AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many, many people have asked about the history of the elusive Lady David—this is what I came up with. Ari, her father, violence, and rules.
The Rules of the Game
When they were children, whenever their father was not watching, Ziva's brother Ari took her behind the house—wherever they were staying at the time—and lined up jars or cords of firewood or rocks for her to kill while he circled around her like a cat, telling her how to take the recoil of the revolver as it leapt back in her hand. They thought with the blindness of children that if they brushed the dirt from her skirts and scrubbed the gunpowder from her hands before they ran back inside, they could do as they liked in the alleys and the meadows and the ha-has where they played at battle and murder. Ari taught Ziva everything: she learned about knives and garrotes and needles and her own bare, strong hands. After one lesson, about using the flat of her hand against a man trying to grab her, she wiped her brother's blood from her palm and he staunched his nose with a dirty handkerchief, and they went on meekly inside, to the other half of their lessons.
It was years before Ziva realized that there had never been a time when their father had not been watching. When he told her to kill her brother, he knew exactly what he was asking her.
She folded her hands together. She did not ask why her father wanted this of her, though she thought, It is one thing, sir, to make your children into weapons, but another thing to turn them against each other—and there is no blood to draw there, sir, for we were both steel a long time ago. An alchemy of flesh to metal. Ziva David existed so that her father would always have her to hand—though for what purpose he held her so closely, she did not yet know, and suspected she never would. It had, she knew, very little to do with religion—her father was not a devout man.
"You have not yet answered," her father said.
"No," she said.
He looked at her. "You refuse?"
"I only agree," she said, "that I have not yet answered."
"It is necessary," her father said.
She did not say that she loved her brother. She did not say that he had been the one who first shaped her hands to their deadliest instruments—she suspected now, and had for years, her father's tacit knowledge of that. She could look back and back and back and still not find the days of her life that were her own, the memories that did not have her father's fingerprints on them. Yet despite all of her best intentions, what she said was patently obvious, wholly indisputable, not an argument at all: "He is my brother."
Her father said, "Let me tell you what he has done," and by the time he had finished, her face was wet.
Whenever Ziva's father had played games with her as a child, she had always lost.
When Ziva first met Mr. Anthony, he was barreling out of the side door of one of London's more disreputable playhouses (she was rather confident that it doubled as a brothel during its off-hours, and considering the ramshackle state of the building, they were all off-hours), seized her hand, and said, "An honor, my lady. Run!" So she ran, her skirts flying to either side of her, her hand clasped in his, until they took an ill-chosen turn and found themselves faced with a bald brick wall and no way out. A motley assortment of bearded and unsavory-looking men were closing in behind them.
Her companion stepped in front of her, though he turned back a little to say, apologetically, "I really don't know what it is about me that people tend to find so infuriating."
"You stabbed me!" one of the men protested.
"Do not be such a child," her companion said. "I stabbed you only a little, and only because you would not keep your hands to yourself."
"Oh, she was only a prozzie!"
"She was on stage," Anthony said. "A very unusually lit stage in a very unusual play, I will admit, but a stage is a stage, and when she is there she is an actress, and interrupting a performance is really in the very worst of taste, and what she does with the rest of her time, sir, is her business—business, and I did not notice you paying for your attempted pleasure."
"A gentleman like him," the stabbed man said to one of his burly friends, "fucks his chambermaid, and his little boy's governess and all, but let me get a grab of something sweet, and—"
Ziva tired of him—ducking neatly around her indignant companion, she shot the man neatly in the leg.
"The bitch shot me!"
Shortly thereafter, the whole situation went rather to hell, but it was, in the end, she and her companion who made it safely out of the alley—a bit worse for the wear, bruised and stinking of gunsmoke, but alive and whole. The man turned to her and bowed. "Anthony, my lady, and I'm very honored and terrified to make your acquaintance, I'm sure."
"Elizabeth David," she said. "You seem to be missing part of your name, sir."
"I doubt I have the truth of yours either, my lady," he said, with a smile that she could not believe came naturally to him—it was too bright, like a lamp in the darkness. "Names are most unimportant, I've found. Shall I characterize myself to you? I've no chambermaid, no little boy, and no governess—and am no gentleman at all, as I'm sure you might tell by my habits and whereabouts. You, though, I am sure, are a lady of the very best quality—for I should scarcely stand here courageous enough to call you anything else."
Ziva had been a lady—a gentleman's daughter, a duchess, a marchioness, a princess—everything under the sun. She could pretend to be whatever he would prefer. She said, "I had rather hoped to talk to one of the men in that establishment about some missing jewels."
He offered her his arm. "Then shall we go back together, my lady?"
"I do not need your assistance, sir."
"No, I should think not," he agreed, "but I left in the middle of the second act, and I should very much like to know how it all will end."
"You hurt people," Ziva said. "People who had never done you any unkindness. Why would you have done that?" She wanted to tell him that she still remembered how gentle he had been with her when, as a child, she had fallen and bruised or scraped her knees—he had knelt down beside her and daubed at the blood so she would stop crying, when she had still been young enough to cry, and it had been him, not her father or any succession of silent and distant nursemaids, who had kissed her bruises to make the pain disappear. "Did he tell you to do that, Ari?"
Ari smiled lazily. "Did he tell you to come here and kill me, Ziva?"
There was no answer to that question that she could give—Ari had taught her everything she knew about their father.
The first time Ziva met Gibbs, she tried very hard to avoid meeting his eyes, as well: his eyes seemed just as hard as her father's. They were stones, chips of ice. She could not look at them without remembering things best forgotten.
With further meetings, though, she saw the way he could soften. There was kindness to him that had gone unnoticed the first time. He rolled his eyes over Anthony's tea and sponged blood off Anthony's face. He dusted off the cushions before Miss Abigail came to visit. He rubbed his head when he had to read small print for great stretches of time and when he ate biscuits, he dropped crumbs onto the floor and failed to notice them. He was a man—a good man, a great man—but a man whose flaws and virtues she could see clearly, not a god like her father, who had ruled over her life from her birth. In time, she could not even see the similarities between them without straining herself into a headache: he was his own man, someone she had never met before, and she could love him for that.
And when someone they were chasing grabbed her arm and forced it up and out of its socket, she could love him for the quick-and-nearly-painless way he jolted her back together, and the way he tore up his sheets to make her a sling. The way he pressed a kiss to her temple when it was all done, like Ari kissing away the bruises on her knees and elbows, and she thought, If it came to killing you, I would refuse. I would say no.
That was a very dangerous thing to think.
One day, for all she knew, he might want to kill her, and for all the softness she had seen in him, she could not forget that there was violence knit into his bones. Even loving him, she could see it still in his eyes—a willingness to kill, if killing were needed, for protection or revenge.
"He looked so much like our father," Ari said. She knew, by then, that he had no weapons and no chance against her—he would not even try to fight her. Perhaps he was, by now, simply tired. "And did we ever have a chance against our father, Ziva? Did your mother? Did mine? What I did to them was a kindness."
"No," she said.
"You doubt me?"
"I do not think," she said, "that either of us knows what kindness is."
Timothy McGee knew what kindness was, though, certainly: she had trouble understanding how he had come to exist. What had his life been like before he had tumbled into their lives, as ungainly as a puppy, with fresh hurt in his eyes and more courage than any of them had expected? Ziva had not known that people like him existed in the world—or lived so long, at least, without getting that hopeful look kicked out of them and trod into the mud.
"What are your parents like?" she asked him one day, when it was only the two of them in the house. They had been eating ices and jellies that Anthony had specifically warned them away from, and they were both flush with transgression and sugar.
McGee blinked, surprised by the question. "Oh, ordinary enough, I suppose, my lady. My father hunts as he can, though he's an exceptionally poor shot, and my mother tries and tries to teach my sister embroidery, which she cannot ever manage herself, though she's wonderful at the pianoforte." He did not ask her what her parents had been like—he had learned early on that, with all of them, it was best to avoid asking any questions.
One day, she was sure, someone would come along who would kiss the sugar off McGee's mouth. She only hoped the rest of his sweetness did not go with it as he fell in love and grew old—she had known men and women both for whom the years had borne away the joy of living and the kindness of youth, and she thought that if she saw it happen to him, it would break her heart.
Back and back and back again—did she break her brother's heart, or did her father do that before she was ever born? Or had Ari been born heartless, with only stone inside his chest?
"He should never have had a wife," Ari whispered to her before he died—before she broke his heart in just the way he had taught her when they played at war as children. "He should never have had a child. All I did was set the world to rights, Ziva. All I did was make things the way they were supposed to be—he should never have held her hands when he could not keep her safe."
And she thought, Who do you mean? Years later, she still would not know—was it Talia he meant, and their father?
Or Gibbs and his daughter? Gibbs and his wife?
There were, she thought, as she stood again with smoke still all around her, so many dead.
Ziva was sixteen, sitting in an English parlor, in the house of a family whose name she could not remember, sipping a cup of tea. Her hands did not tremble. Beneath the gloves, her brother's blood was drying on her skin, but he had taught her, over the years, how to be still when her heart was breaking, and once Ziva learned a lesson, she remembered it always.
"Families are dangerous," she said to Anthony, at night and in the stables, Anthony spoiling the horses rotten and Ziva helping because he had spoiled her somehow, too—ruined her so she could never again the kind of her person she had been before.
"I quite agree," he said. "It is very fortunate, then, that you and I have none at all."
She had not been thinking of Ari and her father, of Talia and her mother—she had come to terms long ago with the blood that was inextricable from her bloodline. She had, rather, been thinking of them—Anthony and Gibbs and Timothy McGee—and how each time she saw them, she wanted more and more never to leave them. But she understood that love was as dangerous as family, love was something that could be used against you, and so she let Anthony misunderstand her.
And in the end she left them again, exactly as if she had somewhere to go.