Sephardim and Mizrachim arrived in a land essentially welcoming to them, but unprepared to receive them (literally in their tens of thousands). They left behind homes that had foundations and roofs, and were accommodated (if it can be called that) first in immigrant tent towns and later in Ma'abarot (transit towns). Conditions were downright bad in those places, and moving out of them was difficult. No matter what one's qualifications, if one hasn't been able to take a shower in a few days, and perhaps have not been able to do the laundry in a few weeks, one is not going to ace that job interview. A lot of those immigrants gave up trying to get jobs like the ones they'd had in their former homelands. Instead they took what they could get, which was mostly manual labor of whatever kind. The pay was far from good, and the Israeli government subsidies weren't much. People in that position, taking what they could get, also ended up settling for less in every other aspect of life. When housing was built for them, they didn't object to subsidized living in government-owned apartment buildings, and any dreams of owning their homes vanished in the hard light of reality: they just couldn't afford them.

While all of that was going on, many refugee/Holocaust Survivor/regular immigrant Ashkenazi Jews were in similar positions. They, too, lived in the Ma'abarot, but most of them didn't end up in those government-owned apartment buildings. Germany began paying reparation to families of Holocaust victims, and from squalor those families moved into apartments that they owned or rented, and many also leased land and built houses. If they weren't lucky enough to be on that list, they'd made friends, they'd gotten some 'Vitamin P.' Protektzia has nothing to do with bodyguards and has everything to do with connections. Those connections ensured that most of the Ashkenazim made it out of the Ma'abarot and into jobs that paid significantly more than peanuts.

Naturally, this created a socioeconomic divide, and helped to deepen the ethnic divide. While the latter is actively being narrowed, the former is still there and it's a pitfall that the State of Israel has yet to properly address.


Having money to move out of the Ma'abarot also enabled Ashkenazim to ensure so-called intellectual superiority by sending their children to good schools and universities. Oddly enough, they rushed to do so while ignoring the attitudes of Israeli-born Ashkenazim, who looked askance at academics and intellectuals of whatever variety. Many of the Israeli-born Ashkenazim were firmly in the socialist labor camp, and their feelings of superiority stemmed simply from being Sabras, Israelis born-and-bred, the sons and daughters of fighters and strugglers who'd beaten all the odds. These Sabra Ashkenazim believed that sweat built a land, and that intellectuals were suspect: they didn't sweat unless they argued, and an argument never brought in the harvest or paid the bills. Those attitudes have, however, since softened considerably, and those Sabra Ashkenazim are always proud to boast of a grandchild's academic achievements.

The Ashkenazi superiority complex is still felt heavily in academic fields. Ashkenazi youth are about 50% more likely to attend tertiary institutions than are Sephardi and Mizrachi youth. While some point out the fact that, on average, Ashkenazi families are wealthier and therefore better able to afford tertiary education for their children, the difference lies less with money and class distinctions than with the internalized perception by Sephardi and Mizrachi kids that Ashkenazi kids are smarter. That starts in school where the rule is Kids Are Cruel. I don't have to spell it out, but I can illustrate it. As my ex once told me, "It's really bad, when you get an A on a test and still think you're stupid, just because you don't speak Yiddish, German, Polish, or Hungarian at home."

The Socio-ethnic Divide.

Welcome to the quagmire. Mind the quicksand. You're about to enter WTF territory.

The early Zionists were predominantly European Ashkenazim, and they felt that Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries had been 'Arabized.' This notion included the Sephardim who'd fled from Spain to Turkey, Iraq, Tunisia and other places. The famed Zionist Max Nordau said that the aim of Zionism was two-fold, to return to and create a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel, and also to "extend the borders of Europe to the Euphrates," in the process wiping out "all traces of the Eastern soul." To have any hope of doing that the Ashkenazim had to feel superior in order to promote that superiority. This was only further enhanced after the Holocaust, when Ashkenazi Jewry began to feel that if they didn't hang on to their ethnic identity, Hitler would've been granted a posthumous 'victory': they'd be wiped out altogether.

This particular aspect of Ashkenazi superiority is distinctly racist in nature, but heavily complicated by the fact that Ashkenazim really wanted to bring absolutely every Jew to Israel, no matter how 'Arabized' they were, simply because they'd been 'Arabized.' This, the Ashkenazim felt, was something they had to fix. They might have been able to 'fix' it if they'd brought just 10,000 or so Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews to Israel. Instead, they brought around 200,000. To start. And they opened the doors for even more to come along under their own steam.

As the numbers of Sephardi and Mizrachi immigrants grew, the hints of racism expressed by the likes of Max Nordau flared into blatant racism by some Ashkenazim. The first groups of Sephardim and Mizrachim had been taken in, helped in any way possible, but later immigrants found themselves segregated, regarded as those other Jews. They were often humiliated on arrival by being forced to strip for disinfection, and their heads were shaved. They were sent to Ma'abarot in places only thinly populated by Ashkenazim, and were later conveniently housed in places that needed a bigger Jewish presence, for political reasons: if Jews were living there, then Israel had a land possession argument to make to the rest of the world. Inevitably these places were not pleasant to live in– swampy Galilee and hell-hot Negev, to name but two.

Understandably, this treatment bred longstanding resentment in Sephardim and Mizrachim towards Ashkenazim. It was and still is thought that Ashkenazi superiority was something manufactured, by deliberately creating a scapegoat 'other,' one with no option but to be considered inferior by others, and in turn considered inferior by themselves.

If Israel is to be considered an 'Apartheid state,' something to which this South African strongly objects, the term can be applied to the early Ashkenazi treatment of Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews.


In Israel in the late Nineties there was a noticeable uptick in marriages between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews, a trend that has since continued to gather steam, especially in secular communities. To some extent this was 'pioneered' by earlier social revolutions, most notably the 1977 entry into politics, where they demanded equality, by more and more Sephardim and Mizrachim; these groups have since also started to gain a foothold in big business.

But at the heart of the social revolution were and are young Ashkenazim who are more accepting of Mizrachim and Sephardim than are their parents and grandparents. And yes, there are those young Ashkenazim who are completely unafraid to tell their parents and grandparents that their opinions and attitudes are wrong and hurtful not only to Sephardim and Mizrachim, but they also harm Israel as a whole.

Active and reserve military service is also a unifying factor, and never more so than when Israel goes to war. This was so even back in the bad old days when Ashkenazim 'othered' Mizrachim and Sephardim. In more recent years the concept of 'all in this together' has been spilling over into peacetime, when firm friendships are made between young folk with no consideration given to ethnic roots.

(In the army, if a guy of Ashkenazi ancestry acts high-and-mighty they're liable to be called "Ashkenazi!" and in the IDF that's an insult suggesting that he's full of shit, a total wimp, a loser, and someone that any self-respecting girl would never even think of dating. If he talks back he's automatically doubled on with "Gam ken tzfoni!""—"And a snob!" There does not, however, seem to be a similar insult offered to female Ashkenazim who act high-and-mighty, although if said seriously "Cholat nefesh!"—"Sick soul!" might match up.)

Ask any young Ashkenazi guy in Israel, "Which are the hottest girls here?" and if he's not Haredi (or one of those gun-crazy white supremacist South African or American immigrants) he'll say, "Mizrachi and Sephardi. They're not only hot but can they cook!" Likewise, many young Ashkenazi women prefer the looks of Mizrachi and Sephardi men, but don't care if they can cook or not. Ashkenazi youngsters tend to like *ALL* the Mizrachi and Sephardi food they can get, and those interested in cooking litter their blogs with Mizrachi and Sephardi recipes– no gefilte fish in sight. When it comes to music, Sarit Hadad (Mizrachi-Europop sound) is the Israeli equivalent of Madonna (who is a Sarit Hadad fan, btw), and taking a look at Eurovision entrants, and Kochav Nolad entrants, and The Voice entrants... All the recent winners of most Israeli music contests have been Mizrachi or Sephardi. Hmm... There's also a general perception among younger Ashkenazim that Mizrachi and Sephardi culture is richer and more interesting than their own, and that might just be something that reverses the attempts of their grandparents' generation to 'civilize' Sephardi and Mizrachi immigrants.

The reasons for young Mizrachi and Sephardi Israelis liking Ashkenazim are more complicated. There's the typical willingness of youth, but it's backed by the generally accepting and welcoming attitude towards anyone who's Jewish: while the Ashkenazim were shoving them away, the Sephardim and Mizrachim weren't shoving at all, and especially not among their own demographics.

On the religious front, when Haredi Sephardi and Mizrachi leaders try to drive wedges between their own communities and Haredi Ashkenazi communities, young Sephardim and Mizrachim tend to say, "Who are these people? We don't act like that towards other Jews."

On the political front, even secular Mizrachi and Sephardi youngsters feel that it's in their interest to support the Right-wing religious party Shas, mostly because it's dominated by Sephardi and Mizrachi politicians. As they get older and look at the bigger picture, many of them become disillusioned: supporting Shas, which is separatist and downright racist towards Arabs, is the equivalent of self-hatred towards their own Judaeo-Arabic roots.

On the whole, there is no simple way forward in Israel, between Ashkenazim and Sephardim and Mizrachim. The conflict between the two groups is rooted in class distinctions which are either ignored or addressed halfheartedly by the government. Education is key, as always, but when an entire ethnic group believes itself to be "forever the working class" (as a Mizrachi friend recently told me), and when the Kids Are Cruel rule helps to cement the idea that Ashkenazi kids are smarter, there's little personal and familial incentive to attend university. Without the direct involvement of government, this will not change.

So, as per usual it's up to the kids, and there are young people who are, in whichever way, actively changing the face of Israel. One day they might ensure that the Ashkenazi superiority complex is something relegated to the dust of history.

Shalom, dude/amigo/Kumpel/tovarishch! Why-oh-why must we speak Hebrew?

Olim. Immigrants. Oy. Oy vey. They go to Israel and live in enclaves, where the predominant language spoken is the one they supposedly left behind. They have newspapers printed in the language they supposedly left behind. They very grudgingly learn to speak Hebrew, but insist on teaching their kids the language they supposedly left behind (and then complain bitterly when their kids don't do very well at school). Some come with enough money to open stores where they provide (at very steep prices) all the comforts of 'home'– i.e., foodstuffs (and even laundry detergent ...head!desk...) that they supposedly left behind.

And they Never. Stop. Complaining. About everything. There are Anglo/American/Spanish/Portuguese/German/Russian/Australian/[put any other nationality here] olim who have been in Israel for as long as 20 years, who still complain about the language. Do they complain in Hebrew? No. And when they do speak Hebrew they wonder why they get that very Israeli *look* when they refuse to pronounce the Chet sound in the backs of their throats, and soften it to an H sound instead. What? After 20 years they're still that stubborn? YES.

Olim-by-choice: they chose to go to Israel for whatever reasons, and then they act all superior. Especially British, American, and Australian olim: "We left behind a great life in a great country, and we chose to come here, we sacrificed so much to be a Jew-in-Israel, supporting the Israeli cause. Why aren't you Sabras being nice to us?" Umm. Yeah, why should they be nice when those Brits/Americans/Aussies have used the kind of comparative language that makes their statement read like a soccer whitewash: UK/USA/AUS–1 million! – Israel–ZERO.

Israelis get very frustrated with olim, whom they often view as privileged and spoiled. Olim feel that they have a right to complain, and sometimes they do. Sometimes they'll complain about the right things (crazy high taxes, high cost of living, etc.), and every Israeli in hearing distance will jump in and agree with them. But more often than not, the olim just complain for the sake of complaining.

Just as they chose to go to Israel, they choose not to fit in. They don't even try. Once there, they gather in their little enclaves, and they don't invite Israelis to that gathering, and they have a nice little whine-fest together.

This Makes Israel Complicated because—Jewish though they may be—those olim help to give Israel a bad name.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict

Neither the Arabs nor the Israelis started that conflict. The French and the British started it.

After WWI the Sykes-Picot Agreement, between Britain and France, was agreed to and mandated by the League of Nations. It divvied up the land from southeastern Turkey, into modern Iraq, and along the east coast of modern Saudi Arabia. After squabbling between themselves, the British got Palestine, France got Syria and the Lebanon, and they gave Iraq to Emir Faisal (whom the rude French bastards had kicked out of Damascus); Russia, a minor party to the agreement, got some bits of inhospitable desert that not even Faisal wanted.

To backtrack, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was something actually welcomed by Arabs, particularly Faisal's father Hussein ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca. He said that the Jews were native sons of Palestine and brothers to the Arabs, and would likely prove good allies. He even encouraged mass immigration of Jews to Palestine, and encouraged Palestinian Arabs to welcome those Jews. Hussein was thinking about numbers, and genuinely hoped that he could ally with the Jews in order to keep greedy French and British hands off all of the prime real estate in the Middle East. Had the British and French kept their word... Well, there's no knowing now, because they went and screwed it all up.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement had been drawn up in secret, and it was the very worst calamity to befall the region since, as a Belgian friend once put it, the Great Flood. Essentially it laid out mandatory borders and territories involving Palestine, Syria, and the Lebanon that were all bound to enrage the Arab population, who began to realize that France and Britain had lied through their teeth– they intended to mount a long-term occupation of the area. That was not the deal made between Britain and Hussein ibn Ali; it also rendered null-and-void the Faisal-Weizman Agreement, and another two agreements made between Chaim Weizman and the British were also in the trash.

Note here: no Arab antagonism towards the Jews. Yet.

By the time word of the Sykes-Picot Agreement surfaced, the Jews were committed. The Third Aliyah was in full swing, and there were already thousands of Jews living in Palestine. They felt that they had no choice but to accept British mandatory rule. It was either that or laugh off the whole thing and try to go back to Europe, which really wasn't an option. Violent antisemitism was rife in Eastern and Central Europe, and getting worse by the month, spurred on by the impassioned and hateful speeches of a shrill-voiced, short-arse German called Hitler.

They had nowhere else to go, and they focused instead on bringing more Jews to Palestine.

The local Arabs looked at this situation, and watched as the British moved in territorial troops and cleared them off their land to make way for the Jews. Instead of taking out their pretty-much-righteous anger on the British, they attacked the Jews and only the Jews...

That looks unbalanced, doesn't it? It was unfair, no argument, but it was also a lot more complicated than 'unfair.'

The British had artillery, and battalions of well-armed, well-trained soldiers, and at that stage the straight to heaven and umpteen virgins per martyr idea had not been popularized to the point it is today. The Arabs who rioted and revolted were not terrorists. They had no real means of attacking the resident army of the World's second largest superpower. Instead they attacked the Jews, who fought back if they could, but at first most could not. And the local Arabs probably wouldn't have rioted if they hadn't been incited to it by a certain fan of Nazism and fascism. More's the pity that the Sharif (the one who called the Jews 'brothers') was in Mecca and not in Jerusalem. It's likely that he would've had the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem deposed (read: de-headed) for inciting senseless and baseless violence.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was in a jam: he hated the British, but he was sly enough to know that the Arabs needed the British to keep the Russians from doing what they eventually did in Afghanistan (that's a whole 'nother story. Google is your friend). So he chose to try and get rid of the weaker of two perceived evils.

Knowing that the British were unlikely to arm the Jews, and knowing that at the time the Jews had not been able to arm themselves, the Mufti deviously ensured that many Palestinian Arabs, and Arabs far away from Palestine were all fired up. His habit of writing hateful diatribes against the Jews in Palestine, and having those articles published in major Arabic newspapers, was taken up by other spiritual leaders. To be fair, this was in the late 1920s when the telephone was a rarity in the Middle east, and those other leaders had no way of knowing that more than half of what the Mufti spouted was 'disingenuous' as the British politely put it. Less politely, he lied worse than had the British and the French. But those other leaders couldn't know that, and the Mufti was careful not to over-exaggerate. He was very careful to get what he wanted: the other leaders all called for jihad. Those other leaders were hoodwinked, yes, but they were far from innocent– as is commonly the case today, jihad was called for then without those leaders giving a damn for the possible loss of life among their own people, nor for the political backlash to follow.

The 1929 Palestine Riots, which began with the Western Wall Uprising (Aug 23) and ended with the Tzfat (Safed) Massacre (Aug 29), can be called the key that locked the fate of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank today.

There was an international outcry over what large mobs of Arabs did in those 6 days. Battle-hardened British soldiers wept while writing reports regarding the Jewish victims, which included babies in an orphanage, and young boys at a yeshiva. It was so bad that just hours after the first attacks on Jews in Jerusalem, ordinary and sometimes very poor Arab families all over the country were offering to hide Jews in their homes. I don't need to say any more than that.

Those 6 days resulted in Jews all over the country 'signing on' to the underground Haganah, and their only intention was self-defense. All they did was mount guard operations that responded if—and only if they were attacked. The idea of barriers was born then, to which most Jews strongly objected (most of the Arabs had no quarrel with Jews, and the Jews had no quarrel with them. Barriers? No, thanks). That idea was eventually implemented more than 60 years later.

And so it began.

Essentially, neither side wanted ever to have anything like an Arab-Israeli Conflict. Who started it? Neither Arab nor Jew. The French and the British, who have never taken responsibility for that.


Here I'm talking about Israeli citizens who are Arabs and who live in Israel, not in the West Bank or Gaza. I'm not going to go into this in-depth, because I'll end up writing a book.

Whether the West wants to believe it or not, the majority of Israeli-Arabs don't want to live anywhere else; they don't want a Palestinian Authority; most of all they don't want trouble. They want to keep on voting Israeli-Arab MKs to the Knesset; they want to keep on pointing out their superior standard of living; they want to keep on calling themselves Israeli-Arabs—that, and not 'Palestinians.' Do they want peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Emphatically yes, but they're not prepared to sacrifice their current rights for that peace, and this is the main reason why an Israeli-Arab will voluntarily sign up to serve in the IDF, and fight against the Palestinians if necessary.

Israeli-Arabs are exempt from compulsory military service. Think about that.

Radical Israeli Jews

As they do everywhere else, radicals come in two varieties in Israel: Right-wing and Left-wing. I'll repeat this– as they do everywhere else. In my opinion, extremists on either side are bad news, no matter which bit of the globe they occupy. Extremists do not think rationally.

The extreme Left in Israel wants peace at any price, and according to them this includes: dismantling the IDF and demilitarizing the country; opening every border Israel has; giving in to the demands of such terrorist groups as Hamas and Hezbollah. They're self-hating Israelis and sometimes also self-hating Jews, and they have this fantastical notion that they really can pay the price. Well, they can: dying is easy. What they seem to forget is that that particular price involves someone else doing the killing, and hello, that's not the definition of 'peace.'

The extreme (mostly religious) Right in Israel wants... They want a lot. Their list: kill all the Arabs in Israel, including the Druze, then kill 'em all in Gaza and the West Bank; kick out the Christians, and if they resist, kill 'em, too; get rid of the politicians; get rid of the Supreme Court; instate the Rabbinical Court as the chief legal authority... I'm tired of writing out their list. Trust me, it goes on, and on, and includes dingbat notions like the idea that Israel should completely separate itself from the secular world (apparently the best way to do this is by banning the internet... wrote an ultra-orthodox rabbi on his blog ...head!desk...).

Crazy Politicians

Only the Jewish Israeli ones? Most of them. The Israeli-Arab MKs are, generally, a bit more sane, but there are a couple who have... interesting ideas. But the Jewish Israeli MKs... Oy. Google "Knesset" and then Google any of their names and you'll find Teh Crazy™.

If you want to go straight to the Ultra Crazy, the so fucking weird it could never be fiction kinda Ultra Crazy, Google this one: Anastasia Michaeli. And before drinking the Kool-Aid flavored thus: "Wow. Model, beauty queen, electronics geek, politician... Mother of eight?!" ask yourself about celebs that become politicos, and remember that they never leave the diva hat at home. During a committee meeting, Israeli-Arab MK Madjadle told Michaeli to shut up after she'd repeatedly interrupted him. He eventually asked the committee chairman to have her removed, which the chairman did because Michaeli wouldn't listen to his requests for order. On her way out of the room, Michaeli threw a glass of water in Madjadle's face. And this was caught on Knesset TV, and can be found quite easily on YouTube. BTW, Michaeli gets told to shut up by everyone in the Knesset, even her own party members, but as soon as an Arab MK tells her the same thing... For once I agree with Madjadle– Michaeli is medjnuna—batshit crazy.

Enough said.

Rut, sof

This was a very brief look at Israelis and some of the aspects of their history and culture that Make Israel Complicated. Without knowing all of this, and all the stuff that I didn't cover (lots!), no foreigner should attempt to write an Israeli protagonist or even an Israeli secondary character. And without knowing all of this and more, no foreigner should be so arrogant as to have an 'opinion' about Israel. The place is complicated enough without ignorance complicating it further.

Rut, sof—Over-and-out.

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