The space between lives is split by shadows; the one that broke mine was cast by a man with a chequered necktie, circles under his eyes and hard, bruising hands.
He enjoyed hearing his own voice. Half delirious with dehydration and sodium pentathol, I was a captive audience.
Damocles, sycophant of Dionysius of Syria, when in envy of the good life was given a chance to sit in the King's chair and enjoy his pleasures. And it was so. That is, until he looked up, and saw a sword hanging by a single hair above the throne.
After so many retellings, I know it well.
Power has its price. I am the sword, and I will fall upon their heads.
Hand in my hair, to yank it back. By the end, I swear I shall be bald with all this tugging. The hand on my throat is never tight enough to give me mercy.
You are the thread to snap and bring me down upon them.
And snap I did.
* * *
I should not be here.
My death was written in stone long before I got to him. Life was ending as the cargo plane took flight in Israel, shedding pieces along the ocean; it faded in a room without light and filled with sounds I could not will away.
I drowned in unmeasured time, waiting for the end.
Yet death did not come.
Instead I was carried from my tomb, because they would not let me die alone. Exhumed before the last breath, carried away on the north-west wind.
Without death, but having lost the old life. Another grows slowly, uneven.
What am I to do, with all this time?
* * *
Dr. Janice treads surely, but very carefully. She is well aware of how I left, and how I came back; knows perhaps more than anyone how deep the fault lines go.
Thirty men and one woman alone in the desert for four months.
The odds of my safety were never all that probable.
There is not enough time in this second life for healing. But scarring, perhaps.
No more use to my father. I heard it enough, that broken agents are more liability than anything else, to know that he will not bother with me any longer.
For that, perhaps I can be a little grateful.
I do not talk to him any longer. My liaison is a clerk, the translator between me and the last of my blood. Not the most pleasant positions for him to be in, but he is polite enough and certainly eager.
Perhaps he is a good man. Perhaps not.
I think it is not for me to judge.
At the end of my third session, she gives me a potted plant with wide leaves.
To care for the life of another, she says, reminds us why we are here.
* * *
This life is different.
I lost nearly everything in that explosion; lost the rest when Saleem's men sank the Damocles. The bed at accommodation is unfamiliar and the clothes are new. My throat is bare; the necklace my brother gave me when I was thirteen is gone.
I am damaged goods, but living ones. I know whose words those were, and they do not belong to Leon Vance. But to return me my old post - on probation - is an act of kindness I attribute to him alone.
To deskwork, that is almost like before. McGee gives concern and friendship, Tony solidarity and a watchful eye.
Gibbs has forgiveness, and that is enough.
I have never cared much for plants, but I suppose it is nice. It is green, alive, and is as far from African sand as you can get. It keeps vigil when they drift in and out to cases, so I am rarely alone for long.
Someone has stuck a Star of David on the side of the pot. It is of purple glitter, from the banner Abby made.
It has been a long time since the desire to weep did not come from bad feeling.
It comes from it, and from watching them. Tony and McGee like brothers, Abby's enthusiasm, Gibbs's gruffness, Ducky's warmth, Palmer and his oddball ways. Vance's silent watching, a shadowy guard. They are before me, and the darkness behind may fade in time.
I am home.